Geologist Christina Symons

Geologist Christina Symons

Dr. Christina Symons is a geologist mapping one of the last unexplored regions of Earth—the seafloor!

Grades

6 - 12+

Subjects

Earth Science, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Geography, Geology, Physical Geography

Christina’s passion is mapping the seafloor. She was recently a member of the science team on DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron’s record-breaking solo dive to the deepest known point in the ocean, the Challenger Deep.

EARLY WORK

Christina grew up in Spring, Texas, just north of Houston. Her father was a geophysicist, while her mother worked as a registered nurse.

Christina says she was an analytical kid who was interested in science, but she also had another passion.

“I know I always loved the outdoors and being outdoors,” she says.

After graduating from high school, Christina went to Stanford University in California, to study engineering. She decided to take a geology class and quickly fell in love with the subject. Christina says a teacher’s assistant in that course was an inspiration to her.

“She was great,” Christina says. “She was a great teacher. She enjoyed what she was doing. I could totally see myself trying to emulate her, her path and her career.”

That first exposure to geology caused Christina to change her major. She had lots of memorable experiences studying geology at Stanford.

“Our field trips would be right out on the beach at Half Moon Bay or up in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada,” she says. “The outdoors was our classroom.”

It wasn’t until graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin that Christina’s focus switched from terrestrial geology to underwater geology. The change occurred on her first long research trip, mapping the seafloor south of New Zealand.

“Then I was hooked on the ocean,” she says. “Everything up until then had been land-based. Then I just fell in love with the ocean.”

After securing her master's degree in geology from the University of Texas, Christina got her PhD in Earth sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.

MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

“Honestly, it’s going to new places, meeting different people, getting different perspectives. And then the best part is we are mapping the seafloor that no one has ever seen and for the most part no one has ever mapped. So we are learning something about a brand new place.”

MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

Sleeplessness. “There are a lot of times when you either want to stay up because you can’t wait to see what will be another few miles down the way or you have to stay up to watch the instruments and make sure everything is collecting data correctly.”

HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

“Initially, I think of where things are on a map. But I think it’s driven a lot more by what makes up that place on a map, the geologic makeup of it. Is it mountainous? Is it on flat plains? Are they on the ocean? Are there people there? How do they contribute to the land or take from the land?”

GEO-CONNECTION

One of the geographic tools Christina uses to map the seafloor is an echo sounder. An echo sounder is a device that determines depth by measuring the time for a high-frequency sound wave to reach the seafloor and for its echo to return to the instrument.

“If you consider geography to be the study of land, people, features, how they interact and change, etc., then yes, an echo sounder certainly sheds light on the underwater features of our planet and how they have changed through time,” she says.

GPS is also an important tool for mapping the seafloor. “It is vital to producing useful maps,” Christina says. “It’s one thing to collect high-resolution images of the seafloor, but you must know where you are on the Earth to make a useful map.”

SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . GEOLOGIST

“It is certainly helpful to have a broad science background. For geology, knowing something about a lot of things is helpful.”

GET INVOLVED

Christina has a lot of suggested resources for individuals interested in geology. She recommends visiting museums, aquariums, libraries, and parks.

“Any time you visit any of those [national or state parks], there is always a blurb about the geology,” she says. “Or what is going on and why is this park where it is.”

She also mentions a handful of websites with a geology or science focus, including National Geographic, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin.

Media Credits

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Writer
Stuart Thornton,
Editors
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
Samantha Zuhlke, National Geographic Society
Producer
National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
other
Last Updated

May 20, 2022

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Funder
Sloan Foundation

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