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Sylvia Earle on why we explore the seas

By Ford Cochran

News Watch has reported on National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and renowned marine conservationist Sylvia Earle‘s recent Mission Blue Expedition to the Galapagos. Now BigThink.com sends word of their new interview with the oceanographer many refer to as “Her Deepness.” Here’s an excerpt, courtesy of our friends at BigThink.

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What do you do as a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence?

As Explorer-in-Residence at National Geographic I have license to play. I have a relatively long leash to be able to do what the title suggests: Go explore.

It’s really great to have the backing of that institution. They give me a little nest in Washington, D.C. and the support to go out and put together expeditions, to find the resources to do what I try to do best. It is to explore, search, understand, and take care of the ocean, especially the wild, natural parts of the sea.

How does the undersea world relate to our life on land?

People have been exploring from the surface for as long as people have been getting to the ocean. But getting into the ocean is still a tricky business, and it’s only been in very recent times that we’ve had the technology that can take us more than as deep as you can go holding your breath. Perhaps some people did that centuries ago, but to actually go down and stay awhile, to be able to go to 1,000 feet, 10,000 feet, ultimately to full ocean depth–that takes more than we carry around with us in our skin. You need to have technology as a partner.

Why? Because that’s where the action is. That’s where most of life on Earth is. That’s where most of the water is: 97 percent of Earth’s water is ocean. Without the ocean, without water, Earth would be much like Mars, a bleak, barren, inhospitable place for the likes of us, and the rest of life on Earth as well.

I somehow understood this from an early stage, imaging first of all what is the ocean, and then what would it be like without the ocean. Something that we didn’t know when I first began exploring was how extensive mountains, valleys, or even life itself is in the sea. The discovery of mountain ranges, of plate tectonics, the processes that drive the movement of continents, that shape the character of oceans–oceans come and go over long periods of time–those things have only come into focus during the 20th century, mostly during the latter part of the 20th century.

So far we’ve only seen about five percent of the ocean. It’s a huge part of the solar system, this planet, that has not been looked at even once, let alone put on the balance sheet with respect to understanding how the world works and why we need to take care of the ocean.

Want to know more? Watch the full interview, learn more about Sylvia’s Mission Blue to promote protected “Hope Spots” in the seas, or explore the ocean with National Geographic.

Ford-Cochran.jpgFord Cochran directs Mission Programs online for National Geographic. He has written for National Geographic magazine and NG Books, and edits BlogWild–a digest of Society exploration, research, and events–and the Ocean Now blog. Ford studied English literature at the College of William and Mary and biogeochemistry at Harvard and Yale, with a focus on volcanoes, forests, and long-term controls on atmospheric CO2. He was an assistant professor of geology and environmental science at the University of Kentucky before joining the National Geographic staff.

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