Tetjana Ross, associate professor

A day in the life

Tetjana Ross, associate professor


I really like the co-teaching approach. It would be great to have it in more departments and programs – the more collaboration, the more vibrant the programs are!

"Cute little poster animals"

You’ve probably heard the expression “When pigs fly.” What about snails – just as impossible they fly, right?

Actually… they do. Or at least, pteropods do – or it just looks like it, thanks to small wing-like feet that propel them through the ocean instead of along the ocean floor.

Pteropods, according to Associate Professor Tetjana Ross, are “the cute little poster animal of ocean acidification.” That’s because these tiny snails are very sensitive to their aquatic environment: “When the acidity level increases, they have a hard time making their shells.”

It’s just one issue Dr. Ross discusses when she co-teaches in the Environment, Sustainability and Society courses. Using concrete examples helps students contextualize issues – in this case, that “this animal is important in different ecosystems,” she says. “Salmon eat a lot of them, for example.”

Hands-on learning about the ocean

Dr. Ross also illustrates concepts in tutorials and labs. For one, she had students get their hands wet learning about density and fluid dynamics using “a lock exchange tank” separated into compartments by a barrier. “In each side were different densities of fluids,” she explains, adding that the salted – and denser – side was also dyed, to make visible the interaction of fluids when the barrier was removed.

The experiment “relates to density-driven circulation on a global level. Density can drive ocean circulation on large scale. The ocean moves heat around the globe,” Dr. Ross explains. “It’s part of learning about the ocean’s role in climate change.”

Though some ESS students are “a bit afraid of data,” Dr. Ross tries to help make the process of collecting and analyzing data less intimidating. “It helps to have someone to guide them in interpreting it.”

“But the social science part is very important, too,” she adds with a smile. “Some of this climate change data has been around for a long time, and it hasn’t affected people’s habits very much yet.”

Initially thinking she’d become a biologist, Dr. Ross choose physics instead, in part because she liked the simple logic of applying “first principle” mathematical formulas. “Now, I’m applying first principle thinking to real environmental problems,” she says.

But she hasn’t left biology behind completely. She collaborates a lot with Dalhousie biologists, including Anna Metaxas, who looks at how planktonic larvae find suitable habitats. “Fluid dynamics plays a role in how they find and settle in good habitats,” says Dr. Ross. “They get a lot of their cues from the water.”

As for finding her own habitat, Dr. Ross says, “Dal is the reason I came here. It’s a great school, in a great place – and it’s the top place to do Oceanography in Canada. Being involved with the College of Sustainability has just made it better.”