It's truly an honor for me to be here. I am in awe in many cases of my distinguished co-panelists. Bill, I am very glad that you don't know anything about the sea in that when I make mistakes you won't be able to correct me.
Bill Moyers: Oh, I will anyway.
Mary Altalo: Please do. In meeting many of you last night and speaking with many of you at that lovely reception, I realized that there is such a general interest in the sea as Bill has said. And what I would like to share with you is my vision, my experience, my feeling of the sea and how the ocean is a critical player in our universe, in our earth system.
When I think of the sea (I guess the sea is in my blood, or water is in my blood as I was born and raised in Michigan around the Great Lakes) I remember as a child listening to my grandfather--he used to be a first mate on a freighter--telling me stories about the sea. My grandmother would not marry the man until he had quit the sea, but he procrastinated until he was 40 and then finally quit to marry my grandmother.
What I am finding more and more as I explore my interests in the sea is that I can't talk about the sea unless I talk about the atmosphere and I talk about the geosphere--the earth. They are linked and it is impossible to pull them apart. I am continually struck by the similarities in the ocean and the atmosphere and the geosphere.
When I first came to Scripps, one of my first jobs was to attend a conference in Los Alamos, and the topic of that particular conference was atmospheric modeling. Now, I am a biological oceanographer. I work with microscopic plankton, red tides. They are the food source for things like whales and fish. What am I going to say and what am I going to contribute at an atmospheric modeling conference?
But as I sat and looked at the slides and I looked at the view graphs and I started to recognize that many of the problems, many of the patterns, many of the cycles which we see in the atmosphere, in the clouds, in the changes of the earth, we see in my planktonic organisms. I saw the same patterns, and, actually, I was delighted because I could actually ask questions, and that's what it is all about. That's what getting to know anything is--understanding it enough to ask questions.
The other fundamental understanding I had was for my own phytoplankton and how they grew and how they formed patches and how they formed "clouds" and red tides in the ocean. I could see similar patterns in the cloud formations in the atmosphere. We were all, in many cases, at the same stage of our problem solving. We all needed finer and finer observation systems--new tools. Man is the ultimate tool maker, as well as tool user.
And we have all this wonderful technology now at our disposal which we can utilize and combine and integrate to really study the atmosphere, the ocean, and the earth simultaneously. We get a lot of our data in real time, and this is extremely important to things like prediction.
As an undergraduate when I was at Smith, hypotheses about the tectonic processes and sea-floor spreading were coming about (I know Bob will tell us a lot more about the geology). And I can remember feeling at that particular time that Earth was this dynamic rotating place, and the physical earth was a rotating process.
Some of my earliest work was in estuaries, and in an estuary, or a small enbayment, you cannot study the oceanography, you cannot study the water without studying the atmosphere, the effects of the winds, the effects of the day/night cycle, the effects of the thermal warming and cooling on the surface waters. And you cannot study them without the effects of the resuspension of the sediment, without the effects of the bottom, the changes in topography causing upwellings and downwellings. It's impossible. So my feeling is I was blessed in being able to start out with research in estuaries because it gave me the unifying concepts that I see in the ocean, the atmosphere, and on land.
The other aspect, because I am trained as an ecologist, I think I am trained to see connections, to see patterns, to see webs and interactions. And I can remember realizing in an introductory ecology course, for which there was a textbook written as Energy Flow in Biology, that these patterns and connections are really nothing more than energy flow. You put energy in a system and it organizes that system. And that's what I want to talk to you about today.
I call this talk the Engine Room of the Planet. Why? My visions of engine rooms. I used to spend about one hundred days a year at sea before my twins were born, and they've kept me busy at home now. But I can remember going down in the bowels of some of the coastal vessels, and what your first impressions and your first feelings are--the vibrations, the heat, the smells, and the noise that you hear. You know something critical is going on in an engine room. And the earth has an engine room, and that engine room, I believe, is the ocean.
There are gears and belts and pulleys, valves, thermostats, levers. They transform energy into motion, transform different types of energy into motion. There is a fuel, as a fossil fuel is, as well as the fuel of the sun. There are cooling systems, there are gaskets, air filters, strain gauges, and releases. And through this talk, I'll try to give you a feeling that a lot of what we see going on in the ocean is very similar to the types of things we do see in an engine.
What I want to talk about is how energy organizes our system. And so what we're going to do is we're going to start with the energy sources of the earth. There are two energy sources for our earth. We've got the sun, the fusion reactor, which is providing energy to the earth. But you've got another source of energy to the earth, which is extremely important. That's its internal source, its internal core. And the difference is that the core is formed and the energy sources of the core are formed really by three major processes--crystallization, isotopic decay, and gravitation. Again, for an ocean, there are two different energy sources that are impacting it.
And when you take these energy sources and you put them into the ocean, or you put them into the water, they will tend to organize the system. What you wind up having is differential motion and cycling. You have cycles that occur within cycles. You have similar patterns of motion in the earth, the atmosphere, and the ocean. And these phases are all interconnected.
When you look at Earth from outer space, the very first thing you see is motion. You see cycles, you see eddies, you see the clouds, which are actually tracers for a lot of the currents that are going on. There is movement going on. There is a lot of cycling. And the atmosphere is the halo around this glow which allows our energy to be accumulated.
That particular process of accumulation is extremely important. If we look at the sun and we look at the moon, the sun will impinge upon the earth as well as the moon. They are about the same distance from the sun. But the actual temperature of the surface of the moon is zero, whereas the earth is about 57 degrees, and that is really due to the atmosphere. It acts as a natural greenhouse effect.
The composition of the atmosphere is extremely important. We have carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, water vapor, and these are the types of gases which actually trap the heat. So the composition of the atmosphere around the earth is very important.
Greenhouse gases which trap a lot of this energy, a lot of this atmosphere, are not the predominant ones. Nitrogen and oxygen are. Now, oxygen has evolved significantly over time. And millions of years ago, the first oxygen was produced in the water by a lot of the bacteria. They produced oxygen, which became released out of the ocean into the atmosphere. But what happened? It didn't stay there.
This was at the time when the earth was forming. And you have these crusts being pushed up through the water. A lot of the crust was iron. What happens when you put iron and oxygen together? It rusts. So the very first thing that this released oxygen that came out of the water into the atmosphere did, it didn't stay there. It rusted everything on the planet. And only after the planet was totally rusted was oxygen then allowed to increase in the particular atmosphere, allowing our planet to warm.
And once our planet could warm, and once there was enough oxygen in the outer area to get rid of the UV radiation, then the organisms could crawl out, out of the ocean onto the rusted land. Before that, they couldn't go out because of the UV, and the only way to escape that UV was from the surface waters.
The next thing I want to talk about is how the atmosphere is organized. And let me give you a little bit of idea of this atmosphere and the dimensions of it. Mount Everest, if you look in the center diagram, is about a little less than about 8 or 9 kilometers tall, and most of the clouds are in this area. And if you look at the altitude of the left side--I have it in a logarithmic scale. Closest to Earth is about 10 kilometers out, and this is the troposphere, and then 100 kilometers, and then the farthest layer we have, in the 1,000 kilometer range. Most of the action is in the area very, very close to the planet. And, again, this is greatly expanded.
But there are some interesting concepts that are occurring here. For example, if you look at the temperature near the planet, we have a very nice environment. As you go up, it gets colder. But you go up a little bit further, it starts getting warmer again. Why? Again, because of this greenhouse effect. So there's a temperature difference as you go up through the atmosphere.
And what we have is we have a series of temperature gradients, temperature differential, which cause a lot of circulation. And it's the circulation which I really want to tell you about next.
I told you the concentration of oxygen was changing in the atmosphere. A number of years ago, some interesting stories started to accumulate of what is going on with carbon, and many of you have seen this diagram. These are multiple-decade concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which were taken from the island of Maui at an observing station. And over the time periods it has gone up significantly. And this has caused great concern, great alarm, about a significant warming of the atmosphere.
The second change in the atmosphere is the apparent influx or change in the distribution of ozone around our planet. Now, ozone, as I had mentioned, is the major factor which is causing the UV to be absorbed. And as the ozone is decreasing the UV is increasing and coming in. And these are extremely important concerns for our time period.
If we look at the circulation of the atmosphere we see it is dynamic. The heat from the equator is rising up into the higher portions of the atmosphere and being transported poleward. It gets cooled and it sinks. The atmosphere, therefore, is a dynamic circulating system which allows transport of dust, water vapor, microscopic organisms, viruses. Something extremely interesting that's being looked at more and more carefully today is the airborne transmission of disease, as well as waterborne transmission of disease. But the whole atmosphere is a cycling process.
One of the wonderful things that our tools have been able to produce is not only the ability to observe, such as using satellites to observe clouds, but a lot of computer modeling and computer simulation as well. And what we have here is a reconstruction of the cloud layers over the western United States using computer models. These are allowing us to predict movements, to look at the various layers of ice, snow, ice crystals, and rain at various levels within the clouds, and allow us to understand how the water vapor is truly cycling throughout the system.One of the other uses of models, in combination with satellite observations, is in showing us now is that the actual UV dosage to the surface of the world--the ocean, as well as the land--is determined not only by the thickness of the ozone layer, but depends upon the clouds and the cloud thickness. These are the kinds of models that are being put together. This is actually the dose rate of UVB to the surface using the ozone models, as well as the cloud models.
What this translates into is, if you can take a model of what UV you will need to cause damage in plants or skin cancer in animals, you can calculate what areas of the world, based on the predictions of the changes in ozone and the predictions of the changes in the cloud layers, will be most affected and most prone to damage. This happens to be the plant dosage rate. This happens to be areas which will be most susceptible to the skin cancer dose rate.
I want to keep coming down a little bit more and getting into the surface. One of the things that Bill alluded to was some of this new reclassification of data from the Navy. And I want to show you one of the diagrams that has been put together using some of the new bathymetry which the Navy has released, along with some of the other satellite data that has been collected in the past.
The amount of effort to get a total ocean benthic map is tremendous. And what we have here is a method of using satellite data to get rid of the water essentially and look at the benthic topography of the ocean. We have the bottom of the container of the ocean now as transparent. We can see what's going on at the bottom. We can see how the ridges are formed and plates are shifting, et cetera. And this is all done through a series of satellite measurements using ocean surface topography.
So we've got the bottom of the ocean mapped. Now we need the top. And we're going to another satellite, and a different algorithm, and a little bit different processing. And now we're going to look at the top of the container--the top of the oceans. And this is the dynamic topography, the upper bounds of the ocean. And one of the things that has come out, and which is exciting, is that the upper bounds of this ocean follows very, very closely the benthic topography of the ocean.
I told you that the atmosphere is cycling. Well, the winds at the surface are also driving the ocean's cycling, and the ocean is cycling in a conveyor-belt motion. Surface waters, which are formed at the equator, are warmer. They float on the surface. And if we start looking at the Atlantic, we're finding that they come to the surface, they are transported poleward. Once they get into the pole areas, they cool off, they sink, they follow the water, the topography at the base, they circulate between all oceans. There is a huge conveyor belt around this planet which is taking the waters, and what's in the water, which is extremely important, through all sections of the ocean.
How are we going to measure these types of water masses? We see these water masses flowing. We see them transferring between different ocean basins. But there's a series of new technology, there are floats, there are drifters which you can actually put in water masses and follow them. And for deep currents, this very often takes a matter of years and years, sometimes decades, to be able to follow these water masses. But these are critical to the formation of the circulation.
There are other ways of measuring basin scale changes. This happens to be a diagram of an acoustic array, using sound in the ocean to measure whether the ocean is warming over a period of time. The speed sound travels in the ocean is proportional to the temperature. If it is warming, the sound will travel faster. If it's cooling, it will travel slower. So the idea is to use arrays of acoustics to try to measure the warming or the cooling of oceans in various locations.
There are other elements that come from the bottom that are extremely important in tagging water masses so that we can trace them. This happens to be from the east Pacific rise--benthic suspensions of helium. We can trace these because we have a point source, and we know the initial concentration. We, therefore, can trace these water masses.
Now, I want to tell you a little bit about clouds. This is again one of those stories that has just recently come to light. There is a really strong feedback between the atmosphere and the oceans, and it is particularly prominent in the western Pacific in the area around Fiji, a convenient place to work, I must add.
There's a warm pool of water where on the equator we're getting a tremendous amount of sun, solar radiation, in this area. And we're pushing it into the water. And the water's getting hotter, and it's getting hotter. But it never ever goes above a certain temperature because as soon as it reaches that temperature, it starts to evaporate. There are vigorous exchange processes, clouds forming here. As the clouds form, they provide layers which protect the sun from impinging any more on that surface layer, and, therefore, forms a very, very effective thermostat.
Verification of this thermostat hypothesis has been carried out over the last few years, and we conduct campaigns--oceanographers, hundreds of oceanographers--to work on this. We have aircraft surveillance, we have buoys, we have multiple ships, we have drifters, we have water-mass dye tracers, and we have satellites all trying to follow this dynamic process.
Models are extremely important. We now have models of the ocean and we have models of the atmosphere. We can simulate. For example, the atmosphere models are so good now that we can ask questions like this. If the CO2 in the atmosphere doubles over the next number of years, what are the areas that are most prone to increased heating? Those are the kinds of questions that these atmospheric models and simulations can ask and we can answer.
The global ocean models are extremely good, too. But the thing that is the most critical now is the coupled models. There are now models which show the interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere.
I'm going to tell you a story. The story's about El NiÒo. And most of you have heard the El NiÒo story. In many cases, we know that when El NiÒo comes, there is usually a lot of rain in certain areas, but in particular along certain coasts. But let's talk a little bit about what this is.
El NiÒo actually starts again in the area off Australia, in the Fiji area. And this warm pool that I talked about starts to migrate. The warm pool actually starts to migrate across the ocean. It goes from west to east. It goes towards our particular continent. And as it does that, and this is a slice through the ocean at that time--this warm pool, which is usually confined or stuck on the western side of the Pacific, starts to travel all the way across the Pacific. But do you remember the clouds that are released, those clouds that are interactive over that warm pool? Guess what? They come with it.
As this warm pool starts to migrate across the ocean, more and more precipitation falls on coasts that never usually have it. This is one of my favorite breakfast areas in La Jolla during an El NiÒo many years ago. It's called the Marine Room, and you can see that in certain time periods the surf height dramatically changes.
Ocean and atmosphere interactions--a very tough place to study. Again, mankind is the toolmaker. We've made all kinds of vessels to study different things. But some of the things we most want to study occur during storm events. The higher the sea state and the stronger the winds, that's when we want to study ocean atmospheric interactions.
It's a tough thing to do on a ship. So we have built unusual vessels. This is called Flip. This actually is a platform that, when we take it out and we put it on station, we fill up one end of it, we ballast it, it tilts, tilts up, we extend our instrumentation, and it becomes a floating spar buoy, which is 300 feet in length. How wonderful. A hundred feet above the water, 200 feet below. It is very stable, as you can imagine. You finally have a platform that you can study air-sea interaction from without getting tossed around and bounced around--a wonderful, wonderful invention.
There are other types of instrumentation, along with the observations that are critical if we're truly to study these kinds of interactions. When we do have multiple ship campaigns and multiple ship expeditions, we will cycle and circle around Flip with some of the larger vessels as well to be able to get the exchange rates between the atmosphere and the ocean.
What I want to talk about next is what's contained in the ocean. And I'm going to talk about something near and dear to my heart, the little solar cells in the ocean. What captures the sun energy? What captures this heat energy? This is all captured by individual tiny planktonic cells. They're little solar collectors. That's all they are. They happen to be different colors because there are different colors of sunlight that come in, and each one has its own way of capturing light energy.
And what this slide shows are observations from satellite of areas which are prone to high concentrations of blue organisms, or phytoplankton. What this means is there's a lot of photosynthesis going on. So there's a lot of oxygen being released.
This is a satellite view of the east coast of the United States. You can see Cape Cod in the mid-left quadrant. You can see Long Island Sound. You can just see at the very left side the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware Bay coming in. On the top are the patterns of phytoplankton distributions. Again, this is where all the action is coming from. This is where all the photosynthesis is occurring and the energy is transferring. And the bottom picture is the sea surface temperature at the same time. Our satellites as our tools are bringing us all this information.
Satellites are pretty accurate. We can use them on smaller and smaller scales. This happens to be the Chesapeake Bay. And if you'll look on the very left side, that's the Potomac River. There is a major spot in there of green. This is a very, very strong accumulation of plankton only a few kilometers long. Now, we're seeing this from a satellite! And we can also see the upstream and downstream migration of this over a satellite time series. So we've got the tools to do the jobs adequately.
If you take a vertical slice through this area, we see that a lot of things which are in the surface are actually also transported on a conveyor belt, only a small conveyor belt, down into the sediments. So that if you look now at a surface slice of the sediment, you see that things can be deposited--carbon can be deposited.
This is the culprit right here. This is the individual little phytoplankton solar cell. But look at it. It is covered with pores--things to exchange nutrients. And what you've got, essentially, is a bag which contains atmosphere; it contains water; and it contains rocks for nutrients. That's what this phytoplankton cell is doing. And there are connections which keep the organisms in contact with the water. Their sole job is to put together the two media. The cells often reproduce at a doubling rate of about once per day. They're highly pigmented. These structures are the little solar collectors. They have chloroplasts, which capture the sunlight, and they form the major thrust for the food chain--the major basis for the food chain in the ocean.
Now I'm going to go to the third cycle, and that's the cycle within the earth--within the geosphere. And, again, we realize that recent examinations have shown that the crust is very uneven. And if we look at a slice throughout the core of the geosphere, we also see that there is a lot of convection. There's a cycling, very much as we saw and very reminiscent of what actually occurs in the ocean.
A lot of the material which is formed at the surface is also being thrust downward. Evidence of the thrust?--things like earthquakes--as the crust is moving. There's also a lot of evidence of things being brought up to the surface as well, and these have to do with hydrothermal vents.
There have been a number of expeditions conducted over many, many years which have actually enabled us to look at some of these cycling processes, and how they relate to the composition of the particles in the air. These are the sites of the deep-sea drilling projects. These are the number of bore holes over the last decade that have been drilled around the world to get a map like we see.
People don't realize when they see these composites, the hundreds and thousands of hours that were necessary in order to get a lot of these measurements and put the composites together--work on ships like the drilling ship, which has actually been able to take pieces or plugs out of the bottom of the ocean and analyze them. These efforts have been going on for years and years.
Studies of the hydrothermal vent communities started a few decades ago, with the first discoveries that the heat generated at the bottom of the ocean could actually support life. More and more in areas of activity, we're finding all different kinds of communities at the bottom of the ocean. It is not sterile. It's very diverse. And these communities live off a non-solar energy source.
There are also entire communities--this happens to be from a hot source. There are also communities that are found in all of Mexico which are living off a cold energy source. These are the hydrocarbon sources and the methane seeps that are in the Gulf of Mexico. They support communities as well.
One of the things that I wanted to end with is another interesting concept. Again, I'm going to go back to clouds. The life span of clouds is from minutes to hours, and they produce heat and condensation. They process air. I'm going to use the same concept for clouds of phytoplankton where the life span is from hours to usually months. They also produce heat. But they process water, not air. It's an extremely important vision to try to look at.
I'll leave you with a number of thoughts. Every time you go out and you look up and you see clouds, realize that they're part of the ocean that you are looking at. When you look up, you'll see the changes, watch these clouds. You're going to learn a tremendous amount about the ocean and about the earth. Look at their cycles. Look at their formation. Look at their dissipation. Realize that the only thing that's suspended in a cloud is what can be supported by the air. But the same principles exist on many different levels. Thank you.
Bill Moyers: I have two quick questions, Mary. What would you say to the French writer, Madame Anne-Louise de StaÎl, who says in her novel Corinne that the sea appears today as it did the first day of creation?
Mary Altalo: Well, they say she's quite old. I think that's interesting. First of all, if she sees what I see in it, then she perhaps is right. She sees processes. She sees patterns. She sees things that are existing in time and space--constant change. She sees that it is evolving. But I would have to disagree with her as well. And I think we have to realize that a lot of what we see in the sea today is because we are here. We exist. And we have a lot of interplay, particularly in the coastal regions, with the sea. And what we see in the bay here, what we see in a lot of the estuaries, what we see in the coastal region, is a direct effect of what we actually have put into the water, what we put in from the land and from the anthropogenic inputs--from man--and their activities.
Bill Moyers: You describe such a dazzling consistency of change that I'm wondering if you find it conceivable that the oceans could be so changed that human life would be profoundly affected.
Mary Altalo: Yes, I do. I think one thing of concern is happening right now, with the story about the rising of the heat and the trapping of heat by the atmosphere--I showed you the circulation, I showed you that conveyor belt in the oceans. It is critical to life that that conveyor belt functions. The conveyor belt is temperature regulated. You keep warming the atmosphere. You keep warming that surface layer of the oceans. You are going to change that conveyor belt--no question. You're either going to stop it, you're going to invert it, you're going to change where it arises, where it comes to the surface and where it goes back down. Yes, I do see that we could have a major, major problem.
Bill Moyers: Some response from your colleagues to your other side.
Question: Mary, I would think that some people in the audience might be interested in the impact of El NiÒo we've seen so much about in recent years. Now, we seem to see that it's affecting things for years at a time here in Texas. Could you give us your ideas about how it's affecting us here in Texas--kind of a time frame?
Mary Altalo: Yes. In fact, one of the things that I think is extremely important, and one of the hot topics in El NiÒo research, is how would what you see in Fiji and in the western Pacific and these cycles--how would that be translated to other areas of the globe? There are what is called teleconnections, and these teleconnections are that we can see this warm pool moving across the Pacific. As it's coming closer and closer to the West Coast area, what happens is that it spins off. It spins off little webs, little connections, such that it impacts greatly the rainfall over the entire United States. In fact, a lot of the floods in Mississippi have been possibly attributed to, or have been connected with, or there are efforts to try to link them to these El NiÒo connections. And what we're seeing in various areas are the results of these threads or these teleconnections. That's where the hot area of research is going on right now. And this is what we're trying to find out. It is also the sociological impact which is important.
Question: What do you mean?
Mary Altalo: Sociological impact in that in areas where there is a flood or where there is a drought, you may have great ecological damage, agricultural impact in particular. So, for example, if you know 18 months in advance than an El NiÒo is coming, and you know it's going to hit your area, and you know your area is going to be, say, very rainy, you're going to change how you plant. You're going to plant flood-resistant seed or you're going to change your planting areas. If you know your area's going to be impacted and it's going to be drought, you're going to put drought-resistant seed in.
There are all kinds of economic and sociological impacts from El NiÒo which we're just beginning to find out. And they are crucial to our understanding.
Robert Ballard: Mary, before you went to Scripps you spent a lot of time on that small community on the shores of the Potomac surrounded on four sides by reality. And I was just curious, as you have left the Washington scene and now entered Scripps, how do you see the impact of the changing philosophy in America about investing in long-term things like research? What's the prognosis of the changing atmosphere--politics in America--to our studies of the oceans?
Mary Altalo: Bob, you've hit a lot of very important questions. One of things that had to be translated to the policymakers was the importance of continuity of research, and this has only occurred over the past four or five years. Very often congressional funding for particular programs, or even agency funding for particular programs, was going to be for a three-to-five-year cycle. And if you're studying something that's going to have a decadal to century time-scale cycle, stopping a few years into the research isn't going to do any good.
I see a lot of the agencies--the agencies in particular are picking up that there needs to be continuity in the research. We do have a problem with the intergenerational program with Congress in that every time there is an election, there is a requestioning and there has to be a recommitment to these long-term processes. It's a slow struggle. It is a very, very important one.
Bill Moyers: Can you give us an example of the importance of continuity in research as one concrete image or problem or policy?
Mary Altalo: Problem or policy?
Bill Moyers: I mean, some example of why it makes a difference if you interrupt research after a period of time.
Mary Altalo: Okay. Let me take a--for example, we have a time series at Scripps which is a seventy-year time series. And it has daily measurements from the pier of temperature, salinity, some of the phytoplankton counts, solar radiation, et cetera. Through utilizing these kinds of time series, if they are interrupted, you will never be able to really look at the trends.
One of the things that it's very important to find out is whether what we're seeing is part of a major trend or part of a natural variability of the system? That's what we're really trying to get at.
Robert Ballard: Another example. It's very popular when you go in the field, and there's a lot of publicity commonly associated with field programs. Ships go out, satellites are launched, submarines dive. But the field program is the collection of the data. It's very common to lose interest after the field program is over. It takes many, many, many years to analyze what you did.
And, unfortunately, that tends to not be popular to a lot of sponsoring agencies. They want you back in the field. But there's a lot we can learn from what we've already done.
Bill Moyers: Bob, is Washington the only source of the kind of funding necessary for the continuity of research that you and Mary both are talking about? Are there not other sources--foundations, industry?
Robert Ballard: I'm presently moving into a field involving the social sciences that is mostly privately sponsored. But fundamental basic research is really an investment by a society. And industry has not played a significant role in what we call blue water oceanography, the vast majority of our planet that's on the high seas. It's been the federal government that has invested in the future generations.
Tony Amos: From my own field of research, which does involve some fairly long-term measurements, one of the questions I always get asked by the public is, "Is it getting any better or is it getting any worse?" And the only way to answer these kinds of questions is to do some comparatively long-term measurements.
I'll give you just a small example. I have been working on the local beach here, and one of the things that I measure, for example, is the health of the bird population. And there is a bird that winters here. It's called the piping plover. It's on the endangered species list. Had I stopped my survey after about, say, five or six years, I would have concluded that the population of the piping plover was going downhill. As it happened--I've been doing it now for eighteen years--I have seen a trend that has now brought the population of that particular bird uphill.
It's an awkward question to answer in that you have to see several cycles of some phenomenon that may not be compatible with the funding cycles, that's for sure. There are some programs (long-term ecological research programs, or LTER, for example), which, unfortunately, I believe, are somewhat threatened by the new feeling in Congress. Some of these programs that are funded by agencies which may not be continued. And that is a great shame.
The time series on the Scripps pier is, I think, a prime example of how, by dint of just a few individuals' incredible effort, a wonderful time series of information is being collected.
Bill Moyers: Tony, you mentioned that one little bird. What's the implication of the discovery that its numbers have increased?
Tony Amos: The implication in this particular case is that there is a program--what they call "The species recovery program"--for all endangered species, where there is an effort to, in fact, bring them from the brink of extinction. And should one then see the population of the bird (outside of its breeding range, in this case) increasing, you might imply that that program has been successful. And I believe it has in this case.
Barto Arnold: I was searching for an area of commonality between the social scientists and my hard-science colleagues here. And Bob hit on the matter of what happens after you get back from the field. And that's particularly important in archaeology. In my case, if you excavate a shipwreck and are not funded and prepared to preserve the artifacts, they will go straight to hell.
You've all seen things come out of the ocean--anchors and cannons in front of restaurants simply crumble away over the years. Wood, in particular, can go overnight. It can be twice as expensive to preserve and study the artifacts from a shipwreck as it is to dig them up, and it can take three or four times as long.
Getting back to the global perspective on the ocean, just one thing, historically, as an anthropologist. The ocean, at least the near-shore ocean, was a friendly corridor of transport in early days. And bear in mind that people got around a lot more than you might think. There were no roads for going long distances very easily on land. But the rivers and the coastal areas were a friendly transport corridor.
Bill Moyers: Any other response prompted by Mary's presentation?
Tony Amos: One of the things that Mary brought out was the improvement in the methods that we have of looking at the ocean. There's an incredible increase in our technological abilities in the last, say, twenty years or so. And this is really going to help us in understanding some of these fundamental questions.
I'd like to just give you an example. When I first went to sea in the Antarctic Ocean, we discovered a sea mount. This is an undersea mountain that comes very close to the surface. And as the ship went over the sea mount, and I was on what we call PDR watch, position depth recorder watch, and it was my job (technician as I was at the time) to inform the scientists of what was going on.
Well, the bottom kept coming up and kept coming up and kept coming up. And, in fact, it looked to me, as we were in an uncharted area at that time, that perhaps it was going to endanger the ship. So I even thought it might be the time to inform the ship's crew that we were perhaps going to run aground.
That didn't happen. But after the chief scientists had a discussion about what to do, whether we should change our course and really investigate this sea mount, we couldn't find it again. We turned around and we could not find this vast undersea mountain because we did not have the navigational technology, and we didn't really have the technology to look at the bottom as we do now. So that sea mount, by the way, is a famous sea mount now. It's call the Eltanin Sea Mount, named after the ship that we were on. Perhaps the Navy knew more about it than we did.
Bill Moyers: I'll give you the fax number for the Medea group very shortly. Before we go to our first coffee break, we have our first question of philosophy from the floor. Liz Carpenter, who was there for the dialogues between Plato and Socrates, wonders why, with all this advance and knowledge and all the new technology of exploration, why she still gets seasick. Can any of you tell her that?
Robert Ballard: Well, I think that the advances that are yet to come will save you from that plight. You'll be able to do exploration from your home on the information highway.
Bill Moyers: We're going to take a break for 30 minutes. First, Bill Crook has an announcement.
William Crook: I asked our last year's president to give me a suggestion that would help me through this year. Our Nobel Prize Laureate, from whom you would expect something profound, said, "Get a louder bell." Well, folks, we have the bell. We hope you'll listen to it and take it seriously. Break off the conversation with the old friend and come back in so we can keep this program on schedule.
William Crook: Before beginning our next session, I want to recognize the 60 percent asset to the Moyers team--Judith Moyers. Judith has her own record of accomplishment and contribution to this country. She served for ten years as the vice chairman of the trustees of the State University of New York, where she raised a storm or two. She serves on the Paine-Webber Board of Directors and on the board of the Ogden Corporation. And she's president of Public Affairs Television.
She's also a member of this group as of last year--she was not able to attend--which is something Bill has not been able to attain. He is a member of the American Philosophical Society, and all they had was Ben Franklin. We had Sam Houston.
Bill Moyers: Thank you, Bill. You remind me that Judith and I were 22 before we saw the sea. We had just graduated from the University of Texas and were heading for a year in Scotland where she was to teach and I was to do graduate study. We went on an eight-day journey from New York to South Hampton on a small Dutch ship named the Ryndam.
The first day it was a glad unruffled sea that greeted us, the kind of sea that Shelley found "calmed as a cradled child and is slumber bound." But we had been warned that there is no lull like the lull of a treacherous sea. And when that lull passed, we were indeed in touch with Homer's "loud sounding waves" and Byron's "hell of waters where they flow and hiss and boil in endless fortune," and we wound up, both of us, below deck. The whole ocean seemed to flame like an open wound, and we had our first bout with seasickness. It was after that that I decided that I would praise the sea but hug the shore.
I would like to recognize, since she arrived shortly ago, my dear friend and mentor, the First Lady of Marshall, Texas, Ladybird Johnson. Like me, the first whale Mrs. Johnson saw was a catfish from Caddo Lake.
I have to tip our collective hat to Jerry and Cathy Supple who were singing the Sea Chanties during our break. Jerry and Cathy live in San Marcos now, where he is president of Southwest Texas State University. Before that Judith knew them when he was president of the State University of New York at Fredonia, that famous sea-chanting citadel.
Mary, thank you for putting a luminous frame around the opening of this weekend. As I watched your slides and heard you talk, I had a sense of this voracious energy that is pouring forth and back into the oceans.
The public at large is very often unaware of just how enriched our lives are by the steadfast passion of the scientists who understand. But sometimes a scientist breaks through and excites a general enthusiasm about the wonders of a life spent in search.
Robert Ballard is just such a scientist. He comes to us from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, that other great American institution of marine exploration, where he is the tenured senior scientist and director of the Center for Marine Exploration. But I know and admire him as an accomplished practitioner of television, whose work with the BBC, Walter Cronkite, the National Geographic television specials, and Ted Turner's National Geographic Explorer series has captured a large audience for the excitement of science.
His books on his discoveries of the Titanic and the sunken German battleship Bismarck are worldwide best sellers. But, as Bill Crook was reminding me last night, what is most impressive is the answer that Bob gave to a reporter who asked him, "What were you feeling after you found the Bismarck?" And Robert Ballard answered, "What a waste. Will we never learn what a waste war is?" Robert Ballard.