Dawn J. Wright
Growing up in the Hawaiian Islands, Dr. Dawn Wright knew from the age of eight that she wanted to be an oceanographer but it wasn’t until high school that she narrowed down her options to geological oceanography.
After earning her doctorate in geography and marine geology she joined the faculty at Oregon State University and was promoted to full professor in 2002. In her research she follows two disciplines to deepen our understanding of the ocean floor. As a geologist she studies mid-ocean ridges found deep underwater focusing on fissures, or openings, that can act as passage ways for magma and seawater hoping to determine their origins. These fissures provide important clues to the nature of volcanic eruptions and to the birth and death of hydrothermal vents. Wright studies photos, sonar images, and videos of the seafloor taken remotely as well as descending to the floor aboard the research submarine ALVIN to observe these openings first hand.
As a geographer she works developing new and better ways of displaying, analyzing, and interpreting data she and others collect using geographic information systems (GIS). GIS is software that allows the creation of maps from this type of data that can not only show geological information like location of fissures but it could also show changes in currents, the distribution of different organisms, or variations in water chemistry and temperature. As a leading authority on GIS she helps to write software which can process oceanographic data and eases the transition of the data into GIS.
This expertise led to Wright’s 2011 appointment as the Chief Scientist of the Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri) the world’s leading geographic information system software, research and development company. In her role she is tasked with aiding in formulating and advancing the intellectual agenda for the environmental, conservation, climate, and ocean sciences aspect of Esri’s work, while also representing Esri to the national and international scientific community. Two years later she gave up her tenured position at OSU to focus completely on her work at Esri but is still affiliated with the school as a courtesy professor.
Written by Angela Goad