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Officer Profile: Lieutenant Junior Grade Alice Beittel

A NOAA Corps officer standing in front of NOAA Ship Rainier

LTJG Alice Beittel stands in front of NOAA Ship Rainier in Saipan while working on the RICHARD Project. Photo: NOAA

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in San Leandro, California which is in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Where did you go to school and in what subject did you get your degree(s)?

I graduated from the University of California, Davis with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and Management and a minor in Geographic Information Systems. Looking back, UC Davis provided me with an incredibly diverse set of academic and professional work experiences. I worked in a fish behavior lab, assisted with Sierra Nevada meadow restoration projects, studied coral reef ecology, served in student government, and was a coxswain for the UC Davis women’s rowing team. I made an effort to dip my toes into anything I thought was interesting and exciting.

As a NOAA Corps officer, we are often referred to as a jack of all trades. Throughout our careers as officers and even within one assignment, we wear many hats. Being able to jump right into any task or project with a positive attitude and think critically about how to get the job accomplished is a skill I became familiar with during undergrad and continue to practice and learn today.

What inspired you to become a NOAA Corps officer?

I first heard about the NOAA Corps at an American Fisheries Society career job panel during my senior year at UC Davis. One of the panelists described serving as a NOAA Corps officer and working to map the ocean floor. I was immediately interested. I was drawn to the sense of adventure, service, and science missions of NOAA. An opportunity to learn how to navigate the ocean, drive a research ship, map the ocean floor, and work with diverse teams of people sounded like the coolest job ever.

As I learned more about the NOAA Corps and spoke to additional officers, my gut feeling to pursue this new career grew stronger. I’ve always wanted to work for NOAA and now get to be involved in the operations behind projects important to the health and safety of our planet. The impact of our work is what keeps me motivated. I am a strong supporter of open-access data and research, I am proud to be part of an organization that creates data-driven products available to anyone.

What do you do as a NOAA Corps officer?

During the first sea assignment, I worked as an Officer of the Deck (OOD) on NOAA Ship Rainier. As an OOD, I was responsible for running a bridge team to safely navigate and facilitate survey operations. In the commercial world, this would be a similar role to a 2nd or 3rd mate. In addition to driving the ship, I was also the ship’s navigator. I created voyage plans, routes, updated navigation charts and bridge equipment, and led navigation briefs for the ship. The second big role on the ship was as a hydrographer where I conducted acoustic surveys to map the ocean floor and process data to be used in public nautical navigation charts. Some of the other hats I wore included: SCUBA Dive Officer, Damage Control Officer, Public Affairs Officer, and Benchmark Officer. In these roles you would find me planning fire and emergency drills, posting to the NOAA Ship Rainier Facebook page, planning ship tours, filling SCUBA and SCBA bottles, or taking GPS observations over benchmarks to supply data for the new National Spatial Reference System.

Now I am on my land assignment at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center with the Advanced Survey Technology Program where I help plan acoustic-trawl fisheries surveys from Baja, Mexico to Vancouver, Canada. I also process acoustic data and conduct research into ways we can better use sound to survey ecosystems and industry-critical fisheries. For a couple weeks out of the year I join a NOAA ship as an OOD to maintain my underway watchkeeping skills.

What was one of your favorite missions or experiences?

During 2022, NOAA Ship Rainier conducted a reef assessment and habitat mapping mission in the Mariana Island Archipelago with NOAA’s National Coral Reef Monitoring Program, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and Office of Coast Survey. We hosted a team of SCUBA divers who collected information on coral reef health, fish populations, and created 3D maps of coral reefs with underwater cameras. Simultaneously, the ship’s permanent hydrographic survey department mapped the ocean floor with our acoustic sensors. This project was the first time many of us had been involved in an interdisciplinary project and I loved the collaborative nature that resulted from joining two extremely dedicated and skilled teams together.

The products from this mission will go to update coral reef health assessments for the region, navigation charts, and habitat maps of critical marine resources. All of the data collected is free to access and goes back to serve the public and our environment. You can read more about the RICHARD Project (Rainier Integrates Charting Hydrography and Reef Demographics) on our story map. The project is named in memory of the late NOAA Corps Rear Admiral Richard Brennan who was a major supporter of this multi-mission project and made profound contributions to the hydrographic community.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a NOAA Corps officer?

Stay curious! The job of a NOAA Corps officer is also a lifestyle that will keep you on your toes. My journey so far has brought me to glacial fjords of Alaska’s Inside Passage, remote volcanic islands in the western Pacific, mooring buoy deployments off the California coast, and even crossing the eye of a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico. We have the opportunity to experience new places, learn very specific details of how ships work, and step into a wide array of science projects in the NOAA line offices. Stay authentically curious about the work, the people, and world around you. You will come away from those experiences with knowledge you would have never thought possible and relationships with people you’ll carry forward.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love the outdoors! Anything that gets me outside and moving. While on my land assignment, I have taken up long-distance trail running. I also love to surf, swim in the ocean, bike, hike, and get excited about farm-fresh vegetables and fruits. One of my favorite things to do when pulling into a new location with the ship is to discover a nearby trail and go run it! Life on a research ship is action-packed and I find spending time outdoors as a great way to decompress and recharge.