Skip to main content

Deep Sea Storytelling

By July 15, 2013No Comments
[This post is adapted from a presentation I gave at Blue Vision Summit: Inspiration Through Exploration in Washington, DC, on May 14, 2013.]

As ancient and beloved as language itself, storytelling is deeply rooted in human civilization.  As audiences evolve through the centuries, storytelling adapts to changing times. From the long narrative of Homer’s  The Iliad to concise rapid-fire TEDtalks and from A Tale of Two Citiesby Charles Dickens to Twitter by everyone, storytelling adapts as quickly as our needs for it change. In this age of environmental enlightenment, storytelling has taken a front and center role in sharing environmental insights and discoveries with the public.

During the early centuries of research and exploration, new discoveries lived in lab notebooks and were tied up in the academic vernacular of specialized journals or publications. Traditionally, scientific discovery was about the meticulously detailed examination of “How does it work?”.

As funding has transitioned from public sources to private, the expectations of what those funds will cover has also transitioned. I believe private sector supporters still have a vested interest in seeing pure science logged in the record books, but additionally have a humanitarian goal. We now see an increase in projects being funded with a large outreach and communication component in mind, a component that answers the question, “Why does this apply to me?”. Discovery is no longer limited to the language of lab notebooks; it is translated for the people though creative storytelling.

Though our planet is mostly ocean, the untamed seas are among the most unfamiliar and intimidating environments to many people. To engage a global audience in conversation about this alien world, we must translate our scientific understanding of the oceans into something more familiar.

A multitude of incredible people have already stepped up to this task. Generations of explorers have told stories though television and film, and in the age of the internet storytelling took shape in websites and blogs. As we move further still into the tech age, social networking platforms such as Twitter and Google Hangout have provided outlets to share stories as they are happening in real time. Ocean exploration is not only happening, researchers are actively sharing their discoveries.

In recent news, a research team aboard the R/V Falkor streamed footage from their Hybrid ROV Nereus in real time from deep sea hydrothermal vents. The researchers were not only collecting their data but also narrating their progress as it happened. This type of science communication imparts knowledge while also drawing in the audience to feel as if they are onboard the vessel sitting with the working ROV pilot. These vents in the deep ocean have made their way right into our own living rooms.

Though the oceans cover more of the earth than dry terrain, they are often far from the thoughts of the everyday person. But as author and ocean champion David Helvarg eloquently puts it, “Every state is a coastal state.” From coast to coast, the same rains, watersheds, and glaciers connect us all to the ocean. For someone who has no perceived connection to the ocean, how can we share the wonder of our seas to a landlocked population? By tapping into our natural ability to relate to the abstract through stories.

Contributed by

Erika Bergman
Emerging Explorer
Blue Marble Exploration
Seattle, WA USA