Position: Marine chemist, NIWA.
Field: Carbon cycle, atmosphere and ocean carbon dioxide exchange.
When Dr Kim Currie goes to sea on the Polaris from Dunedin, she is living her twin passions of science and the outdoors.
I always knew I’d have a career in science – I wasn’t sure what field of science or in what way I would contribute – but the logic of science, the discovery and the quest to understand the physical world fascinated me.
Growing up in Queenstown gave Kim plenty of chances for tramping, skiing and mountain biking. After an honours degree in chemistry at the University of Otago, Kim decided there was more to life than study, so a couple of years working at the Geothermal Research Centre at Wairākei was followed by overseas travel and a range of science and non-science jobs. Kim realised that further qualifications were needed if she was to pursue science further. This led to a PhD in marine chemistry at the University of Otago.
Kim’s work at NIWA still combines science with the outdoors, although there is plenty of lab and administration work too. Her work on carbon dioxide in the ocean and atmosphere frequently takes her to sea. This is not always pleasant – during 2010 (when this article was first written), Kim reported on an outing on the University of Otago’s RV Polaris.
“The Polaris trip last week was a bit of a disaster! Bad weather and bad sea conditions resulted in lost and broken gear and lots of sick people. Anything that wasn’t securely fastened went flying. Still, I managed to get a lot of data, and most of the samples, so not all bad.”
One attractive side to modern oceanography is the amount of co-operation. Kim works with biologists, geologists, physicists and computer modellers. She is also part of an international community that shares data and expertise to investigate issues of global importance.
Kim was part of a collaborative project, CARIM (Coastal Acidification: Rate, Impacts & Management). This four-year project (March 2016 –February 2020) was funded by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE). It was led by NIWA, who partnered with the Cawthron Institute, University of Otago, University of Otago Auckland, iwi, national stakeholders (including the shellfish aquaculture industry, MPI, regional councils, DOC and the Hauraki Gulf Forum), as well as international scientists (from both the US and Australia). CARIM aimed to provide new knowledge on ocean acidification, to enhance protection and management of New Zealand coastal ecosystems.
Kim manages the New Zealand Ocean Acidification Observing Network (NZOA-ON), a programme established in 2015 to determine the rate and magnitude of ocean acidification in our coastal waters. In addition, Kim is also a member of the Coastal People: Southern Skies collaboration that connects communities with world-leading, cross-discipline research to rebuild coastal ecosystems.
Studying the carbon cycle has helped encourage Kim and her husband, Bill, in their efforts to live in a way that reduces their carbon dioxide emissions. Their house is not connected to the national power grid – instead, they use wind and sun to supply energy. They also bike to reduce car use.
This article is based on information current in 2010 and updated in 2022.
Find out more about carbon dioxide (CO2) in our oceans and atmosphere in these articles:
In Using radiocarbon carbon dioxide data students interpret graphs showing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of New Zealand. They also explore how sampling interval affects the conclusions we are able to make.
In Carbon dioxide emissions calculator students calculate and compare the amount of CO2 produced by different energy sources and are encouraged to think about and evaluate a reduction of carbon-based emissions.
Running since 1998, the Munida time-series, led by Kim has been collecting ocean chemistry measurements along a 65 km line off the Dunedin coast every two months, find out more in this 2022 Radio NZ Our Changing World programme When good science takes time.