María de los Ángeles Alvariño González

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María de los Angeles Alvarino Gonzalez
Born (1916-10-03)October 3, 1916
Serantes, Ferrol, Spain
Died May 29, 2005
La Jolla, California, U.S.
Residence Spain
UK (1950s)
U.S. (Since 1950s)
Nationality Spanish
Fields Oceanography
Marine biology
Institutions Spanish Institute of Oceanography
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
National Marine Fisheries Service
Alma mater Serantes, Ferrol, Spain
Known for First female Scientist to work on British and Spanish exploration ships
Notable awards Silver Medal of Galicia awarded by the King and Queen of Spain in 1993
This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Alvariño and the second or maternal family name is González.

María de los Ángeles Alvariño González (October 3, 1916 – May 29, 2005) was a Galician fishery research biologist and oceanographer globally recognized as an authority in plankton biology. She was the first woman ever appointed as scientist aboard any British or Spanish exploration ships. She discovered 22 new species of marine animals and published over a hundred scientific books, chapters and articles. In her late career she studied the history of early marine scientific exploration.[1]

Early days[edit]

María de los Ángeles Alvariño Gonzalez was born in Serantes (Ferrol, Galicia) on October 3, 1916. She was the daughter of the medical doctor Dr. Antonio Alvariño Grimaldos and Maria del Carmen Gonzalez Diaz-Saavedra. From an early age she showed an interest in the natural sciences and read her father's book on zoology. She attended the lycée Concepcion Arenal in Ferrol and in 1931 attended the University of Santiago de Compostela where she graduated summa cum laude in 1933. The titles of her dissertations were "Social Insects" and "Women in Don Quixote".[2]

"Creativity and imagination are the basic ingredients for the scientists, as in the arts, because science is an art" – She later explained when she was asked about her diverse interests.[3]

In 1934 she was admitted at the University of Madrid to study Natural Sciences, but had to interrupt her studies as a consequence of the Spanish Civil War. During this period she devoted herself to the study of English and French, which later proved very useful for the development of her research career in the United States.[4]

En 1940 she married Eugenio Leira Manso, captain of the Spanish War Navy and Knight of the Royal and Military Order of San Hermenegildo. Two years later their daughter was born, Maria de los Angeles Leira Alvariño, who is now a well-renowned architect and urbanist based in the US .[5]

After the war, Ángeles Alvariño resumed her studies, and in 1941 she obtained her master's degree in Natural Sciences by the University of Madrid. Ángeles Álvariño returned with her husband to Ferrol where she taught, from 1941 to 1948, biology, zoology, botany and geology as a professor at various colleges. In 1948 she moved back with her family to Madrid to work as a fishery research biologist with the Department of Sea Fisheries. Alvariño could not pursue further research studies at the Spanish Institute of Oceanography in Madrid due to a dated Spanish law that prohibited women aboard Navy Spanish vessels. However, because she had outstanding academic credentials, she was allowed to take some courses and do some research. In 1951 she received a graduate diploma in Experimental Psychology, Analytical Chemistry and Plant Ecology from the University of Madrid.

In 1950, she moved back to Galicia and worked at the Spanish Oceanographic Institute in Vigo. In 1953 she received a scholarship from the British Council to conduct research on zooplankton in the Marine Biological Laboratory of Plymouth, England, under the direction of the well-respected experts in zooplankton Frederick S. Russell and Peter. C. Corbin. Zooplankton comprise the small floating animals in the ocean that serve as food for other animals and include jellyfish, coral, and sea anemones. These creatures had barely been studied before the 1960s, and she focused in three groups: the microscopic Chaetognatha, which are carnivorous and feed on other plankton; the colonial Sinophora, which cluster in groups of individuals of the same species (like the Portuguese Man'o'War); and the Medusa or jellyfish. By studying the plankton of the English Channel and in the Bay of Biscay, her work led to the discovered some anomalies in the distribution of plankton species which led to the scientific conclusion that the Atlantic waters had moved poleward in an unusual way. María de los Ángeles Alvariño was the first woman appointed as scientist aboard a British research vessel ever. Throughout her life she participated in several expeditions and scientific cruises in the Atlantic and Pacific, aboard oceanographic ships from England, America, Spain and Mexico.

In 1954 Alvariño returned to Spain to continue her research on zooplankton. She designed special nets and recruited fishermen and naval research vessels to sample plankton for her in the Atlantic near Spain and near Newfoundland, and in the Mediterranean.

In the USA[edit]

In 1956, María de los Ángeles received a fellowship from the Fulbrigth Commission to conduct scientific work at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute on Cape Cod in Massachusetts (, where she worked with Dr. Mary Sears, who was the president of the U.S. Oceanographic Congress and also a zooplankton researcher. The career of this Galician ramps up when Dr. Mary Sears, Impressed with the quality of her research, recommends Ángeles Alvariño to Dr. Roger Revelle, the director of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, part of the University of California at La Jolla, who offered her a position as a Biologist. She worked at La Jolla from 1958-69 where she studied the zooplankton off the coast of California as well as the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. During this period she discovered 12 new Chaetognatha species, nine Sinophora and one medusa. She also produced a model of the world's distribution of different species of Chaetognatha and Siphonophora. This research formed the basis of her doctoral dissertation; she received a PhD from the University of Madrid in 1967. She received various grants from institutions such as the U.S. Office of the Navy, the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations, and the US National Science Foundation.

In January 1970, she is appointed a position as Fisheries Research Biologist at the prestigious Southwest Fisheries Science Center (which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) ( Here she continued her research in Chaetognatha, Siphonophora, and studied the relationship between the predatory behavior of these organisms and the survival of fish larvae. She also studied the distribution of Chaetognatha and Siphonophora species in the Pacific and Antarctic Oceans, and plankton movement, in particular the effect of plancton introductions through pollution or ship movements.

In the later 1970s, Alvariño worked to coordinate oceanic research among Latin American nations and she studied the Antarctic. Durint this period she received various grants from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and from the United National Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

She retired as Emeritus Scientist in 1993 but continued to conduct research on seagoing vessels hosted by various countries. Toward the end of her life, Ángeles Alvariño devoted herself to study the early history of scientific exploration. She looked closely into the scientific discoveries of early Spanish explorers and navigators who first mapped the oceans and their currents. As part of this investigations, she published a full account of the Malaspina Expedition, the first scientific oceanic expedition that traveled throughout the western Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean from 1789–94.

Throughout her life, Ángeles Alvariño also served as faculty at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1976; at San Diego State University from 1979–82; and later, at the University of San Diego from 1982–85. She also was visiting professor at the Federal University of Paraná in Brazil in 1982, and at the National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico from 1982–86. During these years Alvariño directed the doctoral research of several students and served on thesis committees in various countries.[6]

Upon her death in San Diego (California), on 29 May 2005, she left a finished manuscript on the birds and marine animals found in the Malaspina Expedition that were later studied by herself. This project will soon be completed and translated by her daughter.[7]

Scientific achievement and Public Recognition[edit]

Two planktonic species are named after her, the chaetognath Aidanosagitta alvarinoae (Pathansali, 1974) and the hydromedusa Lizzia alvarinoae (Segura, 1980).

She was a fellow of the American Institute of Fishery Research Biologists and of the San Diego Society of Natural History, as well as being a member of the Biological Society of Washington and the Hispano-American Association of Researchers on Marine Sciences.

In recognition of her outstanding scientific career, in 1993 Ángeles Alvarinño received the Great Silver Medal of Galicia from King Carlos I and Queen Sophia of Spain. The University of A Coruña dedicated the Week of Sciences to her in 2005, and the City of Ferrol paid a posthumous tribute in the Campus of Esteiro, where a commemorative plaque honors one of the most prominent female scientists in the world.

The Government of Galicia awards the Ánxeles Alvarinño Postdoctoral Fellowships, named after her.

A research vessel of the Spanish Institute of Oceanography is named "Ángeles Alvariño". The vessel was launched in 2012 by Ángele's daughter, Maria de los Angeles Leira Alvariño [8]

Eponymous species[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Angeles Alvariño." Notable Hispanic American Women , Book 2, Gale Research, 1998
  3. ^ Encyclopedia of World Biography
  4. ^ Borrazas, Carolina. Ángeles Alvariño: Unha precusora na investigación oceanográfica mundial. Album de mulleres. Consello da Cultura Galega, Comisión de Igualdade. Santiago de Compostela. [1]
  5. ^ Borrazas, Carolina. Ángeles Alvariño: Unha precusora na investigación oceanográfica mundial. Album de mulleres. Consello da Cultura Galega, Comisión de Igualdade. Santiago de Compostela. [2]
  6. ^ "Angeles Alvariño," Contemporay Hispanic Biography , Vol. 4, 1998, reproduced in Biography Resource Cente
  7. ^ Borrazas, Carolina. Ángeles Alvariño: Unha precusora na investigación oceanográfica mundial. Album de mulleres. Consello da Cultura Galega, Comisión de Igualdade. Santiago de Compostela. [3]
  8. ^ Botadura do buque oceanográfico Ángeles Alvariño. El País, 24/2/2012 (Spanish) Consultado o 25/2/2012.

External links[edit]