by Barb Hameister
Ready for a research dive in Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, Washington
Amanda Kelley may not have followed a traditional path on her way to becoming a scientist—among other things, she toured the world as a guitar tech with the rock band Everclear—but she says the additional life experience is a real benefit in her job as an assistant professor with the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.
Amanda moved to Alaska in May 2016 from California, where she had been a postdoc at the University of California Santa Barbara. Living in southern California for three years might not seem like the best way to prepare for life in Alaska, but thanks to the many trips she made to Antarctica for her postdoctoral research, it turns out that Amanda is no stranger to extreme cold.
While growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Amanda loved taking summer trips with her family around Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. She was especially drawn to the beaches and tide pools, and was fascinated by all the wonderful critters she found there. That sense of curiosity and wonder, along with her lifelong love of the ocean, were a big part of why she ultimately chose marine science as a career.
Amanda enrolled at Oregon State University straight out of high school, and was most of the way through a forestry degree program when she decided to leave college to play in several rock bands. After a few years this evolved into a gig as a guitar technician, and she toured around the world with a number of different bands, keeping their instruments in good order.
For a while Amanda made her living as a carpenter. She spent a decade learning the trade of finish carpentry, and specialized in the renovation of Victorian and Arts and Crafts era homes.
Then, in 2006, in her mid-30s and with a renewed focus and determination (and a realization that she couldn’t live the rock and roll carpentry life forever), Amanda enrolled at Portland State University and completed a bachelor’s degree in organismal biology and a doctoral degree in ecological physiology.
She says the problem-solving skills she picked up in the intervening years, not to mention a lot of experience working with many different kinds of people in different situations, have served her well in the world of science and academia.
As an ecological physiologist, Amanda has a particular interest in coastal marine species. Her research primarily focuses on the changes in pH, temperature and salinity that are occurring the world’s oceans, especially around the polar regions, and how coastal marine species and ecosystems may respond to those changes.
She was drawn to the study of physiology by a fascination with the way organisms are able to adapt to environmental changes in both the short- and long term. Having previously worked with a variety of organisms including crabs, snails and sea urchins, now that she’s a faculty member and working with new collaborators, Amanda is excited to be learning about a range of other species such as deepwater corals and pink salmon.
Another major interest is ocean acidification, which refers to the shift in pH of the world’s oceans as they absorb excess CO2 from the atmosphere. Currently Amanda is working with the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward to determine the potential vulnerability of multiple native Alaska clam species to ocean acidification. She is also investigating how marine invertebrates in Antarctica will respond to ocean change.
Amanda was hired by CFOS as a co-director of the Ocean Acidification Research Center (OARC) at UAF. OARC is known world-wide as a research center that has done foundational work identifying ocean acidification hot spots in Alaskan waters. In addition to monitoring areas for the threat of ocean acidification, the center is expanding its efforts to determine the potential vulnerability of marine species to ocean acidification, and Amanda’s expertise will help guide that work.
Along with her own research and her duties at OARC, Amanda is developing a new course called “Human Impacts on the Marine Biosphere” which will explore how species in the ocean are responding to a range of human-caused environmental change.
As a person who is proud of her Native American ancestry (Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone), Amanda also has a keen desire to work with underrepresented people in higher education, and especially with individuals whose communities are impacted by climate change. “I want to share information that will help communities understand and cope with the changes they are experiencing,” she says.
Fashioning an architectural knee brace for an Arts and Crafts home restoration project
A big fan of the Alaskan do-it-yourself spirit, Amanda has already put her planning and carpentry skills to good use at her home in the hills outside of town. “I knew I could survive a Fairbanks winter if I had a wood stove and hot tub,” Amanda says. So she got busy and built them just in time for her first winter.
With that can-do attitude, her seemingly endless curiosity about the natural world, and a keen sense of adventure, Amanda seems well suited for life in Interior Alaska. She loves being active outdoors and exploring, but also really appreciates the quiet moments to be found while bird-watching, or simply walking her dogs at the end of a long workday.