POLER Research Group

The Polar Observations Lab for Ethnographic Research (POLER) is a research group of scholars and technicians interested in remote sensing in extreme conditions, including polar and subpolar regions. 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. This dynamic is particularly pronounced in polar and subpolar regions where the extreme conditions heighten power and material dynamics, only further deepened now inside of pandemic. While the Arctic is a site of critical importance in the ongoing search for answers to grand challenge questions of climate change and ocean acidification, current technological capacity is not always commensurate with 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:

SUSTAINABILITY & CALIBRATION: 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.

SCIENTIST/ACTIVIST: an interview study and series of workshops with space and ocean scientists involved in DEI and activist initiatives in collaboration with Dr. Janet Vertesi.

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