Future of world’s oceans to be topic of Middlebury symposium, Sept 19-21

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The global ocean is increasingly threatened by human activity, yet many people remain unaware of how important to all life, human and non-human, the marine environment truly is. “The Future of the Global Ocean,” this year’s Middlebury College Clifford Symposium, will offer talks by pioneering marine scientists on key environmental topics, from ocean plastics and marine protected areas to the influence of melting sea ice on weather patterns. Events take place September 19-21 and include a screening of the documentary Chasing the Thunder that recounts a remarkable story of environmental activism on the high seas. 

This year's Clifford Symposium will take place September 19-21 and will cover subjects ranging from ocean plastics to deep sea volcanoes.

The marine environment drives our climate and weather, and it provides food for many varieties of plant and animal life as well as humans,” said Dan Brayton, the principal organizer of the symposium and professor of English and American literatures at Middlebury. “At the same time, humans are rapidly degrading the oceans through overfishing, pollution, global warming, and habitat destruction.”  

“The symposium will offer an opportunity to learn about new research that can improve our understanding of ocean health and point in new directions for future discoveries,” added Brayton.

Kara Lavender Law will deliver the keynote lecture, “Reflections of an Ocean Plastics Scientist.”

One of the first events will take place on Thursday, September 19, when Lisa Gilbert gives a talk titled “Deep Sea Hydrothermal Vents and Volcanoes.” Gilbert is an associate professor of geosciences and marine science at Williams College who teaches in the Williams-Mystic Program, a maritime studies program based in Mystic, Conn.

Kara Lavendar Law, research professor of oceanography at Sea Education Association in Falmouth, Mass., will deliver the keynote lecture, “Reflections of an Ocean Plastics Scientist,” in the evening. One of the nation’s foremost experts on ocean plastics, Law will discuss their most current environmental impacts, as well as the role of scientists in advancing solutions.

Events on Friday, September 20, include a talk by Jennifer Francis, senior scientist at Woods Hole Research Center in Woods Hole, Mass. Francis will explain new research that links increasingly extreme weather with the rapidly warming and melting Arctic during recent decades. Her lecture is titled “Extreme Weather on the Rise, Arctic Ice on the Decline: How Are They Connected?”

Sea Shepherd head and marine conservation activist Captain Paul Watson (above) and filmmaker Mark Benjamin will answer questions following the screening of their documentary "Chasing the Thunder."

The day will end with a screening of Chasing the Thunder, a compelling eco-thriller. With high-seas blue-water action, the documentary film follows marine conservation group Sea Shepherd’s vessels as they chase the Thunder, the notorious pirate poacher, to the bottom of the sea. Sea Shepherd head and marine conservation activist Captain Paul Watson and filmmaker Mark Benjamin will introduce the film and answer questions afterwards. 

The symposium will wrap up on Saturday, September 21, with a panel on coral reefs featuring Professor Jeremy Ward and Assistant Professor Erin Eggleston – both members of the Middlebury Biology Department – and several of Eggleston's students. The two helped lead a January term course this year that focused on coral reef conservation and genetics in the waters surrounding the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, where the students spent 10 days doing field research.

The symposium is an annual event named after the late Nicholas Clifford, who taught history at the College from 1966 to 1993 and who, in his many years as a member of the faculty and administration, cultivated critical inquiry at Middlebury.  

A full schedule of events and biographies of the speakers are available on the symposium website. Events are free and open to the public.

Thursday, September 19

12:30 to 1:20 p.m.
“Science and Conservation in the Largest and Deepest UNESCO World Heritage Site on Earth: The Phoenix Islands Protected Area”

The Phoenix Islands Protected Area, in the Republic of Kiribati, is the largest and deepest UNESCO World Heritage Site on the planet. It hosts a diversity of marine ecosystems, including shallow coral reefs, deep sea, and open ocean, and is an important climate laboratory because it is sensitive to El Niño/La Niña dynamics in the Central Pacific. This talk will explore the latest integrative and interdisciplinary science in a conservation context.

The Howard E. Woodin Environmental Studies Colloquium Series kicks off the Clifford Symposium with a talk by Randi Rotjan, research assistant professor at Boston University.

The Orchard, Hillcrest 103, Franklin Environmental Center

 

4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
“Deep Sea Hydrothermal Vents and Volcanoes”

Talk by Lisa Gilbert, associate professor of geosciences and marine science at Williams-Mystic, Williams College

Most volcanoes on Earth are hard to reach because they are under more than a mile of water.  Such extreme environments of pressure and temperature capture our imagination yet seem isolated from our daily existence. These volcanic oases where hot water circulates are crucial to heat and chemicals in the ocean and to life itself. 

The Orchard, Hillcrest 103, Franklin Environmental Center

 

7:00 p.m.
“Reflections of an Ocean Plastics Scientist”

Plastic debris was first documented in the ocean more than 45 years ago, when global plastics production was only about 10 percent of its current levels. Today we use these materials in virtually all aspects of our daily lives, yet we are appalled when faced with images of our plastic waste in the ocean and in the stomachs of marine wildlife. This presentation will focus on the most current scientific evidence of environmental impacts of ocean plastics, as well as the role of science and environmental scientists in advancing solutions.

Clifford keynote by Kara Lavender Law, research professor of oceanography at the Sea Education Association.

McCullough Student Center, Wilson Hall


Friday, September 20

12:30 p.m.
“Whale Watching from the Masthead off New Zealand: Historic and Present Global Whale Populations and Shifting Perspectives on Extinction”

During the fall 2018 voyage of the SSV Robert C. Seamans off the coast of New Zealand—an SEA Global Ocean expedition that included two Middlebury students in the Class of 2020—researchers studied a uniquely careful whaleman’s journal from the 1850s and compared this man’s sightings of whales and other marine life to what they observed and sampled. Using data from the 1850s journal and their own voyage, they created a GIS map, studied shifts in global whale populations, and analyzed what 19th-century whalemen and the general public understood about the health of these populations and how this compares to our perspectives and hindsight knowledge today. This year marks the 200th birthday of Herman Melville, a whaleman himself and the author of Moby-Dick (1851), who had some surprising and often misguided thoughts on whale populations and extinction.

Panel discussion featuring Richard King, visiting associate professor at the Sea Education Association, and Williams-Mystic students from Middlebury Jennifer Crandall ’20 and Caitlin Dicara ’20.

Robert A. Jones ’59 Conference Room

(Lunch served at 12:15, panel to start at 12:30)

 

4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
“Extreme Weather on the Rise, Arctic Ice on the Decline: How Are They Connected?”

Does it seem as though the weather gods have gone crazy lately? It is not your imagination. The question on everyone’s minds is, why? And is it related to climate change? In this presentation, Francis will explain new research that links increasing extreme weather events with the rapidly warming and melting Arctic during recent decades. Evidence suggests that Arctic warming is causing weather patterns to become more persistent, which can lead to extremes such as droughts, cold spells, heat waves, unusually snowy winters, and some flooding events.

Talk by Jennifer Francis, senior scientist at Woods Hole Research Center, Falmouth, Massachusetts.

The Orchard, Hillcrest 103, Franklin Environmental Center

 

7:00 p.m.
Chasing the Thunder

With compelling high-seas blue-water action, this eco-thriller is an antipoaching documentary that sees the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd’s vessels chasing the Thunder, the notorious pirate poacher, to the bottom of the sea.

Movie trailer and movie poster

Film screening, followed by a Q&A and discussion with marine conservation activist Captain Paul Watson and filmmaker Mark Benjamin.

Sunderland Language Center, Dana Auditorium


Saturday, September 21

9:30 a.m.
“Liberal Arts and the Global Ocean”

A panel discussion with faculty and students from the BIOL 371 Advanced Field Biology: Place-based Global Biology Education W’19. Students in this course conducted field-based scientific observation, sample and data collection, and interpretation of biological phenomena in coral reef environments on Abaco Island, Bahamas. The course deeply engaged in off-campus, place-based learning practicing population genetics, ecology, genomics, biogeochemistry, and site mapping via Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) protocols. This work will contribute to ongoing active reef research with global reef conservation implications and many of these students are continuing to pursue related research opportunities.

Panelists are Jeremy Ward, Professor of Biology; Erin Eggleston, Assistant Professor of Biology; and Middlebury students Will Greene ’19, Luke Kikukawa ‘19.5, Helena Milazzo ’22, George Valentine ‘19.5

The Orchard, Hillcrest 103, Franklin Environmental Center

(Breakfast will be served in the Franklin Environmental Center breezeway, starting at 9:00 a.m.)

 

Date: 
Thursday, September 19, 2019 - 12:30pm