Anna Rabitti

Favourite Thing: Research cruises! Being in the middle of the Ocean and trying to measure it, while just a nice crew and the waves (and a cook!) take care of you..



Classic High School in Venice, University of Padova, University of Trieste in Italy. University of Utrecht in the Netherlands


Msc in Physics, with a thesis in Physical Oceanography

Country I live in:


Work History:

OGS Istituto Nazionale di Oceanografia e Geofisica Sperimentale, in Italy

Current Job:

PhD student – almost post doc –


NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and Utrecht University

Me and my work

I am an Italian girl currently living on a tiny Dutch Island in the North Sea and studying waves deep inside the ocean.

My name is Anna, I am Italian, but I have moved to the Netherlands four years ago, after getting my Master in Physics, to work on my PhD project in Physical Oceanography, to see a little bit how life is in another country, and to test my waterproof skills (in case you do not know, in the Netherlands it rains a lot..)

During these years I have learned (and still learning) many things, not only about my scientific topic, and science in general, but also on how to survive in a foreign country, how to improve your English very quickly (if you want to buy something to eat!), and how to deal with people coming from different countries.
Also, I have been surprised about how different Italy and Italians look like from another perspective.
All these ingredients make my staying in the Netherlands a great professional and personal experience, and I am always extremely grateful to my professor, that gave me the opportunity to embark in this big adventure.

And now, about my work…

I am studying “internal waves”, that are fascinating waves living deep inside the ocean. Actually, not only in the ocean, but also in lakes, in our Earth atmosphere, in the Earth core, or in the atmospheres of other planets or stars: they are everywhere! You just need a fluid that rotates (as all fluids on Earth, of course!), or that is “stratified” (like the ocean, where saltier, heavier water lies below fresher, lighter water), and voilà’, you get “internal waves”.
But my focus, happily for me, is the big blue Ocean.

These waves are fascinating because they are different from the ones we usually look at when we are at the beach, or on a boat: they do not move along the surface of the ocean but they follow complicated trajectories in the interior of the liquid, that is why they are called “internal waves”.
Well, since they are hidden in the interior of the ocean, is very difficult to see and study them, however it is very important if we want to understand how much they influence the main ocean currents, and, eventually, the whole climate on Earth.

During my study, I am using real data of current speed, temperature and salinity, measured in the deep equatorial Atlantic ocean, to see which is the role of these internal waves in the ocean at the Equator, since currents are quite strong there, and nobody knows exactly why. Are the internal waves responsible?
Give me some time, I am trying to figure this out…
While not using (or taking) real data from the sea, I am also trying to describe these internal waves using simple, mathematical models, or I am playing in our laboratory, where with water and salt we re-create our little ocean.

My Typical Day

It could be sailing in the middle of the Ocean, playing in the lab, but more often studying/programming/writing

Most of my working days are spent at my Institute, the NIOZ. This can seem quite boring, but what you probably do not know is that this institute is on a tiny island in the North Sea, that means a lot of rains, but especially a lot of wind! Getting to the office, walking or cycling, can be quite adventurous, as a day start…

When I am at the office I usually study theoretical aspects of my research, on old books or on recent published findings and discuss them with my colleagues and supervisors. Then I write about it, or program some code to test our ideas with simple mathematical models or with real data that we have collected in the ocean. In between, there are a lot of coffee breaks and chats with my fellow colleagues, of course!

Some days I also work in our lab, where we try to understand waves directly looking at them without having to go 4 km down inside the ocean, but the best days in my view are the ones in which we actually go at sea, put instruments in the water and try to understand how the ocean works.

A typical day during a research cruise does not exist: you can sail in March, in the North Sea, and be on duty in the first shift (way before dawn) and therefore you will just see a lot of snow falling on the dark sea, and a weak Sun coming up in between oil platforms, while you are taking your measurements, or you can sail in the Mediterranean Sea, between Malta and Greece, and be on duty in the daily shift.
And of course weather and sea conditions can change your day very rapidly!

At sea, as a physical oceanographer, we usually measure current velocities, temperature and salinity of the water or the amount of sediments present in the water.However, research cruises often combines teams from different fields like marine biologists, marine geologists, or ecologists. In fact, when I have time, I like to help and see what the “others” are doing: there is always something new to learn.

Research cruises are not just fun, of course, they are also very demanding: one of the main reason is that they are extremely expansive. This means that when we go at sea we have to know exactly what we want to measure, and how, and why, since data are really precious, and they are paid by the citizens through their taxes. Doing good science every day is also a form of respect to society.

What I'd do with the money

I will improve the scientific equipment of the upcoming new ferry connecting the island where my research institute is located and the mainland.

The island where my research institute is located and the mainland are connected with a ferry service sailing daily every half hour (from the two sides alternatively). The ferry is a big ship, almost 100 m long, since it has to carry back and forth foot passengers, cars and trucks, despite the rough weather and sea that can occur in the North Sea. Since 1998 the ferry is equipped with some instruments, that take measurements of current velocity, temperature and salinity of the water every time the ship crosses the channel. These data are very important for my colleagues at the institute, since we can now understand how tides work in this part of the North Sea, we can know how much sand is transported with the currents, and we can know how temperature and salinity vary during the day, the seasons, and the years. The institute where I work takes care of these instruments, but also provides two huge screens on the passenger deck where everybody can see in real time the measurements: temperature, salinity and velocity of the water on which they are sailing. Moreover, on these screens, activities of the Institute are shown, as well as picture taken during research cruises or experiments: in this way everybody that come to the Island knows that there is an institute studying the Ocean there, and if they like, of course, they can come and visit, or follow our research activities thanks to the website, twitter, facebook.. I think this is a very effective outreach activity, since it shows to citizens, locals and tourists, that some one is studying the Sea right there, and right then, and that they can be proud of having such an institute on this tiny island. Moreover, highlights of scientific findings are shown to the public with simple pictures: once on dry land, you will perhaps think about the science behind waves, seals, local fishes and sea weed. Back to the prize, in the late 2015 a new ship will start sailing along with the old one. Building a big ship, as you can imagine, takes a lot of time, and we are already planning which instruments and display screens and facilities will be put on board. My plan is to add the money to the one already invested for the scientific equipment of the upcoming new ferry. Unfortunately, no oceanographic instrument can be purchased with 500 euro (they are expensive!), but surely some extra sensors, or some new interactive way to display the measurements to the passengers (an extra screen? An interactive tablet to “surf” the real time data? ) will be named after me if I will get the money :-)

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Sunny, vegetarian and freckled

Who is your favourite singer or band?

This is difficult! Well, I am more into Italian bands: Fabrizio de Andrè, Afterhours; but going more commercial (and international): I do not dislike The White Stripes, Gorrilaz, Eels

What's your favourite food?

Pizza Margherita, of course.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

All my scouting adventures, as a kid and as a scout leader

What did you want to be after you left school?

I guess a theologist, or a writer, or an oceanographer

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

mmm not that I remember.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Ancient Greek

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Discussing about science with colleagues and actually moving a bit further our understanding

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My father, and maybe some of my high school teachers, not necessarily only the ones teaching science

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

A writer!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1) to make a living out of the stuff I like to write; 2) to have the strength and the skills to sail with a sailing boat by myself; and last but not least 3) to get my PhD soon.

Tell us a joke.

Diner: Waiter, what’s wrong with this fish? Waiter: Long time no sea, sir.

My favourite place on earth is?

The island of Lošinj, in Croatia.

Other stuff

Work photos:

This is the tank we use to do experiments on “internal waves” in our lab. If you are interested we can speak about why we put a vertical wall and a tilted wall in the tank: you will be surprised by these crazy “internal waves” (for a preview, click here


and this is the research ship of my institute: her name is RV Pelagia, and she is about 60 m long, if you are curious


Do you know that you can always check where a ship is in real time?
Just go to and search for Pelagia (NL)


On board of Pelagia, checking in real time acquisition of temperature, salinity and other water properties at 2500 m below the sea surface (I’m on the left)…and yes, is 9.30 pm, on board we work 24/7!


On board of Pelagia, last check before throwing into the water a super-expensive instrument, that will be measuring for us  temperature and salinity of the water for the coming year, between 1000 and 2000 m depth. This instrument can in fact change its weight, and thus move up and down for 1000 m  along a moored line. If you are in doubt, I’m the one with the  blue helmet.


On board of Pelagia, little Anna (in green shirt) is freeing the huge anchor of an oceanographic mooring: a set of instruments we placed in the water, at 2300 m depth, to measure current velocities, temperature and salinity. We will be back in one year to collect the data, hopefully the anchor will do its job and the instruments will be still there! Can you believe the Atlantic Ocean was so flat?!