“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” – John F. Kennedy
The snow has started to melt, and my life’s beginning to mold to fit the unique lifestyle here in Woods Hole.
Today was quite an educational day, filled with introductions to my three core courses, Oceans & Global Change (OGC), Maritime History & Culture (MHC), and Leadership in a Dynamic Environment (LDE).
Before my professors took the stage, however, a distinguished chief scientist named Scott Doney from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution made an appearance to give a short presentation on one of the biggest concepts that we will be referring to throughout the program: Ocean Health Index (OHI).
Like Doney said, if we can’t measure something, how can we seek ways to improve it? There must be a set of criteria in order to meet goals. Thus, the OHI was born. After watching the professor lecture for around 30 minutes, I was honestly ready to fall asleep (it was 08:30, mind you!), but something he said while discussing the significance of determining benchmarks as a reference point while analyzing data caught my attention.
As he explained, on the small island a few miles off the coast of Falmouth, MA, the people of Naushon have greatly stressed the importance of conserving the patches of grasslands left behind as a result of deforestation caused by animals. With that said, he laughed, and then explained that the grasses weren’t even there to begin with! The moral of the story? Sometimes, humans are ignorant and only opt to conserve things that we think are important rather than conducting empirical research and determining what truly needs conservation. As a result, he proves the significance of benchmarks; since the local scientists noticed a decline in the amount of grass in the recent decade, they assumed that it was unnatural and decided to invest time and resources towards preservation of it. If they had looked at the bigger picture, they would’ve realized that those grasslands are unnatural, and they should’ve conserved the forests that were once there.
During my first OGC class session, we discussed the two most important measurements of the ocean: temperature and density. Although we didn’t cover much of the former, which unfortunately has now succumbed to climate change, we operated an interesting hands-on experiment on the latter. Starting with pure water, we inserted a divider, added salt to one side, added blue food coloring, and then added yellow food coloring to the other side to distinguish between the salted and unsalted waters. After removing the divider, we noticed that the blue (salted) water rapidly sunk to the bottom while the yellow water took over the top half of the bin.
It was now time to make things more interesting. We returned the divider to the bin, and added red food coloring to the right side, stirred it, and then once again removed the divider. What do you think happened to the red water?
If you guessed it either floated or sunk, you’re incorrect! Because I stirred the water, the salt spread out evenly among the water molecules, making it as dense as the water that was floating in between the yellow and blue! Yes, after removing the divider, the mixed water went straight into the space between the blue and yellow water. Amazing, isn’t it? This taught us that the different levels of density of the ocean waters produce stratification and inhibit vertical mixing of marine life.
Luckily, I’m no ocean, and I have the ability to defy social stratifications and mix myself into unfamiliar environments. It’s only the second day, but the students in my house have been extremely inclusive, making extra effort to learn some signs to communicate with me. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to share my experience with.