Professor Christensen is an organizer and a speaker for the AAAS symposium, Predicting the Future Ocean: The Nereus Program, Saturday, February 18, 8:30 – 11:30 a.m.
Can we tell the future? This is a crucial question as we face the reality of climate change. It is a crucial question for our oceans, where overexploitation severely impacts fish populations. Will there be seafood and a healthy ocean for our children and grandchildren to enjoy?
In Greek mythology they had traditions for such prophecy. The Oracle of Delphi would be consulted before making crucial decisions; she could provide answers. Nereus, the eldest son of Pontus (the Sea) and Gaia (the Earth), was a good and wise god of the sea with the power of prophesies.
Research focus is on mitigating impact
In this spirit, we have embarked on the Nereus – Predicting the Future Ocean Program, a long-term, collaborative and capacity-building effort initiated jointly by the Nippon Foundation and UBC. Partners include Princeton, Duke, Cambridge, and Stockholm universities, as well as the World Conservation Monitoring Centre of the United Nations Environment Program.
The Nereus program supplements the central work of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), which has focused on how emissions will affect the global environment. We add to this by predicting how climate change may impact life in the ocean, (e.g., fish, marine mammals, and birds) and the people that rely on these resources. Our research focus is on mitigating impact – how can we develop governance systems that are resilient to the impact of climate change?
We base the predictions on a complex data and modeling framework that among others includes ocean climate models, food web and fisheries models, biogeographic models, and rules for management and governance, and which will vastly expand our capacity to answer big global ocean policy questions.
Years of modeling and analysis based on global data have stretched the boundaries of science. Amassing scientific evidence is, however, just the start – we also need to make it accessible and relevant for policy makers.
Our traditional means of sharing this information – using spreadsheets, tables, and scientific reports – are useful for communicating among scientists, but not with policy makers. Realizing this, we have teamed up with “gamers” to make the science more accessible through 3D visualizations, presenting a more stimulating virtual underwater world. We use a 3D gaming engine as an interface for the scientific models in order to present a science-based view of how the oceans once looked, how they look now, and how they may look in the future depending on our actions.
The Oracle of Delphi lived on the slope of Mount Parnassus while Nereus, the god with the gift of telling the future, roamed the seas – did they ever meet? In our world, disciplines tend not to interact, in science as well as in real life. However, through the Nereus program, we build on the strength of a suite of disciplines to address questions about the future state of life in the oceans. An interdisciplinary approach is indeed necessary if we are to come to grips with the big policy questions that climate change is posing.
The Nereus program can evaluate consequences
Effectively, we are allowing the Oracle and Nereus to work together in our virtual world where one can ask the Oracle big questions. What will happen? To find the answer, we move through a maze where decisions must be made. Will you cut emissions? How much? Will you ban destructive fisheries? Will you provide alternative livelihood? Will you provide subsidies? What governance system will you implement? From the answers, Nereus can evaluate the consequences for the future seafood supply, for the health-status of the oceans and for biodiversity, and provide the best answer that science permits, visualized in our 3D world, backed by indicators.