12/19/2010 - Jane Lubchenco smiles as a dolphin leaps out of the water, arcs in the air and splashes back down just a few metres away. The 63-year-old marine ecologist is out on a boat near Pascagoula, Mississippi, with a team of researchers studying how the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has affected dolphin communities there.
On this October day, Lubchenco wears starfish-shaped earrings and a cap emblazoned with the letters 'NOAA', for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Her shirt sports a NOAA logo, as does her life vest. Rarely does she venture out in public without some symbol of the US government agency she has proudly run since March 2009. A sprawling department of 12,800 people with a budget of US$4.7 billion, NOAA has responsibilities stretching from the bottom of the sea to the top of the atmosphere and even to the Sun, which it monitors for signs of solar storms (see 'A global reach'). That mandate put Lubchenco at the centre of the government's response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil-spill disaster — a brutal test for a scientist with little previous management experience.
Peter Baker, manager of the Pew Environment Group's New England overfishing campaign, agrees. He says that Lubchenco "has taken a stand to fix things for the future". Those who have criticized her policy have not offered a viable alternative, he says. "I'm not sure that anything would be enough to appease her detractors."
Read the article Newsmaker of the Year: In the Eye of the Storm in it's entirety on the Nature Web site.