Mattias Green. Reader in Physical Oceanography at Bangor University.
Mattias’ work focuses on using modelling and observations to explore how tides interact with other components within the Earth’s system, and how these interactions have changed over time.
He completed his MSci and PhD at Gothenburg University, and took his first post-doc at Bangor University, where he currently works as a Reader in Physical Oceanography.
Describe your current work and research?
I work on achieving world domination through tides. Don’t print that… My research is focused on tides and tidally driven processes in the Earth system, including how the tides have changed, or will change, on a range of time scales. We are then trying to link these changes to other parts of the system, such as major mass extinction or evolution events. I’m also working with Gareth Williams on physical drivers of reef ecology, and hopefully we can expand that collaboration and get more data from remote pacific islands, and set up a modelling group to try and work out how the local and regional physical environment influence local benthic patterns and reef fish assemblages. I’m starting to sound like a biologist…
How did you start your career and what was the motivation?
Oh look, a banana skin. Wonder what will happen if I step on that? Actually, a school visit in high school from staff at the Earth Science department triggered an interest, but I chose structural and civil engineering at university first, because that’s what I thought I wanted to do. The market was bad for that at the time I graduated though. I had written a dissertation on construction of marine installations, and realized that the oceanography part of that work was way more fun than the construction part.
So, I went back to University and did Maths, Earth science, and Oceanography, and then decided to try and get a PhD because the research component of the degree was a lot of fun. I do have a curious (and quite scary) mind, and I have always enjoyed exploring and finding things out, so I guess a PhD was in a way a natural path once I got to it (and the opportunity was there).
What has been the highlight of your career?
Actually passing the PhD viva is of course a highlight, but I think being awarded a NERC Advanced Fellowship (especially since I applied for a lower level one) must be the highlight to date. It allowed me 5 years of research freedom where I had the opportunity to set up a research group.
Winning “Teacher of the Year” at the 2015 Student Led Teaching Awards was also a special moment – totally surprising (both the nomination and the win) and a nice verification that I must be doing something right.
Publishing your first paper is always special too – seeing your name in print on a scientific paper is thrilling and intimidating at the same time.
In your career so far, what has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
Tricky question… for me there was a quite high personal hurdle to get past, to realise that I can do this. But one major issue with my line of work is that it has been hard to obtain funding for the deep time work I really want to pursue. That may have starting to change, but it has been tough to be forced to do that work without direct funding sources.
What do you consider the best/worst decisions of your career?
Best: Changing institutes for my postdoc. IF possible, I think it is a good idea to get the views from somewhere else for little while, and be exposed to a different research environment.
Worst: I had started looking at something, when I found out that someone else, at another institution, had done something similar and was further ahead. So, it was suggested that we should write things up together, and that was a big mistake. It took a copious amount of extra time for a not very strong paper on which I kept slipping down the author list.
Can you describe what your dream project would be, or a project you’ve always wanted to do but never had the chance to?
How much money do I get? When I talk about the deep time tides work I’m always asked what the ocean circulation would look like, or what the climate could be like 250 million years from now. Investigating that would be really nice.
What impact do you hope your research will have?
The deep time tides work may not have any direct impact on us as such, but I hope that through outreach based on this work I can inspire people to get into STEM subjects at university, or to take an interest in earth system science.
Other related topics may have societal impact; for example we are investigating tipping points of the Antarctic ice sheet, which relates to sea-level change and at the end coastal flood defenses. Add a component of changes in the tides on top of that, and the work I have been involved in could be useful.
The reef work is key for conservation efforts because we are aiming to quantify the effects warming can have on reef ecology.
What do you hope for your field of science in the future?
That we can continue doing it and expand to other parts of the earth system. So many ideas, so little time. There is the whole exoplanet field: what would tides look like at other planets, orbiting other stars? Who cares, you ask? People who are looking for potential habitable planets, I reply. Tides have probably been key for the evolution of life on Earth, and it is an important process for the evolution of a planet’s orbit, and hence if it can host life.
Are there any particular skills you think are beneficial to people wanting to follow your career path?
Numeracy is key for many subjects I think. For my line of business, having experience of fieldwork and modelling is useful – it means you can appreciate what difficulties both sides encounter. I also think that a fundamental Earth system knowledge is a good thing – having some understanding of how all the components link together is quite important in a rapidly changing world.
Do you have any advice to students/scientists looking to go into your field?
Make sure you understand the basic principles/drivers of the system you investigating. They set the scene for whatever details you are going to look at.
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