Thursday , September 28 2023

From dive master to geomorphologist

“It’s those changes in latitudes, changes in atti­tudes/nothing remains quite the same.” Sung by Jimmy Buffett, these words trans­port one to the tropics. For one woman, however, they have become a lifestyle. Dr. Jennifer Rahn, a geomor­phologist at Samford Uni­versity in Birmingham, Ala­bama, combines her profes­sional academic life with that of a global traveller. From the 1990s to the pres­ent, this has defined her.

Jen, as she is known, first visited Saba in 1990 to work as a scuba divemaster at Sea Saba after completing her undergraduate degree in geography at Villanova University and Master’s de­gree at Temple University.

Rahn taking topographical notes while diving on Saba

For her, this formed an important period of her life: “It really instilled in me the importance of travel and seeing the world from other people’s viewpoints. All too often, we live such busy lives in our own little bubble and getting out re­ally opened my eyes, espe­cially at such a young age.”

Departing Saba to com­plete her doctorate degree, Rahn attended University of Florida, Gainesville, fin­ishing her PhD in 2000 and working with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) for a one-year fel­lowship with the national Coral Reef Task Force. Her research explored the evolving nature of coastal areas and the future of vul­nerable shorelines.

Rahn’s present research is in the field of coastal geo­morphology. This field, the study of the evolution of coastal areas along large bodies of water, enabled her return to the eastern Caribbean. She is focused on the evolution of Saba’s wandering beaches — why they come and go.

When asked about the im­portance of her research, she said, “Understanding the processes and dynamics of our physical world is so important to understand­ing where we are going and what problems we will face in the decades ahead.”

Rahn takes her research outside the classroom. She is a regular presenter for Sea and Learn , a not-for­-profit foundation begun in 2003. The programme aims to reinforce the value of preserving, protecting and sustaining the envi­ronment locally, region­ally, and globally. It brings together the local commu­nity, experts and visitors in learning how one can be an environmentally-conscious citizen.

As an invited scientist, she has educated the broader community on the impor­tance of shoreline preser­vation.

Rahn leading Samford students on an inspection

Inspired by Sea and Learn, Rahn brings Samford Uni­versity students to the is­land for an accredited pro­gramme. With five different climate zones ranging from rocky desert coastlines to a lush cloud forest, Saba is a five-square-mile textbook. Students learn hands-on cartographic skills and re­search methodology. This activity-filled 18-day pro­gramme starts with learn­ing to scuba dive and by the finale, the students are real citizen scientists who pres­ent their research.

For Rahn, education is the most important aspect of her work: “Young people such as my students live such busy lives with infor­mation overload. All too often, people never look beyond their own inter­ests and the opportunity to bring my students to this amazing island and see them learn new skills and grow really makes it all worth it.”

Saba will reopen to tour­ism on May 1, 2021, follow­ing a vaccination drive. For more information contact Sea Saba <http://>

The Daily Herald.

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