Areas of Expertise
- Ocean acidification
- Science communication
- Global carbon cycle
Chemistry has always just made sense to Sarah. Atoms fit together like building blocks, and then they make something new. But the thought of spending her life in a laboratory surrounded by bubbling mixtures wasn’t appealing. She’d rather be on a boat, or maybe, writing a book. Sarah found her way to the sea, but not quite on a boat, when one day, she realized that the ocean was full of chemicals, both natural and man-made, and there was still a whole lot left to learn about Earth’s final frontier. She went to graduate school to become an ocean carbon cycle expert. Along the way, she learned how to talk to people about science and found she had a knack for making ocean issues clear to all types of people.
After spending several years as an ocean carbon cycle researcher, mostly at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod (“the oceanographic institution on the mainland,” to the Jaws fans out there), Sarah wanted a chance to work at the border between science and policy. Instead of doing scientific research and hoping someone would pick it up and use it, she wanted to help bring new science directly into policy that would create action and positive change for the ocean. So she moved to Ocean Conservancy, where she does that work every day. She also gets to write about science and decode its mysteries for people who don’t see the secret logic of chemistry the same way she does.
As Director of Climate Science at Ocean Conservancy, Sarah combines her science and communication skills to educate and engage decision-makers and stakeholders from every political perspective on ocean acidification, identifying ways that different groups can take action. Her goal is to show that this issue is relevant and impacting people today in order to gain long-term support to protect communities, cultures and livelihoods from the threat of ocean acidification.
Sarah is currently a Coordinating Lead Author on Working Group II of the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report, and has recently served as Review Editor on the 4th National Climate Assessment, and Lead Author on the 2nd State of the Carbon Cycle Report, as well as the author of dozens of peer-reviewed scientific journal articles in high-impact journals including Science and Nature Climate Change.
- Ph.D., Marine Science, University of Georgia, 2006
- B.S., Chemistry, Haverford College, 1999
My Favorite Thing About the Ocean
I’ve always loved the fat glassy look of breaking waves and the different colors hiding in them. When I was a kid I would try to catch waves and water droplets in my hands without breaking up their rounded shapes. Didn’t work, but it kept me busy trying.
Saba G, et al., Recommended Priorities for Research on Ecological Impacts of Ocean and Coastal Acidification in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic. Estuarine, Coastal, and Shelf Science.
Katja Fennel, et al., Carbon cycling in the North American coastal ocean: a synthesis. Biogeosciences, 16, 1281-1304, 2019.
Jennie Rheuban, et al., Projected impacts of future climate change, ocean acidification, and management on the US Atlantic sea scallop (Placopecten magellanicus) fishery. PLoS One, 13(9):e0203536, 2018.
Sarah Cooley, et al., Ocean acidification and Pacific oyster larval failures in the Pacific Northwest United States. Global Change in Marine Systems: Societal and Governing Responses. P. Guillotreau, A. Bundy, R.I. Perry, eds. Routledge, London, p. 58-71, 2017
Linwood Pendleton, et al., Coral Reefs and People in a High-CO2 World: Where Can Science Make a Difference to People?. PLoS One 11(11): e0164699, 2016.
Sarah Cooley, et al., Community-level actions that can address ocean acidification. Frontiers in Marine Science, 2:128, 2016.
J-P Gattuso, et al., Contrasting Futures for Ocean and Society from Different Anthropogenic CO2 Emissions Scenarios. Science, 349(6243), 2015.
Sarah Cooley, et al., Getting ocean acidification on decision makers’ to-do lists: dissecting the process through case studies. Oceanography, 28(2):198–211, 2015.
Julia Ekstrom, Vulnerability and adaptation of US shellfisheries to ocean acidification. Nature Climate Change, 5(3):207-214, 2015.
House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Subcommittee on Environment Hearing: Sea Change: Impacts of Climate Change on Our Oceans and Coasts, February 27, 2019.
“As a university researcher, I got frustrated at how slowly new science worked its way into decisions that affect the ocean. But, for many ocean issues like climate change and ocean acidification, we haven’t got time to waste. I’m here because I can help catalyze getting new knowledge into smart ocean policy, and that makes a difference every day.”