Sustainability in Marine Technoscience

Insights after a decade of investment into programs like the Ocean Observatories Initiative brightly illuminated that some of the most significant barriers to forward progress in the fields of climate and ocean science are challenges of calibration, maintenance, and quality control of sensors. Ocean engineering is engaged in an ongoing race to improve batteries, paints, polymers and observatory architectures that will allow for deployment of sensors and robotics for long term research on and in the water. This dynamic is particularly pronounced in polar and subpolar regions where the extreme conditions heighten both power and material dynamics, only further deepened now inside of pandemic. These issues are sociotechnical, where concerns of labor and scientific life intersect with concerns of sustainable materials and technologies.

In collaboration with a research group of scholars, artists and technicians interested in robotics, AI and remote sensing in marine environments, this research is largely concerned with ocean observatories and their maintenance. In particular, this group attends to a growing interest in the Arctic as a site of critical importance in the ongoing search for answers to grand challenge questions of climate change and ocean acidification, where current technological capacity is not always commensurate with its extreme conditions, leading to broken machines, lags in technology, needs for redundancy and for human intervention.

This research centrally asks: how do current regimes of maintenance, calibration and quality control address the significant challenges of remote sensing in extreme environments?

To answer this question, this research group is engaged in multiple endeavors:

TITLE IX AT SEA: a survey and interview study performed by Johna Winters and collaborators at Oregon State University Marine Resource Management into the experience and communication of harassment policy in the academic research fleet.

SCIENTIST/ACTIVIST: an interview study and series of workshops with space and ocean scientists involved in DEI and activist initiatives. This research is conducted in collaboration with Dr. Janet Vertesi at Princeton Sociology.

CALIBRATION IN EXTREME CONDITIONS: a multi-sited ethnography to capture and theorize the barriers for robotics and sensors in extreme conditions, applicable to both terrestrial (see: OOI) and extraterrestrial (see: NASA Ocean Worlds) commitments to remote sensing. This work currently centers two specific US-based laboratories who perform sensor-based research in polar and subpolar regions.

Because of pandemic conditions, data collection includes remote interviews on video and audio-based platforms (e.g. Zoom, GoToMeeting) as well as remote observations using GoPro technology, acting in places where the researchers would have previously observed in-person in traditional ethnographic data collection such as in meetings, laboratories, docks, warehouses, and research cruises.

(Catch My) DRIFT: a compendium of scientists’ experiences recovering instruments adrift at sea as told in conversations, interviews, survey responses and email exchanges. If you are interested in contributing your story to this study, please visit the project site here

HYDROBODIES: ongoing artistic collaborations with Amanda Thackray exploring the ways in which technologies and human-made materials are introduced into marine environments and then subsumed by both human and nonhuman bodies.

Primary Research Team

Stephanie Jordan, Media and Information, Michigan State University

Madison Hall, Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University

Jhovonne Fernandez, Media and Information, Michigan State University