• Gretchen Stahlman, Ph.D.

Onward for “On Tap!”

After a summer hiatus, NEREID is set to resume hosting “Convergence On Tap!” with a stellar topic and lineup of speakers. The next event will be held on Thursday, September 23rd at 7:30 pm eastern-time via Zoom with the enigmatic theme “Secret Oceans: Below and Beyond”.

As the NEREID: Convergence On Tap! Planning Committee looks forward to another stimulating evening of new ideas and cross-disciplinary networking, we’re also warmly reflecting on the previous session, held on May 26th, 2021. Titled “Sea the Stars”, panelists for this event included:

  • Dr. Travis Horton, Associate Professor of Environmental Geochemistry at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand;

  • Feather Metsch, Immersive and interactive A/V storyteller and member of The Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians; and

  • Dr. Michel André, Biotechnology Engineer at the National Institute of Applied Science in Toulouse, France.

This unique combination of speakers showcased convergent perspectives on ocean research, migration of marine mammals and indigenous knowledge.

Dr. Travis Horton’s presentation addressed the topic of whale navigation, introducing the question: “How do animals navigate? It’s a 3000-year-old mystery, and we still don’t have an answer, we don’t have a mechanistic understanding”.

Arguing that whales navigate using a combination of gravity and magnetism, Horton noted that this “grand challenge” scientific research problem can be best addressed through a convergent approach. Horton explained, “One of the amazing opportunities before us as a community is the convergence between the biology, the geology, the physics, the data science, the numerical modeling of a data based solution to classic problems.”

Horton’s concluding remarks described how indigenous peoples historically held deep knowledge of migratory patterns, which seamlessly led into Feather Metsch’s presentation highlighting indigenous worldviews.

“In the way we build everything”, said Metsch, “we’re mapping out how we see everything around us and how we imagine the universe.”

Metsch provided examples from various tribes such as design of dwellings that reflect cardinal directions, hand tattoos used for seafaring navigation, and celestial patterns woven into blankets that embody cultural beliefs and religious practices.

Where much traditional knowledge faced cultural extinction decades ago, Metsch’s presentation demonstrated that concerted efforts are being made by indigenous groups to reclaim and preserve language, historical knowledge and harmony between humans and nature.

Dr. Michel André rounded out the panel with a description of his research on the importance of sound in the natural world, particularly focusing on human-generated noise in marine environments, with implications for offshore industries that impact these environments.

“Without sound, the life in the ocean would not exist”, said André. “We know that light doesn’t penetrate more than a few meters below the surface, and sound is really the support for communication for all the inhabitants of the ocean, and if we pollute these channels of communication, we are challenging the survival of the ocean and the survival of the whole planet”.

André’s work has found that different species can share information through sound, and that codes of communication can be identified through components of sounds. This discovery points to a need for human awareness and action to preserve Earth’s delicate ecosystems.

“Human beings should be part of nature”, concluded André.


Following these fascinating presentations, attendees were then placed into breakout groups for a brainstorming session. Playing on the well-known “walks into a bar” joke genre, the breakout activity centered around a scenario in which a pre-selected combination of three individuals (for example, a space executive, policymaker, and ship captain) discuss breaking news about a hypothetical discovery that humpback whales navigate using the stars.


Primed by the panel presentations, On Tap! participants enjoyed light-hearted conversation over drinks about the implications of such a discovery for humanity, society, and earth-space convergence.

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So … what mysteries about the universe will be revealed at our next On Tap! event on September 23rd? Be there to find out!