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Cool Explorations, from the South Pole to the Blue Pacific to Central Park
Alex Steffen, 18 May 06

"We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time." -T. S. Eliot

Knowing the planet more fully is important -- maybe the most important job facing us. Much of that work is the business of huge institutions and international teams who use complex computer models, satellites, sensors, even polar robots, ocean gliders and the like to deliver information about the tiny components of huge systems. This is, as we've said, vital work.

But that's not to say that scientific exploration should be left to the pros. Amateur scientists are already making enormous contributions, from tracking bird migrations to predicting climate change, and as technology spreads distributed collaborative ecology may make efforts possible which now seem fantastic.

Nor has exploration lost its place. Even though an expedition may or may not bring back any data which couldn't have been gathered by remote machines, the act of going to a place -- especially a part of the planet we usually forget about in our day to day lives -- still has the power to awaken in us an ability to see the Earth anew.

That's why we're such big fans of Ben Saunders and his polar expeditions. It's why we're delighted to read news from the The Tangaroa Expedition, which is retracing the journey Thor Heyerdahl and his crew took on the Kon-Tiki fifty years ago. It's also why we love the idea of The Explorers Club of New York's BioBlitz, a two-day effort to inventory every species found in Central Park:

The BioBlitz is conducted by coordinating the volunteer efforts of scientists and naturalists with other interested volunteers. Groups of experts in the various taxa will observe and record as many species as possible in the two-day time period. Teams will focus their efforts on the Harlem Meer area and the Ramble, which have the highest levels of biodiversity in the park. Many teams will involve students from New York City public schools as well as local Boy Scouts. Each team will carry a handheld CyberTracker device to record species type and location.

BioBlitz in a way combines citizen science and exploration, reminding us simultaneously that there's a whole undiscovered world in our backyard, and that, seen from the right height, the whole world is our backyard.

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Once upon a time, only upper-class Victorians were naturalists. Now everyone with a pair of binoculars can be.

Thanks, industrial revolution!

Posted by: Paul Mitchum on 19 May 06

I remember learning about Rapid Biodiversity Assessments (RBAs) like BioBlitz in second year ecology in uni. It's nice to see news about it.

Posted by: joanium on 20 May 06



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