Chasing Science at Sea

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Chasing Science at Sea: Racing Hurricanes, Stalking Sharks, & Living Undersea With Ocean Experts (2008)

Ellen Prager

I have read all of Ellen Prager’s books, and this is by far my favorite one. The book tells short and powerful true stories that address the following questions: Why do scientists go to sea?/What do they do while they are at sea?/How do they do it?

Prager writes: “For many ocean scientists, myself included, the sea is a passion; some might say an obsession”. Agreed! I personally know just a handful of other disciplines in which everybody in the field loves doing what they do. But most of these people did not start out in ocean science (I am an aerospace engineer) because, despite their interest, they did not know enough about the field to chose it as a lifetime career path, or the option was not available to them. How do you learn about what ocean scientists do, if you’re not lucky enough to have one in your extended family? Not to mention, there isn’t a single flavor; ocean scientists can be biologists, chemists, engineers, oceanographers, math majors, computer scientists, etc. who all work on ocean-based or ocean-related problems, using their own suites of tools and skills to conduct research. Some make it their lifestyle to spend as much time at sea as possible, some choose to never go to sea. Prager’s stories are carefully selected to illustrate all aspects ocean scientists face in the field (and the book is more about working in the field than behind a desk), and despite its challenges, highlights the importance and necessity of fieldwork because “a moment in the field can entirely change our perspective & render pre-conceived ideas erroneous”. (This, of course, applies to other fields where theoretical models are conceived in the lab, and have to be validated by collecting data in the field).

In the book, there are stories of data collection by SCUBA diving, seafloor exploration using manned submersibles and remotely operated robots, and experiences of humans living in undersea habitats. A cruise or a dive trip to the North Pacific or the Sargasso Sea sounds romantic, fun, and easy, but when it’s for science it’s some of those things only some of the time, and Prager explains why with each self-contained story.

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