Nelson oceanographer Mitchell Chandler has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship to attend the Scripps Institute in America. Photo: Jonty Dine.

Beers, Burgers and Banter with Mitchell Chandler


Every few weeks the Nelson Weekly sits down to have lunch at Burger Culture with someone interesting doing something interesting. This week we catch up with Nelson oceanographer Mitch Chandler who has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship and will attend the world class institute of Scripps in San Diego to commence his PhD. The institute has produced a number of famous scientists with 59 Fulbright alumni winning Nobel Prizes.

So, what exactly is oceanography?
It’s basically looking at the physical processes within the ocean. It’s not dolphins and things like that, a lot of people think that but it’s the less glamourous side of marine science. Some examples are waves, water temperature and ocean currents. It can be looking at how the ocean changes and why different areas of the ocean have different temperatures or currents. How versatile the ocean is, is amazing to me. The whole point of becoming a scientist is to find out new things and expand our collective knowledge of the ocean. How it may continue to change and the implications it could have on us and our climate. It’s all a very interconnected system.

And now you’re off to get your PhD in America?
The programme I’m going to is with Scripps at the University of California in San Diego, which is one of the premier oceanographic institutions in the world, it’s quite exciting to be accepted. I will be doing a PhD so it will be approximately five years. During the admissions process they actually flew some prospective students to Scripps to visit the campus and talk to supervisors. I want to hopefully work in a crown research institute like NIWA or MetOcean.

How did you discover oceanography?
I was really lucky to find out it even existed. It’s a pretty obscure and niche thing. I didn’t know about it until year 13 when I went on an expedition with the Sir Peter Blake Trust and a group of oceanographers to the South Antarctic. They told me a bit about what they did, and it sounded like something I would really enjoy. I looked more into it, took some marine science papers in my first year at uni and realised this is what I want to do.

Where does your passion for this work come from?
Growing up in Nelson has definitely had a strong influence on the fact that I love the ocean.
We are surrounded by it. I spent summers at Kaiteriteri swimming and kayaking so the ocean has always been a part of me. The science and environmental side of things started at Nayland Primary School. We had a group that monitored Poor Man’s Stream and I really enjoyed going down every term and assessing the stream, taking samples, citizen science sort of stuff. From that it has snowballed, I have always stuck with science and putting it together with my love of the ocean came out to be oceanography.

So, will you be able save our oceans?
There are some significant temperature changes we have been seeing around the world and strengthening ocean currents due to climate change. The thing is, the oceans are always going to be there, the concern is the impact they could have on us. To put it crudely, we are screwing everything up, but nature will survive, whether we do or not is really up to us.