Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Views of a Changing Sea: Literature and Science


There is one ocean on planet Earth, and it is constantly changing. Some changes are cyclical and natural; others have unknown trajectories and are largely driven by human impact. Thus, humans are a critical element in the ecology of the ocean and its future. In turn, the ocean's future will affect the entire planet and, arguably, all living things. How do these changes impact you? Cascading effects of depleting marine fisheries and issues associated with marine culture present distinct, but related, problems. Land-based activities deposit nutrients and pollutants in both coastal and oceanic environments. These impacts are becoming more evident through a rapidly increasing number of hypoxic areas and "dead" zones. Oxygen concentrations deep in the eastern Pacific and in other productive oceanic regions are decreasing. Increasing atmospheric CO2 levels are driving sea-surface warming, sea level rise, and ocean acidification. We will examine the changing sea from literary, historical, and scientific perspectives through group discussions of selected readings, including works by Herman Melville, Richard Henry Dana, John Steinbeck, Rachel Carson, and Robinson Jeffers. These readings, in conjunction with scientific essays and papers, will help us see that these issues are not simple, and that causality is often blurred by hidden connections between them.

One or more weekend field trips to Monterey Bay, Elkhorn Slough, and Hopkins Marine Station will be offered. 


Meet the Instructor(s)

William Gilly

William Gilly spent his early years in Allentown, Pa., exploring rocks, fossils, and whatever else turned up along the way home from school. He majored in electrical engineering at Princeton, did graduate work at Washington University and Yale University in physiology and biophysics, and during summers did postdoctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. This work focused on ion channels in the giant axon of squid. He came to Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station in 1980, because of a squid fishery in Monterey and the deep pool of marine expertise. During the next 30 years his focus on squid has drifted steadily from a molecular-physiological level to a behavioral-ecological one. Personal observations of change, plus a belief that humanities and sciences are two sides of the same coin, have led Professor Gilly to offer this seminar and its natural extension, Holistic Biology.