top of page

Can the Oceans Save Us From Ourselves?

March 8th and 22nd, 2016

Presented By:

Dr. Bobbie Lyon, College of Charleston Dept. of Biology and Bowdoin College Coastal Studies Scholar

Brienne Oliver and Lisa Shimko, local artists

Part 1: Great Ocean Conveyor Belt

Dr. Bobbie Lyon defogged the ocean’s thermohaline circulation, also known as the “Great Ocean Conveyor Belt.” The talk focused on the human-caused increase in atmospheric CO2 with more car emissions, industry, and the deluge of “single-use” products. Thankfully the ocean has an

amazing ability to exchange gases by absorbing

atmospheric CO2 and releasing oxygen through the photosynthetic processes of

phytoplankton. Oceans are also able to absorb a proportion of heat generated by increasing greenhouse gases. Local artists Lisa Shimko and Brienne Oliver aided participants in using their perceptions of the seminar to create wonderful works of art using watercolor and oil pastel techniques.

Part 2: Biological Pump

At this event, Dr. Bobbie Lyon helped attendees delve into the Gaia Hypothesis; that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a complex, self-regulating, system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet (e.g. temperature and atmosphere). This idea thinks of our planet as "a living breathing Earth" which many refer to as Gaia. Images and videos from Aura and Aqua satellites were shown to demonstrate the net primary productivity of the Earth and the “inhalation” of CO2 through carbon cycling. This “inhalation” or removal of CO2 is attributed to the increased vegetational growth during the spring and summer months. In marine systems, CO2 is taken in by phytoplankton, the base of most marine food webs, and helps to sustain a highly prolific ecosystem. Changes in this system, such as record increases in carbon emissions, are resulting in large toxic aquatic cyanobacteria blooms and frequently lead to the closure of recreational waters. Cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae) are among the oldest types of bacteria found on Earth and are believed to have played a major role in the addition of oxygen to the Earth's early atmosphere. Up until recently, they were identified as a significant component of the marine nitrogen cycle. This over-reaction by the fundamental biological systems that control our climate may lead us to believe that perhaps the Earth is overcompensating to save us from ourselves. Local artist Brienne Oliver used all the ideas set forth by Dr. Lyon's talk to help participants repurpose blocks of styrofoam to produce beautiful block prints that expressed their reactions to the Earth’s biological pump, Gaia, and the idea that the Earth might be trying to save us from ourselves.


Be sure to check out ALL the event pics, art & reflections in our Google Photo Album

(Pt 1)(Pt 2)or on Facebook to tag, comment, like, and share...

**** Join Our Blog Community! ****

Become a member to add comments, and updates and ask questions to the scientists, speakers, and artists. Members may also request copies of presentation slides, add photos, and much more! Join and help CULTIVATE Science + Art + Community, because it takes a village to grow and make a change.


Get Active

What if the ocean can’t save us? Are we smart enough to geoengineer our way out? We are still thinking of new ways to cool the planet, and a new one we have developed is Solar Radiation Modification, or more specifically, Stratospheric Aerosol Injection. With this, we would inject particles into the atmosphere in hopes that light rays would reflect back into space, in turn helping the planet stay cool. Unfortunately, we do not have enough answers at the moment on if this mode of geoengineering is completely safe. It could cause rain patterns to change or even damage the ozone layer. There is a governing debate on how we should handle this new technology! Click here to learn more.

Learn More About...

→ Fun facts about Phytoplankton

→ Here’s a simple video further explaining the Gaia Hypothesis


bottom of page