Pitt Magazine

Pitt alumna Kate Moran is using technical innovation to combat climate change

Woman standing on a beach with a dog.
Kate Moran (Courtesy of Oceans Network Canada)

In 1972, 17-year-old Kate Moran witnessed Hurricane Agnes’ destruction firsthand. The slow-moving storm pummeled her hometown of Forty Fort, Pennsylvania, with high winds and a foot of rain, leaving her family and neighbors’ homes severely damaged.

“When school resumed, there were no walls, so you could see into about six other classrooms,” Moran recalls. “It was chaotic. I learned to adapt to change at an early age.”

Though devastating, the experience set Moran on a career path that has taken her around the world in pursuit of ocean and planet sustainability.

Her journey started when a high school physics teacher encouraged her to try engineering. Then Moran chose Pitt for her undergraduate degree after receiving a recruitment catalog that championed Earth Day.

The University enabled her to combine her passions for the earth and engineering, and a Pitt professor steered Moran toward graduate education, which led to advanced degrees in engineering and marine science from the University of Rhode Island and Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.

In the years since, Moran (ENGR ’77) has developed a robust resume.

As assistant director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, she advised the Obama administration on ocean and climate policy, including the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, the largest marine oil spill in history. She’s held positions in academia and was a Bedford Institute of Oceanography research engineer before becoming the director of NEPTUNE, an underwater observatory. NEPTUNE uses a fiber optic cable to provide 24/7, real-time data to researchers around the world, informing public safety policies and alert systems for storms, tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters.

NEPTUNE is a part of Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), an initiative of the University of Victoria that operates multiple observatories in the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

“Our mission is to make life on Earth, not just in the oceans, better by focusing on three goals,” says Moran. “Advancing ocean observing; developing data and data products for the benefit of science, society and industry; and developing solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation.”

Under Moran, who serves as ONC’s president and chief executive officer, the organization’s commitment to community engagement has also increased. One project used dynamic storytelling to meld ONC’s research with tales from Canada’s First Nation elders. Others created initiatives for whale protection and STEM education for kids.

Meanwhile, Moran’s scientific expeditions are the stuff of adventure books, whether it’s co-leading the first scientific drilling in the Arctic Ocean to study humans’ impact on sea ice or participating in offshore explorations to reveal the cause of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that resulted in more than 200,000 deaths.

Her work has secured her recognition as an Officer of the Order of Canada, a 2022 American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow and a Canadian Society of Senior Engineers fellow.

Though she’s spent much of her career in Canada and is now a U.S.-Canadian dual citizen, Moran’s work touches people and towns around the globe, including little Forty Fort, where it all began.

“We’re trying to help save the world,” she says.