Dr. Lohitzune Solabarrieta is a Spanish postdoctoral fellow in the KAUST Red Sea Research Center (RSRC) who is focused on the characterization of surface ocean processes. More specifically, using high frequency (HF) radar data to study ocean processes at different spatiotemporal scales.
Solabarrieta's HF radar knowledge enables her to create accurate marine forecasting and early warning systems to help decision-makers manage ocean-related risks in the Red Sea and elsewhere. Her research generates quality-controlled hourly current velocity maps, with a spatial resolution of three kilometres—up to 100 kilometres offshore—in the central part of the Red Sea.
She joined KAUST in 2016 as a member of Professor Burton Jones' Integrated Ocean Processes (IOP) laboratory after completing her Ph.D. in sciences and technologies for coastal management at the University of Cantabria (UC), Spain.
In Spain, Solabarrieta also worked as a civil engineering project manager for the firm Eptisa; while simultaneously studying for her M.Sc. in harbor and coastal engineering from UC.
"My Ph.D. thesis used HF radar to analyze surface currents in the Bay of Biscay. Once I finished my Ph.D., I found the opportunity to come here to KAUST to carry out my postdoctoral studies using the same technology. I am now using my knowledge to help set up six different HF stations here in Saudi Arabia," Solabarrieta said.
"KAUST was a great opportunity because I had the chance to use the same technology but in a different area. Ocean current research had been done here before. However, until now, it has yielded inaccurate results due to the lack of continuous data. The technology that I am using provides us with real-time maps with huge amounts of data," she added.
Solabarrieta believes that, along with her IOP colleagues, she can use HF technology to accurately monitor ocean currents to provide crucial support in the event of an oil spill or other types of ecological disasters in the region. The IOP's research can also enable Kingdom policymakers to react immediately in a search-and-rescue scenario.
"For Saudi Arabia, we know that there are a lot of areas along the Red Sea coast that are full of oil construction companies and sites. The Red Sea is also connected with the Mediterranean Sea which means it's a place where a lot of large petroleum tankers move through daily. So, if there is an accident, we can almost instantly predict where this oil will be going, and when.
"With our research, we can also detect which are the ecological "hot spots" where the existing ecology needs to be protected. The information we gather can help inform response teams in the event of an emergency."
At KAUST, Solabarrieta continues to benefit from her engineering background; a background that helps inform the practical aspects of her research and marry them to her environmental and community building conscience.
"Due to my past, I have the knowledge to say, 'Okay, we need this harbor, or we need this structure,' but I can also say, 'We don't need it to be so large, we can make it smaller and less environmentally impactful.' With my research, I can help protect the surrounding ecology. I think now, as a research group, we have both sides and both knowledge bases, to do something really sustainable.
"Thanks to the multidisciplinary environment of the RSRC I can talk with ecologists and biologists on a daily basis. These conversations help me to not only focus on physical oceanography but they also help me to connect it to the biology; which was not my field when I came here. But now, I know a lot more about our oceans and seas from a biological perspective, and it is fascinating to be in such an environment.
"My work at the RSRC is a great opportunity to advance my career and develop everything that I learned throughout my Ph.D. studies."