February 19, 2020

Ocean Sciences 2020 – Oceanography in Space

Posted by Laura Guertin

Yes, you read the title of this blog post correct – it is not oceanography from space, it is oceanography in space. There has been much accomplished learning about the ocean from satellite technology and projections for the future of oceanographic studies from remote sensing (see the December 2010 special issue of Oceanography). But at the Ocean Sciences 2020 Meeting, I was able to attend an event where scientists came together to discuss how Earth’s ocean can act like an analog for oceans in space, and our plans to explore these remote oceans.

Perhaps you are already familiar with Network for Ocean Worlds (NOW). This effort brings together planetary scientists and ocean scientists “to advance comparative studies to characterize Earth and other ocean worlds across their interiors, oceans, and cryospheres; to investigate their habitability; to search for biosignatures; and to understand life—in relevant ocean world analogues and beyond.” Working together, these scientists can utilize oceanographic knowledge to plan future missions to explore ocean worlds, while doing some reverse engineering to study our own planet. As the panelists stated, “let’s go back and look back at Earth, as we don’t know stuff happening in our own ocean.”

What are the topics of most interest? The panel discussed hydrothermal circulation (how does water circulate? how are nutrients being carried (or are they)?), life at icy interfaces (good places for life, as items like nutrients are concentrated there), and more.

So where are we going, and how are we going to get there? NASA and ESA will show us the way to the lunar systems of Jupiter, Saturn, Nepture, and the planet Pluto!

Image from NASA Makes Dual Investment in Ocean Worlds Research at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution https://www.whoi.edu/press-room/news-release/nasa-makes-dual-investment-in-ocean-worlds-research/

Check out missions such as Europa Clipper, the Dragonfly Mission to Titan (also Dragonfly website), Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE), and Cassini-Huygens.

To learn more about NOW, check out https://oceanworlds.space/ It will be interesting to hear what update are available at the next Ocean Sciences Meeting – and even a greater opportunity to challenge our students to think about (what have we learned from icy plumes seen on other moons? How do we drill on other planets? Has there been enough geologic time for life to evolve?, etc.).