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US Astronaut Kathy Sullivan on Deep Sea Diving, Living Through a Pandemic & Ocean Health

19th July 2020
Sullivan, who has Irish roots, became the first US woman to conduct a spacewalk in 1984 Sullivan, who has Irish roots, became the first US woman to conduct a spacewalk in 1984 Photo: NASA

US astronaut and oceanographer Dr Kathryn Sullivan has compared the current global situation to being in the midst of a severe storm on a sailing boat in mid-ocean.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Dr Sullivan, who has Irish roots, said that although she was an optimist, it was “the most uncertain time I have witnessed in my lifetime”.

“You couldn’t even think of putting a sail back up, let alone trimming it, or trying to steer..only to ride it out as best one can...” she said.

“ It’s a bit like watching the circus performer twirling plates on the end of a stick, relying on gyroscopic forces – but if the twirling slows down any, the plates start to wobble like crazy,” she said

A global pandemic can focus attention on the potential of the ocean environment as a vital source of protein and new medical treatments, she notes.

However, she cautions that the oceans are under considerable pressure, thanks to “we two-footed critters” allowing rubbish to reach the very bottom of the remote Mariana Trench and microplastics to poison the deepest ocean creatures.

“So there is no part of this planet that is disconnected,” she says.

Dr Sullivan, who developed close links with the Marine Institute here during her term as US Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association Administrator (NOAA), has been invited by the institute to give a public “virtual” interview.

Read more of The Sunday Times interview here.

Published in Marine Science
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.

 

At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

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