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Making waves

Thursday, April 22, 2021

“Imagine being out on a lake on a windy day and you’re getting pushed around by waves,” says Marek Stastna, an oceanographer and professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics. “What you may not realize is that in the interior of the ocean, there are waves one hundred times that size. My passion is to create mathematical models of that type of movement.”

Stastna graduated from the Faculty of Mathematics with a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics in 1996. After returning to his alma matter for a PhD in Applied Mathematics with a focus on Nonlinear Waves, he became a full-time faculty member in 2004. “It’s easy to feel at home in this group of intelligent, passionate, sometimes quirky individuals just like you from all over the world,” he says.

With a sizable team of student researchers working under him in the Faculty’s Environmental and Geophysical Fluids Lab, Stastna conducts leading-edge research on the motion of stratified fluid mechanics in lakes, coastal oceans, and the atmosphere. “I’ve always had a strong interest in the way phenomena from fluid mechanics theory occur in the natural world,” he explains. Whether it’s a walk along the beach or a photography session, he’s always observing.

Stastna thinks deeply about how to bridge theory and practice in his field. To that end, he accepted a role as president of the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS) for the 2020-21 term. “There was certainly a learning curve, especially when I had to figure out how to write a new strategic plan, but I’ve enjoyed the role and am excited by the direction we’re heading,” he says.

Climate change remains at the forefront of CMOS’s agenda, as well as Stastna’s own research, as global warming continues to wreak havoc from pole to pole. “We’ll continue to research issues surrounding climate change for decades to come, but one of our most urgent challenges is to construct models for these disruptions,” he shares. “We’ve seen things like heat waves in the ocean wipe out entire coral reefs, but we need to do more applied research to understand how to translate our research into practical solutions.”

Stastna originally hails from Prague, Czech Republic, but he has found a permanent home in Southern Ontario.  “The Faculty of Math at Waterloo is a progressive institution that encourages you to be yourself,” he says. “I couldn’t have imagined a better place to end up.”

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