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Astrid Brigitta Leitner, PhD

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Current Position:

Post Doctoral Researcher

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Originally born in land-locked, mountainous Austria, I met the ocean when I moved to California at a young age and was fascinated. Over the years I gradually ventured deeper from surfing and windsurfing to SCUBA diving and eventually all the way down into the deep sea. 

I completed a B.S. in Marine Biology and a B.S. in Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, crafting my own oceanography curriculum between the two departments. At UCSC I became a certified AAUS scientific diver and worked in kelp forest ecology, but I also became a deep sea enthusiast while working with ROV data from Astoria Submarine Canyon during an NSF REU internship at Hatfield Marine Science Center. I then went on to complete my PhD at the end of 2018 at the University of Hawai'i Manoa in Biological Oceanography. After completing my PhD I moved on to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute as a post doctoral research fellow and have stayed on for a second NSF funded post doc at MBARI in collaboration with UCSC. 

 

My research generally focuses on the impacts of abrupt underwater topography (called bathymetry) on the ecology and behavior of marine animals with a special focus on the deep sea.

Research Interests

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I am an ecological oceanographer whose research interests lie at the intersection of ecology with biological and physical oceanography, as well as marine geology. I am interested in how abrupt and complex bathymetry including banks, seamounts, island slopes, canyons, and steep continental shelves influence the spatial distribution and behaviors of predators and their prey in the ocean by modifying the physical and biological environment, especially in the still poorly understood deep sea.

 

These high-relief areas are hotspots of human activity such as fishing, mining, and tourism. I am interested in contributing to the understanding and mitigation of anthropogenic impacts to the ocean especially as humanity grapples with the climate crisis and the changing ocean. My research program includes a focus on deep-sea mining, trying to understand the role of abrupt bathymetries in the biogeography and ecology of nodule mining regions.

 

To address these interdisciplinary questions, I foster strong collaborations across focused research groups and utilize a broad range of technologies including remotely operated and autonomous underwater vehicles, bioacoustics technologies, multibeam sonar for seafloor mapping, acoustic doppler current profilers, a variety of underwater camera systems, and direct fishing techniques.

 

Abrupt topographies juxtapose distinct habitats, each with different communities, creating a unique oceanic front where the deep and shallow, the coastal and the offshore, and the benthic and the pelagic all come together with still largely unexplored ecological consequences.

Research Projects

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Cliff Hangers: Investigating Effects of a Submarine Canyon on the Distribution and Behavior of Midwater Animals and their Predators (NEW!)

Topographic Blocking of Diel Vertical Migrators (on-going)

Baseline research and exploration in a deep sea mining region: Seamounts in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (past)

Influences of bathymetry (hills and seamounts) on deep sea predators in a future mining region (past)

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