Dance of the Blue Planet: Susan Avery Speaks at UMass Boston
On November 19th, 2015, Dr. Susan Avery, President and Director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, came to speak at UMass Boston as part of the IGERT seminar series. In addition to her role as the leader of one of the most prominent scientific institutions in the United States, Dr. Avery is a member of the United Nations Scientific Advisory Board, where she serves alongside our Director, Prof. Maria Ivanova.
In her talk, Dr. Avery described the global climate as “the dance of the Blue Planet.” She compared the interactions of the atmosphere and the ocean as “a dance between blue systems,” in which both dancers swirled and flowed and changed directions. She talked of the surface of our planet as the stage, and warned that humans are “changing the tune” with 9 billion tons of extra carbon emissions. She warned of threats of excessive carbon emissions that we still do not understand, ‘the unknown unknowns’, because the ocean itself is a vast and poorly understood part of our world.
However, her message was not entirely bleak. She asserted that oceanic sciences are at a transformative stage because of new technologies. She mentioned that argo floats, instruments that measure oceanic temperatures and salinity, are now all around the ocean, and new models can take samples from depths up to 6,000 meters. She also brought up new flow cytobots, instruments that can now pass under oceanic ice sheets and take pictures of plankton and other important small species in order to gauge their health and the health of the ecosystem. With the proliferation of new technologies, Dr. Avery concluded, we are coming closer to understanding how the ocean works and what impact humans are having on it. These are important steps towards creating a more sustainable relationship between humans and nature.