Faces of the Sea - Dr Guy Westbrook, Oceanography & Marine Operations
Dr Guy Westbrook has worked in oceanography for the past 25 years and in marine operations at the Marine Institute for 16. Guy provides support for a number of projects and infrastructures, including Ireland's weather buoy and tide gauge networks, both managed by the Marine Institute. The weather buoy network is a system incorporating five deep-field synoptic weather observing buoy platforms located around Ireland in the Atlantic, Irish sea and Celtic sea.
Guy has had an interest in the ocean and the world around us from a young age. Growing up near the sea in Devon in the UK, he spent much of his childhood exploring beaches and particularly rock pools along the seashore.
"Many kids will have spent plenty of time along the seashore playing in and investigating rock pools. Readily accessible, the nooks and crannies are home to a range of colourful creatures which easily capture the imagination. If you think about a rook pool, those creatures face some extreme circumstances, from very high temperatures in summer and very low in winter, to extremes of salinity perhaps over a matter of hours," Guy said.
His fascination with the ocean continued and after school, Guy studied mechanical and production engineering before working in boat building. Almost by chance he embarked on a career in oceanography. "I happened to be talking to a professor at the University of Plymouth, when he suggested I could study oceanography based on my qualifications to date. It was kind of a 'eureka moment' that changed everything," Guy said.
Oceanographers help us understand more about our natural world by observing a wide range of subjects including ocean currents, storms, waves, marine ecosystems, ocean plate tectonics and features of the ocean floor.
Guy studied oceanography and then completed a PhD in satellite remote sensing at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth, UK. Through his research, Guy was involved in a series of deep field scientific surveys in the Atlantic Ocean, contributing to NASA's Sea Viewing Wide Field of view Sensor (SeaWIFS) project calibration and validation program.
Guy says the ocean offers a wealth of career opportunities where the skill-set for oceanographers is quite diverse, and requires a mix of people with practical and theoretical abilities. "Whatever your skills or strengths, there's a job connected to our oceans. This might include having an interest in engineering and marine technology, designing and building equipment or working with data," Guy explained.
"There are oceanographers who work at sea collecting the data, and those who work in the office working on downstream activities, in many cases the same people are heavily involved across all activities. As tough as it might be to get to get to grips with the numerical side of the work, it is pivotal to what we do. I often recommend that students considering oceanography also include maths modules through their course of study. This gives people more time to absorb some of the theories and brings more confidence to the important process of analysing and publishing data," Guy said.
Guy works as part of the joint Marine Institute and P&O Maritime Technical team. This is a highly skilled and motivated collection of individuals, who work together across a diverse range of projects, including Marine Renewable Energy (MRE), remote control (ROV) and autonomous vehicles, research support and the weather buoy network.
The weather buoys provide vital information for weather forecasts, and information for ports and shipping, as well as for researchers. "The buoys are collecting data all the time, which is being feed through hourly to Met Éireann and on to the wider Met communities across Europe. The Marine Institute are tasked with making sure the buoys are operating effectively, which is a massive undertaking requiring input from a lot of people and makes use of a lot of equipment," Guy said.
In additional to weather observations, the five Weather Buoys also collect long-term temperature time series data, essential to observe climatological baselines and hence determine change.
"We are also trying to collect fundamental measurements on temperature over a long-term basis. The high-end sensors on the weather buoys, are capable of measuring down to a hundredth of a degree centigrade, so they can provide very accurate records," explained Guy.
The Marine Institute works with national and international partners to observe and understand how our ocean is changing. "To understand changes in our climate we need to look at the long term changes in the ocean, for example temperature and salinity at a minimum, biodiversity and other much more complex chemical properties such as acidification. This means looking at the patterns in the data over the past 10 years, not just in the last couple of years."
Guy's extensive experience in the marine highlights the range of career opportunities on offer in the sector. "From engineering to meteorology, there could be a job for you in the marine. The more we understand about the ocean, the more knowledge we have to draw on will aid us in planning for the future to try and sustain a healthy ocean.
"The health of our ocean is very directly tied to our own, and we need to take looking after it very seriously."