Explorer Charts the Ocean’s Depths in Search of New Species

Explorer Charts the Ocean’s Depths in Search of New Species

Photo Credit: Diana Levine

Dr. Katy Croff Bell’s job is the stuff of childhood dreams—she’s spent most of her adult life at sea and been on more than 30 oceanographic and archeological expeditions. Using deep-sea robots, she explores parts of the world that have never been surveyed, searching for shipwrecks, geology, and even new species. 

During her travels, this Girl Scout alum has investigated the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the Pacific Ocean. For seven years she was the Vice President of the Ocean Exploration Trust, overseeing exploratory missions around the world. The organization is credited with, for example, discovering the Googly Eyed Stubby Squid, a cartoonlike violet-colored creature that would fit in well among the gang from Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants, and the otherworldly Mysterious Purple Orb, a glowing sphere that looks like a squeaky dog toy but is a distant relative of the snail family.

Today her job keeps her closer to her Rhode Island home, but it’s just as exciting. She’s building a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (her alma mater) that will use emerging technology from various fields to enable new kinds of oceanographic explorations. 

As a pioneer in a scientific field that’s not known for its diversity, Katy credits her experiences in all-female organizations with her confidence. 

“When I was an undergrad at marine engineering conferences, I was usually one of few women in the room—and often the youngest,” she says.

Fortunately, her all-girl high school and a decade in Girl Scouting had set her up for success in leadership positions. “The assumption in those environments that the leaders would be girls was helpful to me later in life, because that feeling that there was no reason I couldn’t do it stayed with me,” she explains.

After starting Girl Scouts as a Brownie, Katy remained active into high school, earning her Girl Scout Silver Award for a community-service project that involved making kits of materials for badges for less-affluent troops in her home town of San Diego. She comes from a family of Girl Scouts too—her mother was her troop leader, and her little sister was a Girl Scout. 

It’s possible that Katy’s fellow Girl Scout sisters in Troop 2119 saw the early sparks of her passion for exploration even back then; she developed her love of the outdoors on her Girl Scout camping trips, where her fondest memories were of the pride she felt learning to light campfires.