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Physical Oceanography in 2025 Chris Garrett* Physical oceanography will continue to advance using new observa- tions and more powerful computers. It will contribute increasingly to interdisciplinary problems. Based on my own narrow experience and prejudices, I have three main recommendations. These are that we: • Devote more attention to practical issues that fall somewhere in the middle ground between physical oceanography and ocean engineering. • Continue to recognize the value of simple models. • Consider seriously the education and recruitment of our successors. The present state of the world is one of the reasons for suggesting more attention to practical problems. It could even be argued that we are in a situation similar to that of 1941, facing serious threats that demand the focused attention of the scientific community. Many of today's threats are aspects of rapid global change, with some of them being associated with the by-products of human energy consumption. The oceanographic community is currently devoting considerable attention to research aimed at improving predictions of the future climate. This is admirable, but I suggest that (i) these predictions will remain sensi- tive to small scale processes that we will never be able to understand and * University of Victoria 65
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66 OCEANOGRAPHY IN 2025 parameterize precisely, so that our efforts will lead merely to a reduction in the error bars on our predictions, and (ii) there is already enough evi- dence to suggest that the probability of unacceptable climate change is high enough to warrant drastic changes in human activities. It can thus be argued that major attention to such things as non- greenhouse gas emitting energy sources is warranted. If these are not found and adopted, then attention must also be paid to adaptation, par- ticularly to things like rising sea level. In both of these areas there will be a need for our community to contribute at the interface between physical oceanography and engineering, and, of course, the members of our com- munity in 2025 will include people currently in the early stages of their education. I would like to give a simple personal example of an investigation in which the viewpoint of a physical oceanographer was brought to bear on a practical problem in renewable energy. The topic, while compara- tively trivial and unimportant, will also serve to illustrate my second point about the value of simple models. The topic is that of placing turbines in strong currents to generate electrical power. It turns out that, subject to a couple of reasonable approximations, there is a very simple general formula for the maximum available power, well supported by detailed numerical models and very different from the engineering for- mula in common use. An overview can be found in Garrett and Cum- mins (2008). The message of this example is that the appreciation of physical understanding and simple models is deeply rooted in the physical ocean- ographic community but not always so obvious in approaches to practical problems. I could provide several similar examples, as I'm sure many other physical oceanographers can. Our traditions need to be maintained and we need to be prepared to contribute more to practical issues where our approach is valuable and complements that of other communities. Overall, it probably takes physical oceanographers to point out that power from the ocean is unlikely to be globally significant. By “we,” I mean the physical oceanographic community. In 2025 it will no longer consist of the same individuals. Where will the new mem- bers of our community come from? Will they have the same strengths as us, and can we help them avoid any weaknesses from which we suffer? We could start with a questionnaire for those already in the field, with questions such as: • What was your educational background? • How did it prepare you a) well, and b) badly, for a career in physi- cal oceanography? • What attracted you into physical oceanography?
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Chris Garrett 67 • How can we be sure that by 2025 we will have people entering our field who are even better prepared than we have been? In answering the last question, we need to recognize that someone who will graduate with a Ph.D. in 2025 is maybe in grade five now. How can we help to ensure that such a student will have an adequate school education in mathematics and science? What do we recommend for uni- versity study? I suspect that it is a strong physics background that we most appreciate and I am personally concerned by a) the diversion of good students into calculus-free university programs in environmental science, and b) the narrow-mindedness of most North American physics departments. We all need to work at our own, or affiliated, institutions to develop courses and programs that will attract students who are talented in math- ematics and physics but who want to find fields that are both intellectu- ally challenging and societally valuable. What could be better than “the physics of the environment”?! We can also benefit from exposure in semi- popular journals read by physics faculty and maybe undergraduates. Physics Today is one such journal, with frequent articles on our kind of physics and with several members of the editorial staff who are sympa- thetic. We need to cultivate them! Reference Garrett, C. and P. Cummins. 2008. Limits to Tidal Current Power. Renewable Energy. 33: 2485-2490.