The Team

Ship Location

E Pacific Ocean

Neah Baechler

Photo of Neah Baechler
Science/Data Team / Navigator
Contract Hydrographer
Abyss Hydrographic Mapping

Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?

I'm a Hydrographer, or seafloor mapper, meaning I specialize in the operation, data collection and data analysis of acoustic sonar systems used to create images of the seafloor and water column. These sonar systems use sound similar to the way bats use echolocation to create images, giving scientists a much better look at the geology of the seafloor. Knowing the shape, rock type, density and topography of the seafloor are important because it allows us to study habitat, build context around deep-sea science, observe phenomena like erupting seamounts or gas seeps and create navigational shipping charts that are accurate and dependable. 

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

I've always loved to explore, so helping to map our planets uncharted areas was a natural step for me. The deep ocean is a beautiful and mysterious place, operating independently of things like readily available sunlight and oxygen which we take for granted on land. There is so much we can learn from these ecosystems that are as alien in their survival as any life that could have developed in space. I became a geologist because I love the outdoors, but curiosity and adventure brought me to hydrography. I believe exploring the depths of our oceans is critical to our success as a species and to our understanding of life on this planet and it's potential to exist elsewhere. 

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

I've had many, many good and encouraging teachers and professors throughout my life, but I had one really influential experience as a 6th grader. I grew up in Portland, Oregon, where every 6th-grade student does a week at Outdoor School with their class and classes from 3 other middle schools. Spending a week in the woods with a community that encouraged students to look under rocks and ask questions about how soil forms taught me to be inquisitive, excited and collaborative. I learned that science isn't just something in a book full of proven theories, it's a way of thinking and asking important questions of the world around you so you can gain a better understanding. That was a big lesson! 

What element of your work/study do you think is the most fascinating?

I love getting to map an area to determine ROV dive sites. It's really cool to get to build maps and visualizations of the sea floor that allow a deep-sea robot to go down and gain video access of the plants, deep sea life, and geology there. It's a really good full-circle feeling to go from having no idea what's below, or feeling that it may not be a safe environment for the robot to dive in, to having a video of the seafloor and sometimes tangible samples brought back to the surface. 

What other jobs led you to your current career?

The College of Charleston (where I received my Bachelor of Science in Geology) has a wonderful hydrography program. I was originally studying Marine Biology, but was steered into the office of Dr. Leslie Sautter and quickly converted to a marine geologist and hydrographer. Dr. Sautter is an incredible educator and goes the extra mile to make sure her students get hands-on experience while in school so they're ready and desirable when the time comes to enter the workforce. She taught me everything I know as a hydrographer and got me out on boats learning and collecting data. I had enough experience after graduating that I was employed right away. I'm very grateful for all of the opportunities Dr. Sautter and the College of Charleston provided me, I wouldn't be where I am without them.

What are your degrees and certifications?

Bachelor of Science in Geology --College of Charleston

What are your hobbies?

I love hiking, backpacking, scrambling, and swimming in rivers and creeks all over the Pacific Northwest. I also love to run in my spare time and am fond of disappearing to a quiet corner to read, paint or draw when I'm home. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?

Determination, optimism and the ability to closely follow directions have gotten me a long way in my career. I'd encourage someone looking to become a marine scientist or hydrographer to work hard and follow directions meticulously. The more you can do and learn independently, the more valuable you are in the field. Teamwork and trust in each team member to execute their job efficiently and correctly is a vital part of success, and being able to work hard, stay positive through long hours and follow directions efficiently is really important. These skills are in some ways more important than academics (although that's important too), especially when you're just starting out. Open your mind to all of your potentials, and don't be afraid to work hard for the things you want! 

How did you get involved in the Nautilus Exploration Program?

I'm a contract hydrographer working with some of the other Research Vessels geared toward ocean discovery. I met expedition coordinator Nicole Raineault through a mutual friend at an ocean sciences conference this past winter, and my skill-set and desire to do exploration mapping was a great fit for work aboard the Nautilus!