Tag: Eli Kintisch Science

The Future of Oceanography: Where are the People?

For a marine scientist, there is nothing like being on a boat.  Your senses become alive, your creativity peaks. As you gaze over the side of a boat, the ocean mysteries you have been trying to solve suddenly come into focus.

But being on a boat is expensive.  A recent article in the journal Science, “A Sea Change for Oceanography” by Eli Kintisch, clearly spells this out.  Kintisch tells us that shrinking budgets and increasing costs are driving a change in how people study our oceans.  A growing array of high tech devices that remotely collect information are being deployed and less days on sophisticated boats are spent at sea.  The article suggests that this shift from field data collection programs to remote data collection programs is a change from “small” to “big” oceanography.

But what should “big” oceanography really be? Should the ability to connect to society’s needs be a part of “big” oceanography? If the answer is yes, I would say oceanography is failing.  The good news is: there is still opportunity to redirect course.

Why has a field critical in describing the fabric of anything that has do to with oceans (how we use them, how we depend on them) failed in demonstrating its relevance beyond primary science? Perhaps it’s because oceans are still viewed—by oceanographers and the public—as one of the last great frontiers. Kintisch calls attention this in the Science article, concluding with a call for support of ocean studies “…comparable to [funding for] research in outer space…”

Indeed oceanic exploration has always generated tremendous media attention and public interest. But the ocean is much more than a last frontier.  Our decisions around assigning priorities and allocating resources, the stories we share about the ocean should reflect this.

When the field started the ocean was mostly un-explored (and large sections of the ocean still are).  The last frontier should and will continue to provide inspiration for years to come.  But what about all the people that we now know live and depend on the ocean? Who solves their mysteries and the integral part that the ocean plays in solving their riddles?

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