By Greta A. Fryxell
As a retiring professor, I have watched the directions of science and oceanography with interest. It is apparent that we are in a period in which the global concerns are paramount to scientists. We have the ability to use remote and computerized sensing to integrate our observations as never before. We can visualize the ozone hole over the poles, the unexpected open-ocean coccolithophorid bloom in the North Atlantic, and the huge iceberg breaking off an Antarctic glacier. Large groups of scientists and their students have been getting together to request funding in order to investigate these phenomena and predict rates of change so that sensible societal actions can protect our globe in decades to come. Sets of data are shared. The lone scientist in an ivory tower is not as effective as a long-term team of specialists in these efforts on global events with greater-than-decadal scales.
To society in general coastal problems loom large. Research on the dynamic coasts and continental shelves can involve shorter time scales. More and more of our population is concentrating within fifty miles of the coast, but their community and legal decisions remain more consistent with mid-continent concepts of land use and property rights than with long-term coastal management. Phytotoxins and/or pollutants of coastal waters and fisheries interfere with effective use of the coastal shores and waters. The yearly and seasonal cycles of coastal zones are paramount to voters along our coasts, and their organizations and industries support projects that deal with zonal and annual scales. The issues are often practical, such as building another jetty or an off-shore oil port, the closing or opening of a fishery, and leasing of offshore oilfields. The lone scientist may work with lawyers and serve effectively as an advisor to legislators, instead of, or in addition to, working with technicians. Informal groups of scientists work on coastal problems, often as short-term, crisis-response teams.
As scientists, students, and technical workers in the field, we can be aware of and use the topics that receive scientific and public attention in our work, but are we content to simply reflect the current funding trends and societal interests at the expense of basic science? To follow the prescribed time and space scales? To respond to crises instead of developing our own agendas? As parts of society, many of us often find that its interests match our own. But there are times when we have the opportunity to think through and even anticipate problems not yet perceived by any-or many-or enough-others. In those cases I think we have an obligation to lead by expressing our points of views persuasively in the classroom, in the media, in community organizations, at political caucuses, at scientific meetings, and certainly with persistence and clarity in our writings. Whether working alone or as part of an organized group effort,the individual scientist still has a responsible role in societal leadership-a key role. Use it.
Oceanography, Texas A&M University
Updated July 24, 1995