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Lecture introduces new eyes on the ocean

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Speaking before a capacity crowd in Kane Hall is a tall order. Last night, UW professor of oceanography John Delaney addressed such an audience at the Fall 2007 Provost Distinguished Lecture.

The crowd in attendance represented a wide variety of individuals, from middle schoolers to retired Seattleites. Their attention was directed toward Delaney and his multimedia presentation, "At the Leading Edge of an Environmental Renaissance."

Using the words of authors including Rachel Carson and Marcel Proust, Delaney sought to communicate the complexity of the Earth's oceans to scientists and non-scientists alike. In his introduction, Delaney noted the importance of fostering a culture of creativity and inquiry as science moves forward.

"We must have new eyes as we observe the ocean," Delaney said. "These new approaches will revolutionize our perceptions of the entire planet."

Those new eyes come in the form of 2000 miles of fiber optic cables with enough energy to power a small town. The high bandwidth cables are one part of a regional ocean-observing node to be built off the coast of Washington around the Juan de Fuca plate.

The majority of Delaney's presentation focused on setting the project in context of humanity's drive to understand the Earth's oceans.

"If there is one point you take home tonight, it should be that the oceans are central to the quality of life on earth," he said.

Delaney characterized the project as moving toward a more intimate relationship between human beings and the oceans that sustain them. After describing the various components of the ocean observing initiative, he summarized the effort as using everything at scientists' disposal. The next steps in the project's development include constructing the NEPTUNE network, beginning the interactive experiments and continuing outreach in schools, the community, and around the world.

Near the lecture's conclusion, Delaney described a hypothetical series of events depicting the delivery of a sample from the sea floor to South Lake Union. He responded quickly as the audience chuckled at imagery showing a drone plane dropping the sample over the UW.

"Friends, this is doable," Delaney said. "This is doable."

In his summary, Delaney emphasized the project's implications for future generations. He mentioned video games as a possible medium for creating understanding and awareness in children.

Afterward, audience questions were pointed at specific information rather than sweeping generalizations. Student response was similar.

"I wish he would have gone into more depth in certain areas," said Kristin Poinar, a graduate student in earth and space sciences (ESS). "I'm curious what exactly his setup is going to learn."

ESS graduate student Eva Stueeken agreed.

"It was too broad," Stueeken said. "What sort of data will the experiments collect?"

Both students agreed that Delaney was a capable and passionate speaker.

"The lecture was great for the general public," Poinar said. "He did a good job of instilling a sense of wonder for the ocean. The words, sounds and images he used really engaged the senses."

[Reach reporter Brian Smoliak at news@thedaily.washington.edu.]

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