Since I spent last post wandering about in the conceptual mire of wave physics, for this post I’m going to fast forward into the real world. So, let’s talk about what the ocean means to us. If I were to poll the people of Oregon asking what the ocean meant to them, I would undoubtedly get a scattershot of answers. Each of us has an individual relationship with the ocean. As a first example of potential answers, this is my brother Travis who is a fisherman in Newport. For Travis the ocean is his universe. His blood runs on salt water to the point he gets “land sick” because solid ground doesn’t rock back and forth like the boats he spends most his time on. While the ocean is his life, it’s not a tame one. Last visit from Travis unveiled a story about having to hold perfectly straight into 40 ft. storm swell for over 36 hours because turning even slightly would have resulted in capsizing. For a fisherman the ocean can mean the edge of life and death.
On a happier note here is a picture I took of Cape Lookout on a day not spent in front of the computer. If you were to look the other way down the lens of the camera you would see 3 absolutely giddy humans overflowing with awe of just how beautiful the ocean was that day. Surfboards in hand, the ocean meant to us a day of play and recreation. In our poll, some of the people we asked would say just that: the ocean is a well of happiness that makes this life worth living.
A final answer to our poll would come in the form of those who come face to face with an angry ocean. As the following picture shows, occasionally the ocean comes knocking at our door with the results oftentimes being dire. Undoubtedly some of the people in our hypothetical poll would reply that the ocean represents a threat to their homes, livelihoods and communities.
The ocean as a hazard to our coastal communities is what drives me as a PhD student. Currently this interest has taken the form of investigating flooding in
estuaries and how it will change into the future. I hope that by defining the hazards we face we can successfully build resilience into our communities. If we think of the interaction between
the ocean and us as a balance, with knowledge of the system we can shift that balance towards harmony. Now, moving back to our conceptual poll about the ocean. How as scientists can we determine what people find as the biggest threats from the ocean and how best to help? Answer: same as the poll, we ask the people who live there and are interacting with the ocean on a daily basis. For this reason my project has a large community interaction component where we go to the communities and work with the various stakeholders (community planners, citizens, government officials, etc.) to determine what products and answers we can provide that will help us to exist peacefully with the ocean. Then hopefully one day when we ask people what the ocean means to them, the only response will be a smile and shared memory of our wondrous watery neighbor.