By Michelle Watson
Scuba diving and impromptu vacations are all a part of Professor Kristine Delong’s marine research. Why just a few weeks ago, she left and went on a vacation. This Florida native had always had a love for the ocean but she wouldn’t come to fulfill that dream until later on in life.
Delong graduated with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, initially going down that path because her high school counselors told her to. She was good at science and math so to her counselors, she’d make a great engineer. It wasn’t until after years in the industry that she realized she hated the work.
Delong would then go on to receive her master’s degree and eventually her doctorate degree in Oceanography – what she always wanted. Here, at Louisiana State University, she was the first woman hired by the geography and anthropology department.
A few of her current works are centered on coral reefs and carbon dating. Radioactive carbon dating is a way to measure how old something is. Usually, this method looks at how much carbon 14, an isotopic form of carbon, has left in the object. If the object is older than 50 thousand years, radioactive carbon dating will not be able to measure how old it is.
For example, one of Delong’s pieces in her lab, is a tree bark stump from the Mississippi river that was older than 50 thousand years. According to Delong, this means that the tree stump is from the last ice age. From using tree stumps, her studies can help archaeologists find out a lot about the past.
The most interesting part of her lab however, was her collection of Coral Reefs. You can also use coral reefs to learn more about the past. To put it her way, “Your bones speak and you can learn a lot from your bones.” From the density bands located in the corals you can see what the climate was during that time. In her collection she had coral reefs ranging anywhere from Florida to Puerto Rico.
What really hits close to home for Delong is the amount of Coral Reefs dying in Florida. In fact as of three weeks ago, there are 22 endangered corals. Delong believes one of the reasons for this is human interaction and coral bleaching. Specifically in Key West, and Key Largo, tourism has become a big industry. This caused the human interaction to destroy some of the coral reefs that were there.
On the other hand, coral bleaching is the when coral reefs push all of the algae that are living in them out. This usually happens when the water temperature gets really hot. An alga gives corals food and color. Without algae the relationship that coral reefs depend on will no longer thrive, making the corals die. These are the problems that are affecting the coral reefs in Florida.
Other than being immersed in coral reef efforts and news, Delong teaches two classes at LSU, typically working 12 hour days. She also has two graduate students helping her with her work. In her spare time, when she’s not teaching, she likes to visit places across the world usually for her research studies, but also for fun. She’s been all over from Brazil to Whales. To have her put it, being a professor is one of the best jobs to have.