HOBO Ambassador Austin Fox, Ph.D. on the Florida coast.
An experienced biogeochemist, educator, and project manager, Austin is currently focused on the impacts of eutrophication on internal nutrient recycling in estuaries and the coastal ocean. He was recently recognized as one of the top-performing researchers at Florida Tech.

What is your current occupation?

I am an assistant professor in the department of ocean engineering and marine science at Florida Tech (Florida Institute of Technology).

Where were you born, where do you live now, and where were you educated?

I was born in Arizona and grew up hearing of this mythical substance called water. As an undergraduate at Arizona State University, I studied water quality in a manmade lake. Months after I graduated, the lake popped, yes popped. An inflatable dam used to create the lake failed. Interesting story.

Understandably, I moved to Florida for graduate school to study chemical oceanography in a place where the water bodies don’t deflate.

What is your area of expertise?

I am a marine biogeochemist or trace element chemist studying trace metals and nutrients. My current focus revolves around nutrient cycling in coastal systems. The underlying chemistry is pretty well understood but the heterogeneity of the processes and mechanism driving nutrient cycling within coastal systems continues to challenge mitigation and restoration efforts. My expertise lies in connecting the fine-scale chemical processes to broader ecological changes at the landscape scale. Really, I’m good at asking questions, doing the chemistry, and finding the right people to help with the bigger picture.

What is your primary motivation for doing the work that you do?

It sounds silly and cliché, but to do good. I really like the applied aspects of what I study. It feels really good to help find solutions based on real science and an understanding of natural processes. I also enjoy helping educate folks on the underlying issues. It’s the classic, charismatic megafauna and macroflora story, but to help the big things, we sometimes have to get in the mud and figure out how to make those bacteria happy.

What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?

Becoming a HOBO brand ambassador of course! I really don’t know…. I suppose I don’t rank the past tense, but my biggest recent accomplishment is uncovering the story of hypoxia in our local estuary and using that to help so many other projects. We’re helping track the success of restoration projects and helping to better select sites for restoration projects to improve their chances for success.

What do you strive to achieve in the future?

Jokingly, save the planet…. although I don’t want to need to. My real answer is probably another cliché, but to make a difference and inspire stewardship of the environment. As scientists we spend years, careers studying the natural world. It’s one thing to advance knowledge for the sake of knowledge, it’s another to see that knowledge adopted and applied in such a way to improve the lives of (chuckles) bacteria, plus the plants and animals, including humans that rely on them. I’d like to look back and know that I did everything I could to make the world a better place. I suppose to one day look at clean water and know I helped us to get there. I mean Mars is cool, but I really like plan A.

Have you ever thought about the name HOBO and what it might mean?

Of course, a HOBO brand ambassador knows what HOBO means. To me HOBO means a simple and reliable data logger with great customer support.

What HOBO products do you use on a regular basis?

Our primary efforts use HOBO U26 Dissolved Oxygen Data Loggers. Using U26 we are tracking diel and episodic hypoxia in our local estuary. We are now pairing U26s with U24 (conductivity) and U20 (water level) data loggers based on collaboration with partners in restoration.

Can you describe a specific project where HOBO data loggers played a key role?

Monitoring and mapping bottom water hypoxia in a shallow subtropical estuary, the Indian River Lagoon. HOBO sensors have helped us focus monitoring on a few key variables – in this case dissolved oxygen and temperature – at a price point that enables higher spatial resolution than is possible with other systems.

What HOBO features do you consider most important?

Reliability is one of the most important features of the HOBO products. Knowing our equipment is going to work is critical. There is nothing worse than losing data due to an equipment malfunction. It happens, but HOBO has been quite reliable and extremely helpful when we do run into issues. Also, the HOBOware software is quite user friendly and HOBO folks have been responsive when we send suggestions.

Do you think accurate data can help you build a better tomorrow?

Absolutely, yes; however, accurate and reliable data must be paired with informed interpretations. Being able to put data into context is essential to making informed decisions. For better or for worse, “computer models” are being used for just about everything these days. It’s important to keep in mind that these models are only as good as the data they are being fed. I’m reminded of the aphorism credited to George E. Box, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”  By making accurate data more available to models, we can improve the usefulness of those models towards engineering, management, and policy solutions. We are providing our data to modelers in hopes that improved data can eventually help build that better tomorrow.

If you could spend the day on the job with one person (living or deceased), who would it be?

Oh, this is a tough one. Probably someone living, makes for better conversation. I already get to spend field days with some great people.

Watch Austin's Webinar