From dive master to geomorphologist | THE DAILY HERALD

Rahn and another student taking shoreline measurements in Saba.

SABA–“It’s those changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes/nothing remains quite the same.” Sung by Jimmy Buffett, these words transport one to the tropics. For one woman, however, they have become a lifestyle. Dr. Jennifer Rahn, a geomorphologist at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, combines her professional academic life with that of a global traveller. From the 1990s to the present, this has defined her.

  Jen, as she is known, first visited Saba in 1990 to work as a scuba divemaster at Sea Saba after completing her undergraduate degree in geography at Villanova University and Master’s degree at Temple University.



Rahn and Samford University students before a dive.


Rahn delivering a pre-dive briefing to Sea and Learn participants.


Rahn leading Samford students on an inspection.


Rahn taking topographical notes while diving in Saba.

For her, this formed an important period of her life: “It really instilled in me the importance of travel and seeing the world from other people’s viewpoints. All too often, we live such busy lives in our own little bubble and getting out really opened my eyes, especially at such a young age.”

  Departing Saba to complete her doctorate degree, Rahn attended University of Florida, Gainesville, finishing her PhD in 2000 and working with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) for a one-year fellowship with the national Coral Reef Task Force. Her research explored the evolving nature of coastal areas and the future of vulnerable shorelines.

  Rahn’s present research is in the field of coastal geomorphology. This field, the study of the evolution of coastal areas along large bodies of water, enabled her return to the eastern Caribbean. She is focused on the evolution of Saba’s wandering beaches – why they come and go.

  When asked about the importance of her research, she said, “Understanding the processes and dynamics of our physical world is so important to understanding where we are going and what problems we will face in the decades ahead.”

  Rahn takes her research outside the classroom. She is a regular presenter for Sea and Learn , a not-for-profit foundation begun in 2003. The programme aims to reinforce the value of preserving, protecting and sustaining the environment locally, regionally, and globally. It brings together the local community, experts and visitors in learning how one can be an environmentally-conscious citizen.

  As an invited scientist, she has educated the broader community on the importance of shoreline preservation.

  Inspired by Sea and Learn, Rahn brings Samford University students to the island for an accredited programme. With five different climate zones ranging from rocky desert coastlines to a lush cloud forest, Saba is a five-square-mile textbook. Students learn hands-on cartographic skills and research methodology. This activity-filled 18-day programme starts with learning to scuba dive and by the finale, the students are real citizen scientists who present their research.

  For Rahn, education is the most important aspect of her work: “Young people such as my students live such busy lives with information overload. All too often, people never look beyond their own interests and the opportunity to bring my students to this amazing island and see them learn new skills and grow really makes it all worth it.”

  Saba will reopen to tourism on May 1, 2021, following a vaccination drive. For more information contact Sea Saba<>

Source: The Daily Herald