Story last updated at 3:34 p.m. Friday, April 12, 2002

Environment experts convene on Kachemak Bay
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

So, an oceanographer, a fisheries biologist and an aquatic biologist walk into a room. What sounds like the setup for a joke will take place at Homer High School this weekend when an international gathering of scientists tackles the thorny issues of environmental change on local and global scales.

When the Kachemak Bay Science Conference begins Friday at 7 p.m., Homer will have the opportunity to join in a potentially historic discussion on the evidence and possible effects of global climate change.

"It's an exciting opportunity for the scientific community," said Kachemak Bay Research Reserve science director Carl Schoch. "But it is also an amazing opportunity for Homer to see (scientifically) why it's so cool to live here as well as what this community is capable of pulling off."

The three-day conference, which will feature talks and lectures from leading researchers, will focus on data from a variety of scientific fields as it relates to the study of environmental change.

This interdisciplinary approach is what makes this conference so important, Schoch said.

If the three scientists mentioned above were to study the same body of water, say Kachemak Bay, they would each be looking at the same environment very differently, Schoch said.

"That's fine," Schoch said. "But I do think it's important to have these different fields of science come together."

At a time when science is gaining new understanding of the interconnectedness of things both minute and grand, scientists have a new need to break out of the relatively narrow focuses required by their individual fields, he said.

In the keynote address Friday night, zoologist Robert Paine is expected to suggest that the world's biological forces are capable of driving change in the structure of ecosystems on a global scale. Paine believes this approach can be a valuable model for studying change on the much smaller scale of Kachemak Bay.

For Schoch, an oceanographer, this first talk will provide fertile waters for interdisciplinary discussion because a physicist sees the interplay of biological forces and their environments very differently.

"If you want to see how productive the oceans will be, you've got to look at how much dust blows off the Asian continent," Schoch suggested. "That is what fertilizes the Pacific, whose currents will eventually bring that (fertilized) water into Kachemak Bay."

The debate on environmental change, both global and local, will continue on Saturday with a series of lecture sessions anchored by an closing speech from oceanographer Tim Barnett, who will look at the possible local effects of global climate change.