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Alumni: Bonnie McGregor Stubblefield, Class of 1964

Current Employment
Associate Director, Marine Geologist, United States Geological Survey, Retired

Bonnie's Story

Scientific research is an exciting and challenging career. My career path as an oceanographer started when I was 13 years old and became infatuated with science and the oceans. My training began at Tufts University with a B.S. (1964) in geology and a minor in biology. The emphasis on field work, developing good observational skills and a mentoring faculty provided an excellent foundation.

I continued my studies at the University of Rhode Island, Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO). Oceanography, an integrated science, requires a general knowledge and understanding of geology, chemistry, physics, and biology. As the first woman at GSO interested in studying sea floor geology and geologic processes, an interesting challenge arose because my field vehicle was the 180 foot research vessel Trident, and for the first time a woman would sail alone on the ship. My first research cruise in 1965 was for 90 days with port stops in the Azores, Mediterranean, and Morocco, which also allowed me to collect data for my Masters thesis on deep ocean sediment distribution patterns. Being in graduate school in the mid to late 1960's during the plate tectonic, sea floor spreading revolution in our thinking about the earth, was exciting especially using my research to test the new theory. As part of my PhD. dissertation, I studied a group of seamounts north east of Bermuda to understand their age and evolution in light of the sea floor spreading theory.

In 1972, I took my first job as an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research laboratory in Miami, Florida, where I met my husband and also finished my Ph.D.in Marine Geology and Geophysics at the University of Miami (1975), becoming the first woman Ph.D. in the NOAA lab. Working beside the founder of the plate tectonic theory and a scientist who had mapped the sea floor spreading magnetic stripes in the Pacific, focused my research on studying the processes occurring at the actively spreading Mid-Atlantic Ridge crest, and the associated hydrothermal mineral deposits.

With the oil crisis of the 1970's the country turned its energy resource interests to the offshore, targeting the continental margins. In the late 1970's, I in turn changed my research focus from the mid-ocean to the continental margin studying the depositional and erosional processes, and the transport pathways that shaped them. This change in research focus lead to my accepting a marine geologist position in 1979 with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in Miami, FL. In the early 1980's to protect the potential resources of the continental margin, President Reagan declared the sea floor extending 200 nautical miles from the coast an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and part of the national domain. This new frontier provided a need to systematically map this unexplored underwater land. I moved to the USGS Headquarters in Reston VA and became part of this effort serving as project chief and program coordinator for the USGS EEZ mapping program, using state-of-the-art sidescan sonar technology called GLORIA. This was an international cooperative program with Great Britain, and provided the first regional scale images of the morphology and sea floor processes of the continental margins. Also, I was Chief Scientist on mapping cruises on the Atlantic Margin, Gulf of Mexico, and around the Hawaiian Islands, which provided fascinating insights into the dynamic geologic processes shaping the sea floor, such as meandering submarine canyons and massive landslides. As a research scientist, I spent on average about 1 month per year at sea collecting data and samples to test hypotheses and to understand the unseen face of the ocean floor and the processes that shape it.

In the early 1990's, women in the USGS were encouraged to assume leadership roles and I became the first woman in USGS to be appointed by the Department of the Interior to a Senior Executive Position. I went from doing hands on science to serving as Associate Director of USGS responsible for scientific program development, strategic planning, interagency coordination, and interdisciplinary science. I had the opportunity to be part of bringing the National Biological Service into USGS as an integral part, making USGS a natural science organization positioned to do integrated science.

In 2004 I retired from USGS with my career having spanned 40 years from research scientist having authored or coauthored over 100 papers and abstracts that have been published in professional journals and books to executive leadership positions that helped position science in an ever changing world. My career has been fun and rewarding. I owe much to the people I have met along the way as friends, champions, and mentors, who allowed me to achieve many firsts as a woman in science and oceanography.