Featured Stories | September 27, 2012

Oceans at MIT

What is Oceans at MIT?

Striving to understand, harness and sustain Earth’s defining frontier

Who We Are: People on a Mission

Oceans at MIT is a broadly collaborative community of scientists, engineers and social researchers who, in collaboration with our colleagues at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, share a deep fascination with and commitment to this “blue marble,” our ocean planet. We hail from across the Institute—faculty, staff and students representing all five schools: Science, Engineering, Management, Architecture & Planning, and Humanities & Social Sciences.

Through the diversity of our collective expertise and perspective, we are making critical progress in understanding the oceans in all of its aspects and the myriad ways supports life on Earth. Though so much remains to be learned, we are dedicated to the twin challenges of expanding our knowledge and acting wisely upon it—for the benefit of people and the planet.

What We Do: Exploring the Oceans

Earth’s oceans remain largely unknown, our planet’s last and greatest frontier. Oceans at MIT is thus all about exploration. From a drop of water to the entire ocean, from the remotest depths to a tidal pool, from the biggest whale to the smallest bacterium, from a single ripple to a global current, viewed from space and viewed under a microscope—we are pushing back the frontiers of marine knowledge through a creative melding of observation, theory and modeling.

To finally understand the oceans in all their complex relevance to life on Earth will require an unprecedented scale, density and sensitivity of observation; enhanced data management and computational modeling to glean critical patterns and relationships from mountains of data; and old-fashioned human ingenuity to make theoretical and actionable sense of it all.

As a strategic integration of MIT and WHOI resources, Oceans at MIT brings a unique wealth of technological and intellectual capability and potential to bear on this signature challenge—exploring our global ocean to better understand, harness and sustain it.

Why It Matters: Securing the Future

The vital importance of the global ocean to life on Earth cannot be overstated. Covering more than 70% of the planet, it plays major roles in regulating climate and controlling atmospheric composition, acts as the ultimate buffer for all biogeochemical cycles, and is by far the largest habitat on the planet. In a very real sense, the oceans comprise both Earth’s lungs and kidneys—inhaling carbon, exhaling oxygen, and filtering out and sequestering waste and contamination. Without oceans there would be no life on Earth.

For humanity, the oceans also comprise a vast, regenerative resource of food, energy and even fresh water that we have only begun to tap. And yet, as our population heads toward 9 billion and beyond, we seem determined to exhaust and degrade the oceans in ignorance, never realizing their true planetary importance or the full value of ecological services and resources they could sustainably provide. From over fishing to pollution to ocean acidification to marine habitat disruption, it need not be so.

At Oceans at MIT, we know humanity can do better, and we are determined to lead the way with inspired research, technology and social innovation.

How to Help: Join With Us

We welcome anyone interested in the mission and culture of Oceans at MIT to consider joining our community as a student, colleague or benefactor. Our website provides an array of up-to-date information resources for this purpose. Prospective students, post-docs and research staff should contact the participating faculty member most closely aligned with their interests. Potential faculty colleagues, visitors and outside collaborators should inquire through their professional network.

Financial support for the work of Oceans at MIT will be gratefully accepted and acknowledged. Although our portfolio of active research receives robust funding from the traditional sponsors, additional support would be both vital and transformative. For example, graduate student and post-doctoral fellowships are foundational for both research and education; ignition grants spark innovative research in advance of traditional funding; and outreach efforts such as lectures, symposia and briefings inform both the public and policy makers about the value of Earth’s final frontier.-Kurt Sternlof