Photo from - a documentary film featuring many scientists working with PAGES.
Aug 2015

Reducing travel to scientific meetings is an oft-stated goal of climate researchers. But what does it take to turn words into action?

By Mike Evans (for Helen McGregor, Belen Martrat, Jess Tierney, Nerilie Abram, Hugues Goosse and Delia Oppo)

In October 2015, I will get to shake Belen's hand at the first Ocean2k in-person workshop . This is exciting, because we have been working closely together on Ocean2k projects since late 2011.

When we launched Ocean2k, we decided that in lieu of workshops we would meet virtually using teleconferencing software and other means of electronic communications. This had the advantage of enabling a broader participation than would be possible with a series of small in-person workshops, with their relatively large carbon footprint and relatively small participant list, and the fog of travel for a group spanning 18 time zones and four hemispheres. Instead we awoke early, stayed up late, consumed large quantities of stimulating drinks on a regular basis, and shared many laughs in pursuit of our project goals.

The virtual meeting approach also required development of a culture of respect and generosity, with an emphasis on clear communications across sub disciplines, and a high degree of transparency, including minutes kept using Google docs for biweekly meetings. We also decided to make decisions by consensus: everyone had to be comfortable with decisions (or at least able to live with them) before they were finalized. Strong adherence to these values is what it takes to explain to a climate modeller, across a patchy Skype connection, why marine sediment records should probably not be synthesized at less than bicentennial resolution; or to explain, for the same timescales, plausible physical bases for the concept of a globally homogeneous mixed layer ocean to a stable isotope geochemist. And to be sure that a project participant, returning from a research cruise or fieldwork in Antarctica, can quickly get back up to speed and contribute once more to the effort.

All of these efforts took time. But in my opinion they made the two major Ocean2k publications to date (Tierney et al 2015[i]; McGregor et al 2015[ii]) better than they would have been otherwise.

We did sacrifice the incomparable value of in-person communications. Piggy-backed meetings of a few of us at a time (kitchen table, borrowed apartment on 125th Street, Manhattan, 2012; on a hike above Grindelwald, Switzerland, 2013; crowded restaurant, poster session, San Francisco, 2012, 2013) helped us brainstorm, strategize, energize and plan forward. These meetings were essential, and strengthened the trust necessary for good working collaborations. We conceived the first Ocean2k workshop for October 2015 to merge the value of in-person and virtual meetings. Thanks to the support of PAGES and now Future Earth, it will be a small in-person workshop designed around ample time for collaborative discussions, with keynote talks relegated to pre-meeting podcast viewing. It will also look forward into phase 2 of the Ocean2k project, focusing on the development and re-organization of the project around research themes of emergent interest within a mixed group of Ocean2k veterans and "newbies", and with renewed leadership. We will continue to emphasize the communications, respect and shared leadership values that mark Ocean2k (more about the latter in a future post!).

And I will finally have the opportunity to meet my good friend Belen (amongst many others), share a meal and stimulating scientific conversation, and thank her in person for making the most of Ocean2k.

[i] Tierney, J.E., N.J. Abram, K.J. Anchukaitis, M.N. Evans, C. Giry, K.H. Kilbourne, C.P. Saenger, H.C. Wu, J. Zinke, 2015: Tropical sea surface temperature for the past four centuries reconstructed from coral archives, Paleoceanography, 30, DOI: 10.1001/2014PA002717.

[ii] McGregor, H.V., M.N. Evans, H. Goosse, G. Leduc, B. Martrat, J.A. Addison, P.G. Mortyn, D.W. Oppo, M.-S. Seidenkrantz, M.-A. Sicre, S.J. Phipps, K. Selvaraj, K. Thirumalai, H.L. Filipsson, V. Ersek, 2015: Robust global ocean cooling trend for the pre-industrial Common Era, in press.