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Ocean Waves, Ocean Science, Ocean Media - Stefan Helmreich

Public lecture

An Egenis, the Centre for the Study of Life Sciences seminar
Date28 April 2023
Time9:30 to 11:00
PlaceStreatham Court

How do oceanographers apprehend ocean waves? This presentation draws on anthropological work I undertook among wave scientists in the United States to argue that what oceanographers take ocean waves to be has been strongly imprinted by the techniques, technologies, and media — maritime, photographic, filmic, information theoretic — through which waves have come to be known.

I offer an account of ethnographic fieldwork I conducted on board the Floating Instrument Platform (FLIP), a seagoing vessel managed by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in La Jolla, California. FLIP is a singular vessel, one that, once at sea, can “flip” 90 degrees into a vertical position —with all the instrumentation inside swiveling correspondingly—to become a stable platform from which to measure wave action. Moving from an examination of the contemporary use of infrared and laser imaging to study waves from FLIP, I place the platform within a longer history of wave science, reaching back into the Cold War, when ocean observation projects were conditioned by nuclear-age American maritime expansion, particularly in the Pacific. I then flip to the recent present, as scientists turn from understanding waves not only as a kind of infrastructure for maritime networks, but also as avatars of anthropogenic climate change.

Streatham Court Lecture Theatre C

Registration – online and in person https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/522142531367


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