Week of meetings in Washington, DC brings together U.S. ocean acidification research community

Again and again, “communication” was mentioned as one of the strongest needs in ocean acidification (OA) science during the week of the second ocean acidification principal investigators’ (OAPI) meeting this September in Washington, DC. But, as Holly Greening (Tampa Bay Estuary Program) pointed out on the meeting’s last day, the OA community has already generated so much conversation around the science that big results have already materialized in just a decade or two: major multi-year commitments of research funding by numerous federal and private organizations, national and state policies, discussion about OA at international levels, and early integration of OA science with other earth science issues like warming and deoxygenation. But the OA community isn’t stopping there, as proven by recent events in Washington!

Before the OAPI meeting, COMPASS held a two-day training workshop focused on preparing more ocean acidification scientists to communicate publicly about their research with a variety of audiences. Similar in format to the 2012 workshop COMPASS offered before the Ocean in a High-CO2 World meeting, scientists had opportunities to refine their message, role-play different interview scenarios with professional journalists, then receive feedback from the group.

On Tuesday evening, COMPASS and OCB hosted a panel discussion called “Ocean Acidification Tapas” among the journalists and four of the scientists who attended the communication workshop. Intended to focus on the challenges facing scientists when they discuss their research, the panel provided a light and fun introduction to some very serious issues and served as the kickoff to the OAPI meeting. Panelists also shared some highlights from the communications workshop, fueling much interest in the next one COMPASS plans to host!

The OAPI meeting itself began on Wednesday with around of short talks by scientists. (Slides and the meeting agenda are available at the meeting website.) These talks highlighted new science and set up the themes of discussion for the breakout sessions later in the meeting. Chris Sabine (NOAA) spoke about developments in observing and measuring ocean acidification, followed by Todd Martz (Scripps) who talked about the state of technical development concerning OA sensors. Bruce Menge (OSU) spoke about ways in which the OMEGAS project was linking measurements to processes, followed by Gretchen Hofmann (UCSB), who spoke about advances in using molecular-to community-level methodologies to examine everything from individual effects to adaptive capacity of organisms to OA. Joan Bernhard (WHOI) then spoke on OA as one of many issues, and how more experiments are looking at OA in combination with temperature, oxygen,  and other environmental factors, especially considering the paleorecord. Finally, Francis Chan (OSU) spoke about uncertainty – not only from scaling up laboratory results, but also concerning using incomplete scientific results to try to inform future planning.

Next, Cheryl Dybas from NSF gave a short talk titled “The Changing Climate in Science Journalism,” which focused on the ways in which traditional media and outlets for disseminating research to general audiences are changing. Attendees engaged Cheryl in a lively question-and-answer session afterwards, continuing the discussion around some questions that had cropped up initially at the COMPASS workshop. Some of the discussion addressed how to attribute funding sources, how to mention uncertainty when talking about experimental findings, and how to navigate interviews more effectively.

During lunch, Heather Galindo from COMPASS provided an extremely condensed version of the COMPASS communication training. She provided an overview of things to keep in mind, like: Who is the audience? What are they interested in? Are they used to hearing the conclusions first, or are they content to wait awhile? Then, participantspracticed using the “message box” approach outlined in Nancy Baron’s book, “Escape from the Ivory Tower”, which is a key piece of COMPASS communication training workshops.

In the afternoon, program managers from all the Federal agencies associated with the Interagency Working Group on Ocean Acidification (IWG-OA) provided short overviews of their agency’s investments in ocean acidification research, whether as a specific area of interest, or integrated within existing activities (see photo above). Participants included David Garrison (NSF), Paula Bontempi (NASA), Kenli Kim (State Dept.), Mary Boatman (BOEM), Paul Cough (EPA), Susan Russell-Robinson (USGS), Bret Wolfe (FWS), and Libby Jewett (NOAA, IWG-OA chair). Overviews also provided meeting attendees with a window into how some of the agencies less familiar to the ocean acidification research community work. Discussion following the panel focused on how to promote ongoing support for OA monitoring, data management, national and international capacity building, and future research projects.

Data management was the theme of the next session, led by a talk from Krisa Arzayus (NOAA NODC) followed by a panel discussion including Krisa, Cyndy Chandler (BCO-DMO), Hernan Garcia (NODC), and Phil Goldstein (OBIS USA). Discussion focused around programmatic issues such as support for data management, the challenges of linking multiple data repositories, and the DOI system; and around universal issues such as educating scientists on best practices, incentivizing the data management and archiving process, and balancing the need to support good data management with the temptation of using extra funds to collect more information.

The next morning, Paul Bunje from the X Prize Foundation shared details about the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health Prize that focuses on development of affordable and reliable ocean pH sensors.

Most of Thursday and half of Friday were devoted to breakout sessions focused on discussing overarching issues relevant to OA science. Ten sessions were convened concurrently. Each breakout was designed to consider the state of ocean acidification knowledge in an interdisciplinary context, and then to start synthesizing trends and themes in ocean acidification science across environments. Leaders sought input from participants on how enhanced interdisciplinary activity can address knowledge gaps. Finally, each breakout was charged with identifying logical short-term steps and longer-term goals for the research community. The outcomes of each breakout session were shared with all meeting participants in plenary-session report-back periods, in which meeting participants could provide input to other breakout sessions’ proceedings. Ultimately, the breakout leaders plan to assemble a special issue of Oceanography magazine containing papers summarizing the findings of each breakout session, as well as other science highlights from the OA community.

OCB News, Fall 2013. Article.

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