War brings terrible destruction. But it also brings invention. The first World War brought about the submarine as an effective machine of war. And thus began a new possibility of learning of the ocean. The subs were not to sink commercial vessels. But as time went on, the agreement was breached. German submarines sank over 2 million tons of food stuffs on Allied ships in 1917 alone. 1 The war in the trenches killed 9.7 million soldiers and 10 million civilians. 2 Terrible inventions, terrible deaths. Was killing on land and sea, really effective?
The second World War was much different in strategy. The airplane, used as a new trial device in WW I, in WW II, it became key. By the end of that war the US announced the military divisions would be the Army, the Navy and a new division to be called the Air Force. The Air Force was much proclaimed and took more than 1/3 share of government military funding. To attract more government money for their divisions, the Army and Navy came up with the concept of the nuclear submarine. War and the preparation for war had taken over the science of the world’s waters. And most of the federal grant money.
Because the fascination with advances of war-making, was taking up such a gross amount of government money, some scientists continued to study, on meager budgets, the protection of the world’s waters. Government funders wanted to know “what was so important about studying the ocean when we had rockets and planes to concentrate on?” Then for those who studied the patterns, temperatures, cyclical and a-cyclical changes of the world’s waters, the difficult question arose: “If government funds science how do we keep government from controlling the science.”
The answer to this questions is this: “Sometimes genius actually wins.”
The genius in question is Henry Stommel a man so brilliant that with only a BS in mathematics and astronomy, he became a world reknowned expert on ocean currents, temperatures and rotations of water. It was Henry Stommel who revealed to us that “these deep-ocean currents are driven by differences in the water’s density, which is controlled by temperature (thermo) and salinity (haline).” Stommel named this process thermohaline circulation. 3 And because of his studies and revelations, we began to know how our toying with the ocean, affects us.
Stommel’s work had a tremendous impact not only on science but on its place in the modern world. Though Stommel died in 1992, and brilliant protégés like Naomi Oreskes, took up his mantle. As Harvard professor of History of Science and prolific science writer herself, Naomi Oreskes describes this push toward new, peaceful scientific knowledge. As Oreskes puts it, Stommel’s work took us beyond the military outlook of “how to kill things better.” Stommel advanced our understanding of currents and hurricanes and even whale death tremendously 4 and his teams also began the study of ocean acidification and temperature shifts that are deeply affecting the world’s food chain. 5 He also left behind a team of people who can save our world by changing our knowledge of our world. And doing it with persuasive, respectful urging and lots of data that could persuade us all.
Like Henry Stommel, Oreskes began in a totally different field – minerology – and moved to different sites of scientific action bringing her knowledge, her mind and her ability to communicate without hauteur, wherever she goes. Rather than scold and wail as many do who are working to save the oceans, Oreskes does not waste her time with malice or ecological hysteria, she spends her time educating and pointing to solutions that we all can understand. And all can act upon, as well.
“Science of the world’s oceans, is on a mission,” says Oreskes. 6 Isn’t it time that we join that mission, too?
- Thermohaline see
- https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/tutorial_currents/05conveyor1.htmlis “Winds drive ocean currents in the upper 100 meters of the ocean’s surface. However, ocean currents also flow thousands of meters below the surface. These deep-ocean currents are driven by differences in the water’s density, which is controlled by temperature (thermo) and salinity (haline). This process is known as thermohaline circulation.”
- In the Earth’s polar regions ocean water gets very cold, forming sea ice. As a consequence the surrounding seawater gets saltier, because when sea ice forms, the salt is left behind. As the seawater gets saltier, its density increases, and it starts to sink. Surface water is pulled in to replace the sinking water, which in turn eventually becomes cold and salty enough to sink. This initiates the deep-ocean currents driving the global conveyer belt.
- Naomi Oreskes, interviewed by John Nichols June 1, 2021 on KPFA in regards to her latest book Science on a Mission: How Military Funding Shaped What We Do and Don’t Know about the Ocean