Sofia Moutinho awarded Antarctic reporting fellowship

Sofia Moutinho

Sofia Moutinho (@sofiamoutinhoBR), an award-winning freelance science journalist based in Rio de Janeiro, has been selected to accompany a major oceanographic expedition to Antarctica’s Amundsen Sea. Moutinho won the reporting fellowship from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing in a competition that attracted 53 applicants from 12 countries.

Moutinho has been a reporter for Brazil’s Ciência Hoje popular science magazine, a reporting fellow for Columbia Journalism Investigations, a reporting intern at Science magazine, and a contributor to Nature, Nature Medicine, The Guardian, Eos, Scientific American, National Public Radio, and Mother Jones covering science, climate, and environment. Her stories have won Association of Health Care Journalists awards and an honorable mention from the National Press Foundation’s Thomas L. Stokes Award Award.  A recent feature tops the One World Media Awards 2023 longlist of print features.

Moutinho earned a master’s degree with a concentration on science reporting at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism after a variety of early journalism experiences in Brazil that involved podcast production, photography, and image and video production and editing. She has also trained in data journalism and fact-checking and completed an environmental course at the Logan Science Journalism Program at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass. A journalism graduate of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Moutinho is fluent in English, Portuguese, and Spanish.

She will accompany researchers aboard the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer on a 65-day cruise from November 2023 through January 2024. The expedition is part of GEOTRACES, an international research effort that aims to better understand the oceanic cycling of trace elements and isotopes, which play critical roles in regulating ocean ecosystems and the global carbon cycle and provide critical records of past environmental conditions. The U.S.-based cruise, supported by the National Science Foundation, will collect seawater, sediment, and atmospheric samples in a region where warm ocean waters are melting glacial ice shelves at an increasing rate.

In applying for the Antarctic reporting slot, Moutinho noted that her journalism has taken her into the field with scientists under challenging conditions before. She once spent 20 days deep in the Amazon with researchers studying the link between deforestation and access to health care.

“I look forward to being onboard and writing stories that draw the line between field research, discoveries, and people’s lives,” she wrote in applying for the fellowship. “It will be important to report on processes and context rather than just the findings, so readers can understand that science is most often the result of a slow buildup of collective knowledge rather than great breakthroughs.”

Moutinho was selected by a panel with extensive Arctic and Antarctic field reporting experience. The judging was organized by Richard Harris, a CASW board member who recently retired after a career as science correspondent for NPR. Judges were journalist and author David Baron, formerly of WBUR, NPR, and Public Radio International’s The World; freelance writer and former U.S. News and National Geographic editor Helen Fields; science journalist Rodrigo Pérez Ortega of Science magazine; journalist Andrea Pitzer, author of Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World; and multimedia producer Lisa Strong.

The unusual reporting opportunity came about through the efforts of University of California Santa Cruz oceanographer Phoebe Lam, one of the principal investigators for the GEOTRACES Antarctic cruise, with support from NSF and advice from the UCSC Science Communication Program. Lam secured grant support to provide a berth for an independent journalist on the cruise, hoping it would give the journalist essential background and context for writing about the project results and the issues the researchers are exploring.

To ensure the journalist can report independently, insulated from potential conflicts of interest, and to make it possible for a freelancer to commit to the extended cruise, CASW organized the process of peer selection and will provide a $15,000 reporting grant to cover direct costs and partially replace forgone income. The competition was limited to early-career journalists and intended to provide an opportunity for career growth. Moutinho will also be assigned a seasoned journalist as a project mentor.