Rhian Salmon has a PhD in Atmospheric Chemistry, has extensive field experience in Antarctica, and currently works as Education and Outreach Coordinator for the International Polar Year 2007-8
I work in climate science, earth science, global science, big picture and little picture science. It is completely exciting that in order to piece together the jigsaw of the Earth System, we have to have tens of thousands of scientists all asking specific questions, and sharing their discoveries and ideas. Big picture, little picture, specific and general.
How does this molecule interact with snow? Is it the same in snow and in clouds? Where will the wind carry it to? How do oceans affect the wind? What do animals in the ocean contribute to the ocean composition? What determines the temperature at the ocean-air interface? How does this effect oceans, air, ice, and land? How does this effect plants on land? What about plants on frozen land? What eats these plants? What do they need to survive? What eats these animals? How did molecules from a city get into the air and the ocean, and then into the food system of arctic animals and end up getting eaten by humans, concentrated in mothers milk and effecting arctic children? What effect is this having on the local community? How has language changed in these communities as they have become more affected by southern culture? What about the local economy? How are hunters surviving now that they cannot reach sea mammals due to too-thin sea ice, and other animals have changed location as their habitat and climate is changing? How does the local economy support subsistence living? What about the fur ban in Europe? Is this affecting the local economy in Greenland? Will commercial interest in oil also affect this community as sea ice retreats? Why is sea ice retreating so quickly? What processes are occurring that we don’t understand? Have we fully described ice sheets, solar insulation, sea temperature, salinity, circulation, composition… what else is there? What molecules are being produced by sea ice, or lack of? How do these molecules interact with ice and snow?
I love the interplay between questions and development of knowledge. I love that we need to work together in order to understand the world around us.
Why Is Science Important? It keeps us asking questions, and it helps us find the answers. It is a process that leads to the next question, that keeps us alert, keeps us inquiring, helps us to solve the unanswered questions on our mind. I have a great concern at the moment about our changing climate. Without science, we wouldn’t know where to start tackling this huge issue. With science, we see a way forward… a way of learning about the Earth System in a manageable way. Scientists ask questions and pursue answers. Science like this works best with global collaboration, like we have seen in the International Polar Year. And not only collaboration of scientists: but also students, artists, teachers, journalists, youth, policy makers, and everyday citizens.
Science at its best should be accessible and understandable. We should be able to follow any given conclusion back to its original question. Sometimes scientists get so carried away within their ideas that they forget to practice the art of communication, which is why it’s so important to involve the whole of the community. Science is central to answering the big questions, but also needs to be central in presenting these answers and discoveries to the non-scientists in the world… because these are the people who know how to take a concept and make societal change.