Time and tides wait for no one, and this month’s profile is with tide expert Steve Gill from the National Ocean Service.  We are gratified by the response we get each month from readers of the NOAA Communicator. This Leap Year essay features some of the things you told us you want to know more about.

Justin Kenney
Director, NOAA Office of Communications & External Affairs

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Meet our staff

Ted Buehner.

In this issue, meet Stephen Gill, chief scientist with the NOS Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) in Silver Spring, Md.

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Jana Goldman
NOAA Communications &
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   Tips for Effective Communication                  Issue 13 - February 2012

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.
~ Charles M. Schulz, American cartoonist 1922-2000.

Welcome to the NOAA Communicator! Here are articles, tips, and other resources to help you communicate effectively.

Leap Year Grab Bag

February brings us an extra day this year. For those of us afflicted with Word Obsessive Disorder (WOD) – and thank you to Barbara W. for identifying the symptoms of this malady – that means one more day to gnash teeth and say “Arrgh” when we read or hear some of the following. Most of the topics below were suggested by NOAA Communicator readers – thanks!

Possessive (ownership) versus plural (more than one): More than one television set are TVs, not TV’s. For example: “Teddy Vesterman’s six television sets are TV’s TVs.”

Could you? The withering statement “I could not (or couldn’t) care less” loses its punch when stated as “I could care less.” Aha, so there is still some time to go before you really “do not care.”

What’s one letter? In the case of “affect” and “effect,” one letter, a simple vowel, makes a huge difference in the meaning of the word. According to Strunk and White, “effect” means “result.” When used as a verb, it means “to bring about” or “to accomplish.” When we change the first letter to an “a” the resulting word “affect” means “to influence.” So, one might see, “Did the effect of that work affect the final decision?”

What’s one letter? Part 2: If one letter does a good job, why not add another? It does change the meaning, and perhaps in a way that you didn’t intend. “You might loose your shoes if your laces are too lose.” What?

Plurals: NOAA is a science agency. We work with bits of information – or datum – for which Latin kindly provides the lovely word “data” as the plural form. So, as a plural – meaning more than one – it is correct to say “The data are accurate” instead of the more ear-jarring, but sadly more common, “The data is accurate.” This is true for other plural nouns, including, “symposia,” “criteria,” “media,” and “phenomena.”

Which is it? One of my WOD triggers is the misuse of “eager” and “anxious.” I “eagerly” await my birthday, meaning I look forward to it with happy anticipation. (That pony will show up one of these years!) However, there have been times when I “anxiously” anticipated my performance review, meaning I was nervous or uneasy about this annual event.

Backhanded compliment? Another WOD trigger is hearing someone say “I would like to take this time to thank….” My reaction is, “what’s stopping you?” A similar reaction to the phrase “I want to thank….” Again, what’s keeping you from doing so? Or is there a reason why this person doesn’t deserve the thanks you wish to offer? A simple “I thank Teddy Vesterman for loaning me one of his six TVs” works beautifully.

Going the additional distance: If you remember that “farther” means “distance” (“We traveled farther than we thought”) and “further” means “time” or “quantity” (“Can we meet to discuss this topic further”), you will have the grateful thanks of those of us afflicted with WOD.

Super-ize it: We read and hear a lot of “finalize,” utilize,” and “prioritize.” There are other words that do the job nicely without that harsh “ize” suffix – such as “complete” or “finish” for “finalize”; the short, but elegant “use” instead of “utilize”; and when we “prioritize” something, we “rank” it. There are words ending in “ize” that often work well, such as fertilize, summarize, and organize. But one “ize” certainly does not fit all.

I know there are many more, but I’ll save that for another essay. If you have a WOD trigger not mentioned above, please let me know.

— Jana Goldman
NOAA Office of Communications & External Affairs

Meet our staff

Stephen Gill
National Ocean Service

Stephen Gill.

Stephen Gill
Chief Scientist
NOS Center for Operational Oceanographic
Products and Services (CO-OPS)

Today more people live along U.S. coastlines than ever before and pressure to further develop coastal areas continues. These realities combined with the expected rise in sea level due to climate change add up to a high demand for accurate data on tides, currents, and sea level. Stephen Gill, chief scientist for the NOS Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS), sees that this demand is met. A significant part of his job involves explaining CO-OPS science to general public audiences, the news media, and those who need to interpret and apply oceanographic data to facilitate decision-making.

His educational background includes a B.S. in meteorology and oceanography and an M.S. in physical oceanography from the New York University School of Engineering and Science. He also did one-year of applied research in tides and tidal theory at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Prior to coming to NOAA, Gill was an oceanographer for the New York Ocean Science Laboratory in Montauk, N.Y. Gill joined NOAA in 1975.

Why is your work important?

My work is important because I’m foremost a public servant, and it is really important to do the best possible job for the taxpayer. My organization is in the business of providing oceanographic products and services to the public on a 24/7 basis. As a chief scientist, it is important that I ensure our operation is based with the best possible science perspective and that our data are of sustained high quality. There is an implicit trust by the public in our organization’s expertise and ability to provide the highest quality information that must be maintained.

Port operators, emergency preparedness teams, and coastal facilities managers use our data in the short term to ensure efficient port operations, prepare for and respond to storms and tsunamis, and to predict tides and currents. Our data also figure in the calculation of reference points for long-term sea-level change and statistics on extremes.

How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?

Over the years, I’ve developed relationships with NOAA Communications and External Affairs and our data user community as a subject matter expert in tides and in sea level change. As such, I am often asked to respond to media inquiries, or to serve on various technical review panels or interagency technical author teams. So my role has two parts: to explain the fundamental science of our work to the general public in understandable language; and to assist users in interpreting and applying our data in meaningful ways for decision-making.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

At this point in my career, I enjoy technical mentoring and teaching the newer employees in our organization the most. I enjoy troubleshooting problems and trying to find “teachable moments.”

Where do you do most of your work?

I work in the NOAA offices in Silver Spring, Md. (Building SSMC IV). I usually travel a few times each year to conferences, meetings, and to provide training. Once each year, I go to an International Hydrographic Organization Tides and Water Levels Working Group Meeting in a foreign country.

What in your office could you not live without?

I could not live without my instant access to our database and vast data holdings and my software tools for retrieving and analyzing the data.

If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be? Why?

It would be nice to have a tool that could automatically ingest and reformat observational water level data from organizations (federal, NGO, academic) external to NOAA and provide standard statistical and analytical outputs from these data. Sustained observational systems are more at risk than ever due to funding cutbacks, so agencies have to be able to leverage each others’ observational programs in an automated manner to perform their basic missions.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?

I wasn’t particularly interested in any subject matter until I took an Earth science course as a junior in high school, and that opened my eyes to our planet. I wanted to be a meteorologist at first and switched to oceanography in graduate school.

How did you become interested in communicating about science?

The NOAA Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, where I have worked for my entire career, is involved with operational oceanography, continually collecting and analyzing observations and delivering routine data products and information. There has always been a need to explain and promote our programs to management and to the user community. There has also always been a need to train our users to interpret and apply the data and information that we provide. Good communication skills are essential to meet these needs, and for me, they have evolved over time through research, teaching, mentoring, presenting, and interacting with the media. Communicating is always a skill than can be improved and is more important now than ever when it comes to climate issues.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a young person exploring career options?

Two books that I found particularly exciting as they instill a sense of wonder and draw the reader to care about our planet are:

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
Song for the Blue Ocean
by Carl Safina

What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

Worrying about IT security and remembering passwords.

Do you have an outside hobby?

Home carpentry. I like to renovate and improve my homes.

What would you be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

I would be a meteorologist for the news media.


Listen to Steve Gill’s Jan. 5, 2012, appearance on Washington, D.C., public radio station WAMU online. Click the “listen” link in the upper left corner of the page.