Why do we care about the ocean?

For today’s post I am considering why we care about the ocean, and why we bother trying to understand how it works. We have won funds to run this cruise in order to investigate a particular aspect of ocean science, but why would anyone pay us to do that, and should people who are not marine scientists care about the ocean too? I had some ideas in my mind about how I might answer this broad question, mainly revolving around the importance of the ocean to pretty much all aspects of the past, present and future of all humans. But I thought it might be interesting to ask some of my fellow scientists how they would answer it, and sure enough, it turned up some interesting and imaginative responses.

Funnily enough, only a few people mentioned the role of the ocean in climate, and how the ocean basically makes our planet fit for human life. In my view this is the reason why everyone should care about the ocean; it is essential to keeping the temperature right for us, the air filled with oxygen and the rain falling where we need it. Climate, and being able to predict how it will change is a key reason for society to provide funding for science projects such as this one. As marine scientists we get enormous satisfaction from the unique way that we are contributing to our understanding of the climate system, and therefore helping our children and future generations to increase that understanding and adapt to changes.

More common though, were answers around the notion that nature provides so many interesting puzzles to solve that you never lose interest. A physicist said that he was fascinated by the way the ocean was a giant mathematical problem, and maths is the language of nature. A chemist described how the ocean was full of cool chemistry, just waiting to be understood and so much more exciting than lab experiments. Another said that pretty much everything about the ocean was beautiful and fascinating.

The sheer size of the ocean is awesome and this in itself is a source of fascination and respect. I was very taken by one person’s view which was this; it is humbling to be thinking about scales way beyond those that we see and feel as humans. We are about 1.5 metres tall, but the features we are measuring in the ocean can be tens, hundreds or even thousands of kilometres long, an almost unimaginable size.

One of the exciting and challenging characteristics of the ocean is that is ever-changing. Anyone who has looked at the surface of sea from the shore will know that it is constantly moving, always shifting and subtly altering in colour and shade. This changeable nature of the sea over time, from place to place and from surface to seafloor, is also true when we are observing the character of ocean currents and biological or chemical content. It is very hard to measure a constantly changing environment and to understand what is causing those changes.

This group of scientists knows that the ocean is essential to humans, and that we cannot understand the climate and how it is changing without understanding the ocean. And our love of the ocean and of ocean science stems from the very basic human urge that is to investigate and understand the world around us.

Penny Holliday

Image: view of the top of the CTD package just before it comes out of the water and on to the deck.

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