Mission & Objectives
Scientists & Crew
Chief Scientist Dan Fornari
Dan (right) helps steady Might Mo, the rock corer
before it is sent to sample lavas
What did you want to be as a kid?
I didnt really have any clear idea what I wanted to do as kid, other than
play sports and generally goof off, but I always loved the ocean. I remember
reading childrens books about South Seas adventures, pearl diving, giant
clams, and always thought it would be great to sail around the South Pacific.
When I was in school, my parents rented a summer cottage on Shelter Island, at
the far end of Long Island, New York, and I would spend the summers in the water
-- fishing, crabbing, and collecting clams. It was wonderful!
I also enjoyed collecting sea shells with my Aunt, who always encouraged me to
look at the ocean and sea life. When I was pretty young, about 10, I joined the
New York Conchological Society (a conchologist is a scientist who studies mollusks
and their shells) which met at the American Museum of Natural History in New
York every month. I was the youngest member. My parents would drop me off on
Saturday, and I'd spend the morning or afternoon hob-nobbing with all these shell
fanatics, looking at shells, listening to travel tales about their recent expeditions,
and being surrounded by fossils and other museum relics. I still enjoy beach-combing,
and just recently went to Sanibel Island in Florida, which is a great place to
go shelling. So, even though I really didnt think much about what I wanted
to do, all my childhood friends were not very surprised when I became an oceanographer.
checks out the equipment on the Argo II after it is brought
back on board from a survey of the seafloor.
How did you end up going into oceanography?
I got my Bachelor of Science degree in geology at the University of Wisconsin,
Madison. When I was a freshman, I took a course in geology and another in oceanography
-- and I was hooked. I liked the subjects so much that, in 1969, after my freshman
year, I applied for a summer job to many different oceanographic schools. I ended
up getting a job at Scripps Institution of Oceanography where I worked for two
geophysicists, Dr. Vic Anderson and Dr. George Shor, Jr. I loved it!
Dr. Shor asked me back the next year to sail on the maiden voyage of RV
Melville, so I spent 3 months in the summer of 1970 going from San
Diego, up to the Aleutian Islands, and then to Japan. I was living my dream --
being at sea, traveling to foreign ports and doing oceanography. But there were
parts of that first cruise that were not so great. I hated the food, mostly because
I was sea sick a lot, and when we hit very rough weather in the Gulf of Alaska,
there were times that I thought I had made the wrong decision to be an oceanographer.
After that cruise, I continued to work for Dr. Shor during the summer months
and after I graduated from college. I was offered a job as a Resident Technician
on the Scripps ships, doing just what Ron Comer and Randy Dickau are doing on
this cruise. I was a Resident Tech. for a little over a year at Scripps, and
then decided I wanted to get my Ph.D. in marine geology. I started graduate school
at Lamont-Doherty in 1972. There, I worked with Bruce Heezen for a few years,
and after that, Bill Ryan and Walter Pitman were my advisors and mentors. Since
I started going to sea, Ive been on about two or three research cruises
each year for almost 30 years. Im amazed to realize that about a quarter
of my adult life has been spent out on research ships investigating the ocean
floor. Another big factor has been the support that Ive gotten from my
parents who always encouraged me in my geological studies, even though they were
always worried when I went to sea, and especially when I started diving in Alvin.
They still worry about me, but they also think that what I do is interesting.
What are your main responsibilities on this cruise?
As chief scientist, I make sure that we accomplish our research objectives and
get as much science done as we can -- that we are doing a responsible job of
spending tax payers money on basic research. I talk several times each
day with the Captain, the crew, and many people in the science party to ensure
that the work gets done efficiently, and that we make the most of our time out
here. I collaborate with my co-PIs so that we can make the best decisions together.
I also show the students by example how to do this type of research and what
it is like to do science out at sea.
discusses some of the bathymetry data collected with the DSL-120 sonar
with his colleagues.
What do you do on a typical working day at sea?
Generally I get up at 4 a.m. to help Maya with her watch. I make sure that the
vehicle navigation is correct, and that we are going where we are supposed to.
I check on the data quality, and that it is being logged correctly. I check with
the Captain and the Resident Technician to ensure that they know what our plans
are so they can help us get our work done safely and efficiently. Also, I organize
some of the people in the science team to help me with compiling the material
we use for the Dive and Discover web site, which is a lot of work!
How did you end up working at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution?
I had been doing research at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory for about 13 years,
using Alvin and different sonar systems to map the seafloor in different areas
around Hawaii, on the mid-ocean ridge in the eastern Pacific, and on the Mid-Atlantic
Ridge. I was looking for a new position when I was approached by the Chair of
WHOIs the Geology and Geophysics Department. He asked me if I would be
interested in joining the Department, and also in providing science guidance
to the Deep Submergence Operations Group (DSOG) at WHOI, to help make the instruments
that they develop and operate more useful to the science community. I agreed
and have been there since 1993. The past 7 years seem to have flown by. Not only
have I been busy with many research programs, but I have also been helping the
DSOG and many different researchers make the most of Alvin, ROV Jason, and the
DSL-120 sonar and Argo II mapping systems. It has been very gratifying to see
how the deep submergence vehicles are now is such demand by many different scientists.
What do you like most about your job or being at sea?
I always find the science I do interesting and enjoy the puzzle-solving nature
of it. Figuring out how the Earth works is a grand puzzle with lots of different
pieces; geology, geophysics, chemistry, even biology! Most of the research I
do is collaborative, meaning I work with different scientists who each bring
a particular expertise to the problem we are studying. Mike, Rachel, and I have
been working together on different research problems for many years. Working
with friends who are also research colleagues is both rewarding and enjoyable.
I like working in a team to solve problems. I also particularly enjoy the variety
in my work - the fact that I get to do so many different things from day to day.
I also like the fact that you get to decide what you do everyday, although often
that means you drive yourself harder than others would.
I also like the unique events you get to witness at sea. From flat calm seas
in the middle of the ocean, to terrible weather only 100 miles from the shore,
which is so near yet so far away, to ocean life that is so bountiful, to the
night sky filled with constellations and shooting stars. I remember two particularly
memorable events. One was in the Gulf of Panama transiting back to port, and
for half an hour seeing a school of manta rays doing back flips. The other was
pulling into Tahiti after a long cruise, sailing around the island, and seeing
turquoise blue water, coral reefs, palm trees, and volcanic peaks in the distance
-- it was just like the stories I had read as a child.
What do you like least about your job or being at sea?
I dont like being away from home because I miss my family enormously.
I have spent about 25% of my professional life away from home, which means I
miss a lot, especially with my kids when they were growing up. Its very
tough to recapture what you miss. CL, my wife, is terrific. I would not have
been able to get as far as I have with my work without her help. She has always
been extremely supportive of my work and the fact that I have to be away for
long periods of time. I also miss Hector, my dog, who goes in to work with me
every day. Hes found a second home in the Department at WHOI, and everyone
is really good to him - too good sometimes because he goes begging for biscuits
all the time!
Back to main interviews page