The Blue Marble
Scripps Institution for Oceanography
15 November 2012


The History of Science Society and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography invite you to an outreach initiative in which we will be discussing the histories of our oceans and climate: 15 November 2012, 12-4 at the Scripps Institution. Intended for all levels of audience, this event will coincide with the international meeting of the History of Science Society in San Diego, California. Scientists, historians, philosophers, policy makers, and educators will examine such topics as Science Consensus and Ocean Conservation (how do people come to consensus on policy for conservation), Oceanography and State Craft, and how our current understanding of ocean and climate has developed over the centuries. Attendees are then invited to attend a special plenary at the HSS conference hotel on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions, a book of profound influence on the 20th century. Both events are open to the public but a reservation is required.

There will be a shuttle running between the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina (the host hotel for the 2012 HSS/PSA meeting) and the Scripps Institution for the Blue Marble event.

Blue Marble Registration

Please follow this link to register for The Blue Marble. Email if you have any questions.


12:00 Lunch
1:00 "Discovering the Oceans' Role in Climate: Oceanography meets Remote Sensing," Erik Conway (click here for abstract)
2:00 History of Oceanography Panels (Statecraft and Global Marine Science)
3:30 "Oceans and People: Why the Humanities? Why History? Why History of Science?," Helen Rozwadowski
(click here for abstract)


"Discovering the Oceans' Role in Climate: Oceanography meets Remote Sensing," Erik Conway (California Institute of Technology)

More than a half century ago, an obscure argument between two scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography over the uptake rate of carbon dioxide by ocean surface waters helped lead to today’s scientific interest in anthropogenic climate change. One of the two, Roger Revelle, became an early spokesman for the importance of studying climate change. In turn, studying the impact of climate change on the world’s oceans came to serve as an important justification for solving another of oceanography’s grand problems: what Scripps oceanographer Walter Munk referred to as the “undersampling problem.”  Because the oceans beyond the continental shelves are remote from human civilization, frequent, reliable, and comprehensive measurements could not be made easily. Phenomena important to the understanding of the oceans’ role in seasonal as well as longer-term climate, like ocean currents and vertical mixing, could not be examined quantitatively with any credibility.

Scientific moored buoys were not a solution, as they remained largely on the continental shelves. Remote sensing technologies developed by NASA centers provided a partial solution, enabling a variety of global surface measurements. And automated, submersible drifting buoys called Argo solved the rest of the problem, measuring in the third dimension of depth. These technologies took time and a good deal of money to develop and operate, making a suitably important justification, such as climate change, a vital part of enabling the science. They also formed an infrastructure for the ocean sciences. Solving the undersampling problem, in turn, enabled oceanographers to identify warming in the world ocean over the past half century, to study ocean circulation, and to begin contributing to the forecasting of seasonal and interannual climate phenomenon like the El Nino/La Nina events.

Click here to return to the program. Click here to go to the HSS/PSA meeting page.

"Oceans and People: Why the Humanities? Why History? Why History of Science?," Helen Rozwadowski (University of Connecticut Avery Point)

Most people consider the ocean as a constant and timeless place.  Looking across its restless surface and smelling the salt spray, an observer today can imagine that past generations of seafarers or coastal dwellers witnessed the same ocean.  Ships leave no tracks.  Differences under the surface are not apparent.  Yet the ocean is no less susceptible to change than is the land.  Recent research informs us that the ocean has changed, and is currently changing rapidly – in many cases for the worse –, in response to human actions.  Much, perhaps most, rhetoric and analysis of the environmental crisis of the oceans is presented by scientists and policy experts.  There is, however, a central, critical role for the humanities in identifying problems and devising solutions. 

Why the Humanities?  The humanities provide insight into the fundamental quandary of the ocean’s apparent timelessness, which makes it difficult for us to accept the new view of the sea as a place of dramatic change. 

Why History?  The story of our human relationship with the sea is a long one, likely reaching back into evolutionary time. People have used the ocean for many reasons, starting with food and transportation – but also as the focus of myth and culture.  New uses of the ocean emerged over time—science, submarine warfare, and recreation, for example.  With the new uses, the old ones remain—piracy, shipping, whaling and fishing.  Recent scholarship in history, historical ecology and underwater archaeology has dramatically extended our understanding of the degree to which people have both relied on the ocean and caused profound changes to ecosystems in the sea.

Why History of Science?
The methods and questions of the history of science remind us that we know the oceans as much through imagination as though the tools and technologies of modern science or, before that, the implements and knowledge systems of those who worked at sea.  The opacity of the ocean guarantees that we see reflected back from the ocean our own fears and desires.  Metaphors such as “wilderness” or “frontier” reveal the cultures and times of the people who deployed them, but they also formed self-fulfilling prophecies.  For example, identification of the ocean as “frontier” in the post World War II period reinforced beliefs of the limitlessness of oceanic resources – and extended the embrace of that myth in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. 

Until we understand the ocean’s past, and our inextricable interconnection to it, we will not make much headway in changing our relationship with the ocean for the better.  The very power of the “frontier” metaphor, however, holds out hope.  We need to find a way to jettison our perception of the ocean as a timeless place apart from humans.  We must transform our understanding of the sea to one bound in history and connected to humanity.  Such a new vision can form the foundation for positive change.

Click here to return to the program. Click here to go to the HSS/PSA meeting page.




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