In "New Perspectives: The Benefits of Looking up!", we looked at the value of new perspectives in general and one perspective in particular—looking up more often to learn from the stars, sky, and space. Using the new Sky feature of Google Earth as an example, we also looked at gaining yet another perspective—by flying—and how we could tie two perspectives together to do things such as looking up at the stars to help us navigate our way on land and sea. Now I'd like to continue with our exploration of the power of perspectives by looking down and under.
The Power of Inversion
One trick I've found extremely useful for helping me solve problems and finding new perspectives is to invert things. For example, I remember how amazed I was as a young boy when I discovered that a telescope becomes a microscope (or vice versa), when you simply look from the other end! Ever since, I've tried "looking through the other end" or inverting my thinking as much as I can to learn more, gain new insights, and see things more clearly from a new perspective.
Applying this inversion technique to the Google Sky example, what I'm hoping for next from Google or other providers of similar technology is the ability to point that camera in yet another direction—down! How about a "Sea" feature that would let us point our attention and camera the other way, down to what makes up over 71% of the Earth's surface; the oceans. It seems to me that we could learn a lot and gain many new perspectives by looking at what some call "Inner Space", the world's oceans and waterways, with at least the same intensity and resources we devote to Outer Space. Here is a brief and sobering overview of how little we currently know about the watery world around us, and some equally exciting projects that are tackling this deficit and revealing just how much we can gain from looking at it.
Networking the Oceans?
Let's start by checking out the Sept. 4th, 2007 article in the New York Times called "Bringing the Ocean to the World, in High-Def", which covers the new Ocean Observatories Initiative as well as some other very exciting major projects aimed at filling in a lot of our missing knowledge about the oceans that surround us. These endeavors are important because the oceans contain the vast majority of the earth's living space.
The Ocean Observatories Initiative involves two very different approaches:
- Placing a range of sensors in the oceans to provide directly measured data.
- Connecting all these sensors through the Internet so that all of the information gathered is accessible to the public and the scientific communities.
The new Ocean Observatories Initiative is:
"a multifaceted effort to study the ocean—in the ocean—through a combination of Internet-linked cables, buoys atop submerged data collection devices, robots and high-definition cameras. The first equipment is expected to be in place by 2009."
From my perspective, we are in DESPERATE need of this proliferation of study and these approaches. I always thought it curious that we know so much more about "outer space", relatively speaking, than we do about the oceans around us or our "Planet Ocean" as it is sometimes referred. Think I'm being too hyperbolic (who me?!!)? Check out some of the following facts—some fun, but many that are are very serious and sobering.
- Water is the only known substance that can exist as a gas, liquid or solid within the limited temperatures on Earth.
- The oceans cover 71% of the Earth's surface and contain 97% of the Earth's water.
- Less than 1% this is fresh water, and 2-3% is contained in glaciers and ice caps.
- All life on earth is thought to have originated in the ocean.
- An estimated 80% of all life on earth is found under the ocean surface.
- Over 1 million known species of plants and animals live in the world's oceans, and scientists say there may be as many as 9 million species we haven't discovered yet ( = almost 90 % UN discovered!).
- 96.5% of the total water on earth is in the global oceans.
- Oceans contain 99% of the living space on the planet.
- Less than 10% of that space has been explored by humans.
- The average depth of the ocean is 3,795 m. The average height of the land is 840 m.
- 90% of all volcanic activity occurs in the oceans.
- The top ten feet of the ocean holds as much heat as the entire atmosphere.
- One study of a deep-sea community revealed 898 species from more than 100 families and a dozen phyla in an area about half the size of a tennis court. More than half of these were new to science.
At best, it is estimated that we have only mapped about 10% of the ocean floor in any detail. So what? Remember the US submarine San Francisco that crashed into an underwater mountain near Guam back in January 2005? While the details are still under investigation, the biggest factor is the simple fact that we didn't know the mountain was there!
Don't know what we don't know!
As stunning as some of these facts are in revealing how little we know about "Inner Space", recent studies are strongly suggesting that our ignorance is MUCH larger! And this isn't just because the oceans are so obviously vast. We don't seem to do much better with waters that are very close to us land lubbers. For example, consider the recent study (Jan.2006) of the Gulf of Maine done as part of the Census of Marine Life, with the Huntsman Marine Science Center of St. Andrews, New Brunswick, which found in their first count of known marine species in the Gulf of Maine region (3,317 and counting) was more than 50% larger than previous estimates!
But there's hope at hand. Going back to the New York Times article, it also points out many more and equally promising projects for the direct study and measurement "of the ocean - in the ocean." Each project is directly and very accurately measuring different sets of characteristics, such as temperature, currents, life forms, and also detailing their effects on land, current changes, role in climate change, etc. But what struck me the most was that all the individual projects are adopting a common approach of being open, interactive, and connected. As a result, these individual projects are similar to nodes on a network and benefiting from the same network effect where the whole is indeed so much greater than the sum of the parts. One of the studies, for example, involves a series of underwater cables that will crisscross the tectonic plate known as Juan de Fuca in the Pacific Northwest, which as Dr. John R. Delaney put it:
“For the first three or four years, people just laughed when I said we’re going to turn Juan de Fuca Plate into a national laboratory,” Professor Delaney said. “Now they’re not laughing.”
As an added bonus and as a Canadian, I was also tickled to learn that Canada is putting in its own cabled network for more of the Straits of Juan de Fuca off the coast of British Columbia, which is where I last lived in Canada and where the rest of my family lives.
In another post, I'll add some overview comments on the meta-trends and patterns that are emerging in both these recent marine examples as well as the likes of Google Sky, which we covered in New Perspectives: The Benefits of Looking Up.
Until then, as sailors say:
"May you have fair winds and following seas."