February is Black History Month; in celebration we sat down to talk with oceanographer and Miami native, Evan B. Forde. In 1973, Forde began his career at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, and in 1979 was the first African American scientist to explore the deep ocean during research dives aboard a submersible. He furthered his theories on east coast U.S. submarine canyon formation and evolution by planning and participating in additional dive expeditions utilizing three of these mini-submarines. During his career, Forde has conducted scientific research in a number of oceanographic and meteorological disciplines including: oceanic cartography, physical oceanography, marine geology and geophysics, marine biology, satellite remote sensing and tropical meteorology. Evan remains one of only a handful of African American oceanographers in the U.S.
Forde developed his interest in science at a young age, owning a microscope, telescope, and chemistry set by the time he was in elementary school. He continued his higher education at Columbia University, earning his B.A in geology and later an M.A in marine geology and geophysics.
“I was fascinated by the world around me.” said Forde.
While still an undergraduate, Forde began his career with NOAA, who would later support his graduate work through a fellowship. Upon completion of his master’s degree at Columbia University, Forde took a job with AOML where his research involved detailed imaging and bathymetric mapping of the Atlantic Ocean continental margins, including submarine canyons, and using advanced sub-seafloor geophysical exploration tools to detail the origins of seafloor features.
“I enjoy the thrill of beginning with a scientific hypothesis and never knowing how my scientific inquiry will end up,” said Forde when asked about what he enjoys most about his work. “It’s that uncertainty, along with my thirst for knowing the truth and furthering our knowledge of our oceans and atmospheres, that drives me.”
Aside from science, Forde currently works as part of AOML’s laboratory’s networked computing risk assessment and threat mitigation efforts. One of Forde’s important responsibilities is to create contingency plans and training exercises that ensure the resiliency of the laboratory’s essential computing elements. His current scientific research analyzes satellite sensor data and identifies critical atmospheric conditions related to hurricane formation and intensification.
Forde has always prided himself in being an AOML team player. During the early days of the Internet, when AOML’s webmaster suddenly left NOAA, Evan, who had already taught himself HTML, became the lab’s webmaster for the next two years. When OAR headquarters first mandated that each laboratory create a coordinated approach to public outreach and media relations, Forde organized AOML’s original outreach and communications group and served as its supervisor for four years.
Forde has been honored with a host of career and community awards that include being named NOAA’s Research Employee of the Year, the NOAA Administrator’s award, a United States Congressional Commendation, the Federal Employee of the Year for the Service to the Community category and having days named in his honor by both the City of North Miami and Miami-Dade County, Florida.
For over 30 years Forde has dedicated thousands of hours towards creating and enhancing public education and has spoken to over 80,000 South Florida school children during appearances designed to inspire their achievement.
As further testament to the impact of Forde’s efforts, he has been the subject of three museum exhibits and has been featured in numerous print and web articles, science textbooks, and other books/publications about African-American scientists. He has also worked extensively in the area of science education and has created, developed, and taught science courses at the middle-school to graduate levels, as well as authored a science column in a monthly children’s magazine. Some of Forde’s former students, now with advanced degrees themselves, are teaching classes modeled after Forde’s oceanography class within the United States and as far away as Tanzania. Forde, the former chairperson of OAR’s Education Committee, also created a Severe Weather Poster for NOAA that was distributed nationally by the National Science Teacher Association to an estimated 70,000 teachers and estimated to be viewed daily by approximately 8,000,000 students.
He has also organized and participated in regular efforts to feed hungry families and worked in numerous roles that have improved his community. Forde serves on the board of directors of a Boys and Girls Club where he regularly interacts with the students and has promoted programs designed to enhance parental participation. He is currently the Vice Steward of the employee union for AOML and President of the Miami Chapter of the American Meteorological Society.