With just two percent of Earth’s oceans explored, outreach is an important means of conveying to the public the need for ocean science research and engineering. Outreach can involve judging science fairs, visiting classrooms, and mentoring young students, initiating stories and responding to media and public inquiries, mounting exhibits in the WHOI Exhibit Center and assisting with exhibits in other locations, and participating in ongoing lecture series, expeditionary Web sites like Dive and Discover, and broadcast documentaries.
Every year the Institution responds to thousands of requests for information and images, receives approximately five million visits to www.whoi.edu, hosts 30,000 visitors to our Exhibit Center and Information Office, and conducts ongoing outreach programs, which are often focused on relevant current events. In 2005, such events included the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia, a historic harmful algal bloom (HAB) in New England, and ongoing concerns about global climate change.
Following the December 26, 2004 tsunami in southeast Asia,
WHOI outreach included a special section on tsunamis in Oceanus
magazine—which drew 12,000 online visits—focusing on WHOI’s
contribution to the development of a monitoring and warning
system and research into seafloor earthquakes. News releases
and other efforts to inform the media resulted in dozens of
media articles around the world. Additional outreach efforts
focused on teachers and students. Through the WHOI partnership
in the NSF-sponsored Center for Ocean Science Education Excellence,
Senior Scientist Ralph Stephen explained wave motion to middle
schoolers in an ongoing ocean science education initiative,
and maintaining a Web site, the Plymouth Wave Lab.
Harmful algal blooms
On May 9, WHOI scientists Dennis McGillicuddy, Deana Erdner,
and Bruce Keafer were at sea off Cape Ann and the first to
collect water samples that confirmed the worst algal bloom
since 1972. The bloom persisted through July, when Senior
Scientist Don Anderson and state and national officials briefed
the media in Boston and Woods Hole on the outbreak and discussed
current and future research into harmful algal blooms. Dozens
of media interviews and more than 160 news stories resulted,
while HAB-related articles in Oceanus magazine attracted
approximately 20,000 online visits, and more than 12,000 visitors
learned the latest information on a special Web site created
for the outbreak on whoi.edu. Hundreds of summer visitors
to Woods Hole, anxious about the implications of the bloom
for humans, sought information about WHOI HAB research through
inquiries at the Information Office and displays at the Exhibit
Climate change continues to draw major interest from the public, with the Information Office receiving more than two hundred inquiries in 2005 on the impacts to humans and the environment from climate change. Many inquiries were directed to the “frequently asked questions” on the Ocean and Climate Change Institute Web site, which had 52,800 visits in 2005. Hundreds of print, broadcast, and electronic articles appeared in the media worldwide, with nearly a dozen documentaries about the subject featuring WHOI research and staff, including Scientific American Frontiers program “Hot Planet-Cold Comfort” in February, and programs on the History Channel, Discovery, and Fox Network News among others. Two dozen teachers from across New England attended a summer workshop organized by WHOI Academic Programs, Information Office, and Sea Grant featuring Assistant Scientist Fiamma Straneo explaining the climate implications of a freshening North Atlantic.
Shelley Dawicki and Stephanie Murphy