Our Ocean in focus at Dalhousie Open Dialogue Event

April 24, 2023

When we think of Earth, we usually think of the ground under our feet. However, we are living on a blue planet where water covers over 70% of the surface, and ocean waters represent over 90% of that surface. And yet, we still have limited knowledge of the ocean, and still struggle to fully understand how the changing climate is impacting ocean systems and, in turn, changing the world around us.

To discuss this challenge, Dalhousie University recently hosted an Open Dialogue Event at the Steele Ocean Sciences building in Halifax. The event brought together Dalhousie alumni and guests to hear a panel discussion on the current state of ocean research and the critical need to rapidly accelerate our knowledge and understanding in this area.

The panelists included leading ocean researchers, including Ocean Frontier Institute Deputy Scientific Director Mike Smit, Planetary Chief Ocean Scientist Will Burt, and Dalhousie School for Resource and Environmental Studies Professor Kate Sherren. Moderating the event was the Ocean Frontier Institute CEO, Dr. Anya Waite.

Dr. Waite opened the event and set the stage for the discussion by emphasizing how ocean research is quickly taking center stage in any climate change debate. Drawing on the variety of expertise on the panel, participants heard how Dalhousie is well-positioned as Halifax becomes a hub of ocean research and innovation.

Mike Smit highlighted the need for comprehensive evidence-based research and data on the ocean and stressed how the demand for students, labs, projects, and professionals from across all disciplines must grow exponentially to meet this demand. Dr. Smit gave particular emphasis to the need to expand knowledge exchanges and cooperation locally, regionally, and internationally. "We must move past the idea of siloed data and towards a vision of networked information freely shared across borders," said Dr. Smit. He highlighted OFI's North Atlantic Climate Observatory (NACO) as an example of the kind of interregional data collection systems that should be the model for future work. "We need a coordinated global effort to get our research from the pens of the scientists into the minds of policymakers."

Kate Sherren focused on the social aspects of the climate challenge and emphasized the importance of considering how communities and individuals will respond to the changes that must come. In a concept she described as the 'shared understanding and social imaginary of what is possible,' Dr. Sherren highlighted the need to shift the public conversation away from what is being lost to the opportunities that are being created in order to build the commitment to social change that we need. She also noted that our idea of stability is a luxury, and one we can no longer afford.

Will Burt emphasized the scale of the challenge, noting in particular that previous ideas about reducing emissions as the solution to climate change were no longer enough. Carbon removal and storage must now play an essential role in our work, and the largest reservoir for this is the deep ocean. He noted how the scale of the problem is demanding a broad range of applications, and that partnerships between the private sector, government, and academic institutions like Dalhousie will be critical. However, Dr. Burt warned of the seemingly overwhelming task we face, "Can we quickly create a carbon removal industry that is twice the size of the oil industry? Because that is the reality of what is now required."

When science is attached to opportunity and hope, anything is possible.Dr. Will Burt

A short Q&A session followed the main presentations with questions posted from both the in-person audience and the online viewers. The queries were focused on better understanding the scale of the issue and where current and future Dalhousie students should be focusing to make a difference. The panelists encouraged students to follow their passion, as climate change issues require effort from across all disciplines, from oceanography to art, from social science to management. The important thing is that students are given the resources to follow their passion and that they feel that they can make a real difference. As highlighted by Dr. Burt, ‘when science is attached to opportunity and hope, anything is possible’.

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