Ocean Waves, Ocean Science, Ocean Media
Prof Stefan Helmreich, Department of Anthropology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
27 May 2021, 3-4.30pm
How do oceanographers apprehend ocean waves? This presentation draws on anthropological work I undertook among wave scientists in the United States to argue that what oceanographers take ocean waves to be has been strongly imprinted by the techniques, technologies, and media — maritime, photographic, filmic, information theoretic — through which waves have come to be known. I offer an account of ethnographic fieldwork I conducted on board the FLoating Instrument Platform (FLIP), a seagoing vessel managed by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in La Jolla, California. FLIP is a singular vessel, one that, once at sea, can “flip” 90 degrees into a vertical position —with all the instrumentation inside swiveling correspondingly—to become a stable platform from which to measure wave action. Moving from an examination of the contemporary use of infrared and laser imaging to study waves from FLIP, I place the platform within a longer history of wave science, reaching back into the Cold War, when ocean observation projects were conditioned by nuclear-age American maritime expansion, particularly in the Pacific. I then flip to the recent present, as scientists turn from understanding waves not only as a kind of infrastructure for maritime networks, but also as avatars of anthropogenic climate change.
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This seminar is part of the Making the unknown knowable seminar series. Click here to read more