Met Richard Corfield yesterday, an oceanographer and keen promoter of science to the public. He participated in the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) program of scientific dialogue with the public, Cafe Scientifique, and the discussion was wide and fun; I was quite suprised when it was announced we were out of time, especially as several of the topics were just beginning to run.
Principally, I learnt about HMS Challenger, on a mission undertaken by a science-naval collaboration to chart out more knowledge of the oceans, and additionally collect more evidence to assess Darwin’s thesis of selection which had been published some thirteen years before. The course of their voyage led to wonderful failure: it had been predicted that the bottom of the ocean would be composed purely of ancient throwbacks (the engine of selection was seen to be enviromental change, and the ocean bed was considered a ‘silent landscape’ in which the enviroment was constant, meaning no evolutionary pressure to change); instead, they found countless new species. Then, unexpected success: missing links isolated in the Antipodes which gave support to natural selection. Alongside this, they charted the deepest waters, sparked understanding of the patterns of heat and exchange from the oceans to the continents and much more that couldn’t fit into my groaning head.
I also learned about Methane Hydrate, which becomes frozen in place between water molecules given the right conditions, forming massive deposits on the ocean floor. It’s release from the ocean produced massive warming 55 million years ago, an event which could have been cataclysmic if not for the burgeoning algae who arose to consume the masses of CO2 released. What it did achieve was the change in climate that allowed mammals like us to appear.
Pertinent to now, energy interests are looking at how to tap into this massive energy resource. This is beyond the stage of investigating feasibility – it can be done and the issue is how to do it safely. If Corfield is right, then this is going to happen well within my lifetime and will represent an effectively unlimited energy source. Something I’m going to want to learn more about…
Beyond this, there was an interesting debate about public promotion of science, which is something I’m very into. It seems to be a hot area at the moment; I hope you’ll see me in it one day.
Finally, related to the Lomborg post below, Corfield writes about CO2, Kyoto, and scientific responses to the problem here. Check it out; it’s totally accessible, and he gives props to John Wyndham. Come correct!