Ocean Waves, Ocean Science, Ocean Media
Prof Stefan Helmreich, Department of Anthropology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
27 May 2021. Recording available below.
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