Kate Moran (PhD '95)

Passion for oceans runs deep for Moran

Kate Moran has had a pretty extraordinary career in the oceans sector. Not only has she headed several major oceanographic expeditions, including the first drilling expedition to the Arctic Ocean, she also advised the White House in its response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

It was an instance of being in the right place at the right time for Moran. A professor of oceanography and Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, she had been seconded to the Office of Science and Technology Policy where she focused on oceans, the Arctic and global warming.

“I started writing short briefing notes to the science advisory on issues that I thought should be raised,” recalls Moran. “Shortly after that, I was recommended to be part of Secretary Steven Chu’s science advisory team. We worked 24-7 with BP and the incident commander on how to cap the well.”

That effort was particularly tense, according to Moran. “It didn’t only involve cleaning the spill; it was also: how do we technologically stop this from spilling into the Gulf of Mexico?,” she explains. “People wanted to move quickly, but capping could cause worse things to happen. There were a lot of risk reduction measures considered, and the response itself was incredible. I don’t think it could’ve been any better.”

It certainly helped that Moran was on hand to provide expertise and guidance. The author of more than 45 publications, she has been advancing our understanding of the physical, chemical, biological and geological aspects of our oceans, and how they impact earth processes such as plate tectonics, as President and CEO of Ocean Networks Canada. Through that work, and her degrees in marine science and engineering from the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Rhode Island and Dalhousie University, she’s earned a reputation as one of the best ocean engineers in the world. Yet she’s hesitant to take on such a title.

“I work with a wonderful team of 90 people and I consider myself to be part of that team. But what I will say is this: Ocean Networks Canada is the world leader in ocean observing technology, and that’s what keeps us at the forefront.”

For as long as she can remember, Moran has been passionate about the ocean. Growing up in Pennsylvania, she spent many family vacations by the sea, but it took a conversation with her high school physics teacher to turn that interest into a career path.

“He explained the field of ocean engineering to me – and how it used math and science to make things work better. It really fueled my desire to pursue an education in ocean engineering.” 

It was a Hudson Cruise out of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography and a job offer from the Atlantic Food Science Centre that brought Moran to Nova Scotia to earn her PhD at DalTech. “I moved to the province and fell in love with it. I did my PhD part-time and then took a year off to wrap it up. I had some wonderful instructors. One in particular was Geoff Meyerhoff, who was one of Canada’s most distinguished geotechnical engineers. He was a lovely person and an excellent mentor.”

Now a mentor herself to a new generation of ocean engineers at Ocean Networks Canada, Moran says her profession remains an endless source of inspiration for her. “What I love about engineering is the fact that we can take practical tools and apply them to important ocean science problems. We can conquer the problems and move the ball forward scientifically. That to me is what engineering is all about.”