VOPO talks ocean health with the WSL

Speaking with Peter de Menocal, the lead scientist for WSL PURE at Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory.

The global surfing organisation, World Surf League, and a research centre from Columbia University have partnered up to advance humanity’s understanding of the world’s oceans. The brain child, is WSL PURE (Progressive Understanding and Respect for the Environment), a charitable organisation that provides funding for critical ocean research. As the philanthropic arm of the World Surf League, WSL PURE will be frictionless, “meaning that 100% of the funding goes to support ocean research and education as third party resources cover overhead expenses” states Greg Muth, Director of the WSL PURE.

Carissa Moore shredding like a boss during the Fiji event of the WSL tour // photo. WSL/Sloane

Carissa Moore shredding like a boss during the Fiji event of the WSL tour // photo. WSL/Sloane

"From that day on, I knew I wanted to study the oceans and that led me to who I am Now: A marine geologist who uses deep-sea sediments to reconstruct past climates."

VOPO had an interesting discussion with Peter de Menocal, the lead scientist at Columbia Universitys Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, for some insight into what exactly WSL PURE will bring for our environment.

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Erik Sumarkho: In a field that's gaining massive traction, holding huge significance in todays world, how did you first become a climate scientist?

Peter de Menocal: Curiously, I started out as a studio art and math major in college, drawn to the creativity and beauty in both. But at the end of my second year I had a chance encounter that changed my life path completely and instantly. So, I was hitchhiking from upstate New York to the Cape to visit a friend (something we did in the early ‘80s) and stopped into the Woods Hole Oceanographic labs to wash up after a days’s travel as that is where I was dropped off on my last ride. After I came out of the restroom, a big hand grabs my shoulder and a towering man behind me asks “Can I help you?” This turned out to be the legendary oceanographer Dr. Charlie Hollister and he brought me into his office and proceeded to tell me about his life in oceanography. I was hooked after an hour of hearing his tales of far-away travel on ships, exploration, scientific rigor, collegial work environments, discovery - it was just too exciting. From that day on, I knew I wanted to study the oceans and that led me to who I am now: A marine geologist who uses deep-sea sediments to reconstruct past climates.

Oceanographer Joaquim Goes from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory recovers floating sediment traps during a research cruise in Antarctica’s Ross Sea. The traps collect debris falling through the water column, such as dead sea creatures, microscopic shells, dust and minerals // photo. Wade Jeffrey

Oceanographer Joaquim Goes from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory recovers floating sediment traps during a research cruise in Antarctica’s Ross Sea. The traps collect debris falling through the water column, such as dead sea creatures, microscopic shells, dust and minerals // photo. Wade Jeffrey

ES: I imagine you have been to some pretty random places. What is the weirdest story you could share?

PD: We had a research cruise off Somalia. We were on a Dutch-flagged ship and were aware of some ongoing pirate activity. The Captain took precautions and we observed radio-silence, and sailed with blackened interior and navigation lights during our whole transit along the Somali coast and in the Gulf of Aden. We took sediment cores at various stations along the way and sometimes our core locations were right on top of recently-reported pirate attacks. Looking back on this I think we were saved by the Dutch flag, as Columbia’s research ship the R/V Ewing was attacked by rocket-propelled grenades around the same time.

ES: Holy shit! Let's hope this chapter is a little more tame. What does the research funded by WSL PURE entail?

PD: WSL PURE is a visionary new way to fund and do this critical science in service to humanity. The oceans and our climate are changing faster than our ability to keep pace, and there is a widening innovation gap as federal science support has decreased yet the need for knowledge is rapidly increasing.

We have five funded projects underway now asking questions such as: How are ocean circulation and warming patterns changing climate on land where we live? How fast will sea levels rise? How does the ocean uptake and store carbon emissions? How are ocean ecosystems and microbe communities changing?

"Simply put, WSL PURE is creating new knowledge to shape our future."

ES: What do you hope to get from it all?

PD: Imagine if we could learn as quickly as possible exactly what’s at stake with the ocean changes presently underway. We’d have a road-map for the future that we could use to make wise, informed decisions to insure a desirable future. Careful, rational scientific research frames our knowledge of everything - space travel, human health, our food and water, iPhones. Understanding our oceans is no different, especially when we consider that the Earth is three-quarters ocean! Simply put, WSL PURE is creating new knowledge to shape our future.

Geologist Sidney Hemming and a colleague from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory are shown examining glacial debris along the edge of Antarctica’s Foundation Ice Stream. They’re studying how ice sheets in this area respond to changing climate // photo. Trevor Williams

Geologist Sidney Hemming and a colleague from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory are shown examining glacial debris along the edge of Antarctica’s Foundation Ice Stream. They’re studying how ice sheets in this area respond to changing climate // photo. Trevor Williams

So it all sounds epic. How can you get involved? Well, WSL is launching online courses on ocean science, health, and sustainability offered by Columbia University. WSL PURE will be teaching about ocean science to people from all ages in every corner of the world. By doing so, they seek to inspire “the next generation of surfer scientists, a global movement of people finding real-world solutions to ocean health problems” says Greg Muth. Some of the proposed course titles include: Intro to Oceanography, Measuring and Monitoring Ocean Health, International Maritime Law and Environmental Policy, Ocean Sustainability.

This knowledge should equip you to be a badass, maritime exploring, sustainability advocate, straight up legend. Whether you want to learn about the how and what, or you just want to get absolutely pitted with your mates in self forecasted swells, these courses could totally help you in your mission.


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ERIK SUMARKHO

The Venezuelan guy next to you in the line up.

He is a qualified Environmental Manager, with a curiosity for the intricate systems behind sustainability, particularly ecotourism and the surf industry.