Kenneth Broad diving. Photo courtesy Wes Skiles

Scientific exploration connotes many things.  There is the history of Age of Exploration in which Europe “discovered” the rest of the world, motivated by trade and curiosity about “the other.” This narrative is tainted with histories of exploitation and subjugation.  Then there is the sense that scientists have yet to explore the extreme environments of the planet, the last frontiers of our world.  The remote sea, the deep underground, and the interface of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere may contain vital clues for solving current ecological puzzles.  But how do we encourage this latter sense of exploration without perpetuating the former?

Kenneth Broad, Ecological Anthropologist of the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami, explores an aquatic cave. Photo courtesy Wes Skiles

The University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science and the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science & Policy, in partnership with the National Geographic Society, are forming an Exploration Science Initiative that will attempt to redefine exploration for scientists and the public, paying special attention to the theoretical and ethical quandaries inherent in the idea of exploration.  One outcome of this initiative will be an Exploration Science program, which instructs participants in the applied practice and study of field-based research using a variety of methods, technologies and approaches to answer specific questions using scientific inquiry and expedition skills, within a context that recognizes the cultural and social implications of such work.   Participants, both certified scientists and interested lay people, would acquire of a blend of practical skills and theoretical considerations.

One premise of the program is that there is a need for more and better outreach, education, and information dissemination to accompany scientific research.  This need is increasingly recognized by grant funding agencies which ask that public outreach and education not only be part of funded projects but that it be sophisticated and effective.  Researchers who participate in the program will learn cutting edge tools and methods for the public presentation and dissemination of effective outreach for multidisciplinary work.  Participants will also help design new formats for outreach utilizing new media and experimental avenues for social engagement.

Another related premise is that as science grows more specialized, many projects will require hundreds of hours of hands-on research and this will mean the creation of more inclusive and collaborative research practices.  To that end, Exploration Science combines scientific research with opportunities that allow the general public to join University of Miami researchers for experiential and virtual expeditions.  Utilizing new technologies, scientists involve non-scientists in actual expeditions, training them to augment research efforts and drastically shorten research timelines.  The work the public can assist with will depend on the researchers and what they are doing.  Research opportunities might include: satellite tagging, aviation-based atmospheric and environmental sampling, underwater aquatic and geological surveys, gamefish tagging expeditions, coral reef restoration projects, sustainable aquaculture technology deployment, underwater archaeology, research vessel and submersible expeditions for oceanographic and biological sampling, high-altitude hurricane reconnaissance flights, and river and underwater bio-diversity-focused cave expeditions.

Accordingly, the Exploration Science Initiative hopes to incorporate a citizen science model into the program.  Innovations in mobile technology might allow non-scientists to collect data and participate in research in new ways.  The National Audubon Society’s famous Christmas Bird Count is an early example of this kind of effort.  This is a burgeoning (though not new) area of research practice that allows many more people to participate in science and exploration.  When utilized appropriately, citizen science practices can allow exploration research to cross social and cultural borders creating opportunities for radical inclusion.

Finally, the program hopes to collect qualitative and quantitative data concerning the effectiveness of citizen science methods and outreach projects.  Does this research focus engage people more actively and get them involved in finding solutions to today’s wicked problems?  Can this research encourage real collaboration and inclusion across a variety of social boundaries?  The Exploration Science Initiative wants to encourage everyone to help identify what we currently stand to lose in terms of the world’s life forms, processes, ideas and people.  Instead of filling in the supposedly “empty” map of the world, the Age of Exploration model, today’s explorers can try and prevent the reoccurrence of informational and social gaps.

To learn more about the Exploration Science Initiative, please contact Keene Haywood at keene@miami.edu.

Please send A&E news and reports to Amelia Moore at a.moore4@miami.edu.

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