Canadian Graigory Sutherland has been all over the world researching the physics around tidal energy but it took the love of an Irish woman to pull him away from his birthplace and settle in Galway.
“I moved to Europe for a girl who is now my fiancée. Her father is from Limerick so when I was looking for things to do, Galway seemed pretty natural,” says the scientist, who made the big move across the pond to Galway in January of this year.
Originally from Victoria in British Columbia on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, off Canada’s Pacific coast, Graigory has been connected to the sea for as long as he can remember. Some of his earliest memories involve visits to the sea to watch the boats with his childhood friends.
“I remember, with a friend of mine when we were really little, like five or six, going down and planning all that we were going to buy and the sea voyages that we were going to do which never panned out,” he says.
An older Graigory stayed close to home when he went to university in Victoria to study physics but originally he had no intention of working with the ocean.
“I was interested in astronomy and physics and then I met a professor doing some work on tidal energy and the tides in this very classic part of oceanography and I really liked it and took to it and have been with it since then,” he says.
Graigory says his work as a physical oceanographer studying tides and tidal power went on for “quite a few years” and admits he became “hooked” on it. One of Graigory’s favourite things about the ocean is not just learning about how the tides move and work, but being out there doing the research.
“I like going on the boats. The nice thing about oceanography is you get to out on the boats and do your experiments out in the field,” he says. Graigory says that physical oceanography has only been studied seriously since World War II and the fact that so little is known about it is one of the things that attracts him to it the most.
Right now he is investigating mixing in the ocean’s surface. This involves examining the turbulence in upper parts of the ocean where the waves break and create foam. “It is not known how much energy goes into the breaking of this ocean’s surface. This is really important for gas exchange across the surface,” he says.
He adds that the importance of mixing cannot be underestimated. These gas exchanges are fundamental to the survival of the most basic plant and animal life in the ocean like plankton, which is responsible for supporting an endless array of sea life.
“It’s not like solid ground where nutrients run into them, they float around with the water, so if there was no mixing or turbulence all the plants would die pretty quick… And it’s the same with oil spills. If you don’t know how things are mixing you are not going to know where the oil is going to go if you have a big oil spill somewhere,” he says.
Graigory says he relishes the chance to teach kids and other members of the public a little about the physics of the ocean at the upcoming Sea2Sky event at Leisureland and Galway Atlantaquaria in Salthill on Friday, 23 September.
Showcasing science on a grand scale, ‘Sea2Sky’ is the Irish theme for the European Researchers Night taking place in 800 venues across 320 cities throughout the world. Galway will be the venue for Ireland’s first ever participation in this event.