29 July 2013
A Broader Outlook
I have the interesting position of probably being the only social scientist on board the Thompson right now. Luckily, I also have a background in oceanographic studies at the University of Washington, so I am able to understand and appreciate the monumental nature of what we are attempting. As someone who mainly studies politics, however,I believe my perspective is distinctly different . My mind likes to put things in a broader context, which is not to say that scientists do not also look at the macrocosm, but I believe that science today requires so much specific knowledge that it can be very hard for scientists to look at the bigger picture. Of course, this is a very general statement about a large and diverse group of people, and there are many exceptions to my assertions (many of whom are onboard the Thompson right now).
The fact remains, however, that it is hard to find generalists in science today. I believe this is because science today is infinitely complex and the amount of studying to master even a single field is immense, so I do not believe that this has occurred because of any fault on the part of scientists. What I do believe is that now, more than ever, science must expand into other communities; we are no longer at a point in time where scientists can be buffered from the general public. Science, particularly publicly funded science, must be accessible to those who are paying for it, and scientists must acknowledge and feel the burden of being accountable.
I have observed and been part of this struggle for openness during my time on board the Thomas G. Thompson, and I truly believe that, as revolutionary as the Oceans Observatories Initiative is, our dedication to live interaction via broadcasts and open-access science may turn out to be just as influential in the future of science. For example, each day, I, along with many others on board the Thompson, produce dozens of live broadcasts, as well as social media posts, sharing both our accomplishments and shortcomings with the world, all the while reminding our viewers that we are a tax-payer funded project. This approach takes courage. By sharing our voyage with the world we are making ourselves accountable. We are asking our viewers to have faith in us, to realize that even when we may stumble we will always figure out another way to reach our goals.
As I said before, I believe I have a somewhat unique perspective aboard the Thompson, and I think that allowing tax-payers to have a presence on board the ship is an important and interesting side story to building the cabled system that will provide the scientific community with a continuous and real-time presence in the ocean. By combining the two, we may very well be setting a new standard for publicly funded scientific investigation.
27 July 2013
Living at Sea
After a week at sea my schedule is finally starting to normalize, with the help of copious amounts of caffeine. I was given the 4am-8am logging watch with Trevor Uptain and Owen Coyle. The downside of this watch is that there is no possible way to maintain a regular sleep cycle, and I have actually regressed to getting around six hours of sleep a night, split up into two blocks. However, aside from the unfortunate timing of my watch, we have a blast in the morning. In fact I have started calling the three of us, “The Morning Show,” because Owen, Trevor, and I all provide dive commentary along with a bit of friendly banter. There is also a certain amount of peacefulness to being in ROPOS control center while everyone else is asleep, and I usually get a chance to peek my head outside to see the sunrise over the ocean, which is a pretty good way to start off the day.
22 June 2013
Leg 3 of the VISIONS’13 expedition is underway, and, despite a few initial setbacks, we are now chugging along nicely, both in the literal sense (we steamed out to the Axial Seamount today) and in the more abstract sense: there is now a tangible feeling of excitement on board. ROPOS is currently in the water surveying a cable segment laid previously, on Leg 2. Looking at the live stream from the HD video camera on ROPOS is quite the sight though, because for as far as the light will allow us to see there are only black pillow basalts, but then, out of the middle of the frame comes a line of neon orange (the secondary cable), quite a dramatic juxtaposition. Furthermore, this stark contrast between the natural, and the manmade gives you a great appreciation for the difficulty and ambitiousness of what we are trying to do. This is a volatile environment, completely alien to humankind and yet, we are going one step further than merely trying to map or photograph this ecosystem; we are choosing to take the difficult path of understanding. However, after only being on board the Thompson for less than a week I can say confidently that I do not believe any scientist on board would be willing to settle for merely documenting this environment.