Water X


The ocean’s capacity for telling its many stories is boundless

Welcome to the Ocean Memory Project. We are a collaborative network of researchers from across the Sciences, Arts and Humanities dedicated to exploring the intersection of Ocean and Memory, and advancing Ocean Memory as a new field of scholarship and creative expression. 

The idea for this project emerged from the National Academies Keck Futures Initiatives (NAKFI) Conference on the Deep Blue Sea, was developed further under three interconnected seed grants from NAKFI, and will be supported for the next 4 years (through 2022) by a NAKFI Challenge award. We will use NAKFI best practices to advance academic and artistic means to define, connect and expand cross-disciplinary research on ocean memory through seed seminars, workshops, and sub-grants for graduate assistantships, circulating information and ideas to help establish this new line of inquiry. Although each scheduled event will have a targeted focus to explore, we do not seek to generate a narrow view of ocean memory but to embrace the vastness of the oceans, over time and space, and the many points of view that can be brought to bear on the interface with memory. 

The perspectives and opinions within our collective are wide-ranging and not always compatible. We find that they spark creativity. We believe that this diversity of viewpoints is a strength, one that enriches the ways in which we can understand the world.

As a sampling of our research directions, think of how environmental changes, whether on short or long time scales, may be recorded in ocean “memories” via genetic and epigenetic mechanisms within organisms or their larger networks or “pangenomes”, or in physical and chemical traits within the dynamic structure of the ocean itself. Consider that, if human cognitive memory can be defined as the faculty of the mind by which information is ​encoded, stored, and retrieved, and that its role is to use that information to shape future outcomes, then the ocean’s capacity for telling its many stories is boundless. Using those stories to envision and chart the ocean’s future and enlighten its relationship to humankind can provide a way forward to protecting the planet’s health and ours. 

For we believe that stories are central to how humans make meaning of what we experience, how we learn from both hard data and the stuff of dreams. In exploring ocean memory, we wish to embrace the wide diversity of stories, from precisely scientific to abstractly sensorial, in order to generate new knowledge and paint complex yet clarifying pictures that increase our understanding of the deep rhythms of the nature that surrounds us and includes us.

We wish to explore the value of overlaying stories onto each other, to associate things usually kept apart. Can we connect the timescale of whales with the geological record, human oral histories with ocean currents, the diurnal migration of zooplankton with surface eddies, the surfer’s wave to ocean gyre, the thermohaline circulation to the story of Sedna, Inuit goddess on the sea? 

We see memory as a predictive process, learning from past events to predict future outcomes, so we wish to learn from our multiple pasts, from the many timescales available to us, from the knowledge encoded in gene, geology and story, in order to better understand and prepare for our uncertain future, to avoid human behaviors that risk ocean memory networks “forgetting” key stories essential to survival. As the ocean’s memories are brought into our collective awareness, a thriving community of artists, scientists and other scholars aims for a sea change in our ability to address challenges of the Anthropocene.

To realize this bold community effort, we are expanding to include perspectives not represented by our current team. Contact us.