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Dr. Sylvia Earle to present Cope Lecture at Jewell
Contact: Rob Eisele816-415-7574
January 7, 2010

Dr. Sylvia Earle, a noted oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence, will present the Cope Lecture on Science, Technology and the Human Experience at 7:30 p.m. February 9 in John Gano Memorial Chapel on the William Jewell College campus in Liberty, Mo. The lecture, entitled “A Sound Environment, A Sound Economy,” is free and open to the public; tickets or reservations are not required.

When Earle was 13, her family moved to Dunedin, Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico. Soon, she was learning all she could about the wildlife of the Gulf and its coast. She was an exceptional student and won scholarships to Florida State University, where she received her B.S. degree in 1955. In Florida, she first learned scuba diving and developed the determination to use this new technology to study marine life from a close-up vantage point in the sea. Fascinated by all aspects of the ocean and marine life, she decided to specialize in botany.

After earning her Master's at Duke University in 1956, Earle took time off to marry and start a family but remained active in marine exploration. In 1964, when her children were only two and four, she left home for six weeks to join a National Science Foundation expedition in the Indian Ocean. Throughout the mid-1960s, she struggled to balance the demands of her family with scientific expeditions that took her all over the world.

In 1966, Earle received her Ph.D. from Duke. Her dissertation Phaeophyta of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico created a sensation in the oceanographic community. Never before had a marine scientist made such a long and detailed firsthand study of aquatic plant life. Since then, Earle has made a lifelong project of cataloging every species of plant that can be found in the Gulf of Mexico. Earle went on to become the Curator of Phycology at the California Academy of Sciences (1979-1986) and a Research Associate at the University of California, Berkeley (1969-1981), Radcliffe Institute Scholar (1967-1969) and Research Fellow or Associate at Harvard University (1967-1981).

In 1969 she applied to participate in the Tektite project. This venture, sponsored jointly by the U.S. Navy, the Department of the Interior and NASA allowed teams of scientist to live for weeks at a time in an enclosed habitat on the ocean floor fifty feet below the surface, off the Virgin Islands. By this time, she had spent more than a thousand research hours underwater, more than any other scientist who applied to the program, but, as she says, “the people in charge just couldn’t cope with the idea of men and women living together underwater.”

The result was Tektite II, Mission 6, an all-female research expedition led by Earle herself. In 1970, Earle led the first team of women aquanauts during the Tektite Project in 1970. She and four other women dove 50 feet below the surface to the small structure they would call home for the next two weeks. The publicity surrounding this adventure made Sylvia Earle a recognizable face beyond the scientific community. After that she was increasingly in demand as public speaker, and she became an outspoken advocate of undersea research. At the same time, she began to write for National Geographic and to produce books and films. Besides trying to arouse greater public interest in the sea, she hoped to raise public awareness of the damage being done to our aquasphere by pollution and environmental degradation.

In the 1970s, scientific missions took Earle to the Galapagos, to the water off Panama, to China and the Bahamas and, again, to the Indian Ocean. During this period she began a productive collaboration with undersea photographer Al Giddings. Together, they investigated the battleship graveyard in the Caroline Islands of the South Pacific. In 1977 they made their first voyage following the great sperm whales. In a series of expeditions they followed the whales from Hawaii to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Bermuda and Alaska. Their journeys were recorded in the documentary film Gentle Giants of the Pacific (1980).

In 1979, she made an open-ocean JIM suit dive, setting a women’s depth record of 1,250 feet. Earle walked untethered on the sea floor at a lower depth than any living human being before or since. At the bottom, she detached from the vessel and explored the depths for two and a half hours with only a communication line connecting her to the submersible, and nothing at all connecting her to the world above. She described this adventure in her 1980 book: Exploring the Deep Frontier.

From 1980 to 1984 she served on NACOA (the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere). In 1985 she founded Deep Ocean Engineering along with her husband, engineer and submersible designer Graham Hawkes, to design, operate, support, and consult on piloted and robotic sub sea systems. In 1987 The Deep Ocean Engineering team designed and built the Deep Rover research submarine, which operates down to 1,000 meters. She holds the women’s record for a solo dive in a deep submersible (3,280 feet) achieved in the Deep Rover. She left the company in 1990 to accept an appointment as the Chief Scientist for NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration).

In the early 1990s, Earle took a leave of absence from her companies to serve as Chief Scientist of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. There, among other duties, she was responsible for monitoring the health of the nation’s waters. In this capacity she also reported on the environmental damage wrought by Iraq’s burning of the Kuwaiti oil fields.

In 1992, Earle founded Deep Ocean Exploration and Research to further advance marine engineering. Today, she serves as Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society and the company known as DOER Marine is run by her daughter. The company continues to design, build and operate innovative equipment for the deep ocean and other challenging environments. She led the Google Ocean Advisory Council, a team of 30 marine scientists providing content and scientific oversight for the “Ocean in Google Earth.” To date, she has led over 70 expeditions, logging more than 6,500 hours underwater. Among the more than 100 national and international honors she has received is the 2009 TED Prize for her proposal to establish a global network of marine protected areas. She calls these marine preserves “hope spots... to save and restore... the blue heart of the planet.”

William Jewell’s Cope Lecture provides an ongoing examination of relevant scientific issues viewed within a context of contemporary technology and social ethics. It was established by Jewell alumnus and physician Dr. James C. Cope of the class of 1937. For more information on the lecture series, visit Jewell’s website at www.jewell.edu.

For driving directions and a downloadable campus map, go to

William Jewell College is committed to bringing together talented students and gifted faculty mentors within a vibrant community sparked by a rigorous and intentional liberal arts curriculum. A full range of personal and professional development experiences are presented by the selective national liberal arts college’s location within the Kansas City metroplex of more than two million.

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