Science blogs from the field

We’ve noticed a few scientists currently off on fieldwork expeditions who’ve made the effort to post regular updates on their progress to a blog.

Despite the long hours, intermittent access to Internet and general exhaustion that plagues most field trips, finding those extra few moments to write a couple paragraphs of narration and upload a picture or two can really produce a great resource for media outreach and the general public.

The blog format seems ideally suited to connect people to the research that’s going on, and provide a window into the ups and downs of investigations in the field.

Troy Baisden from GNS Science is currently on Easter Island / Rapa Nui collecting soil core samples for a Marsden-funded research project into the demise of its early civilisation.

His blog, hosted on the GNS site, covers everything from moai (the famous stone statues), volcanic craters and pollen microfossils to questions about how they celebrate Easter on Easter Island.

GNS also hosts a blog chronicling the long sea voyages of Heidi Berkenbosch, a data technician with GNS’ Ocean Explorations team and international science collaborators, currently scooping up rock samples from submarine volcanoes in the Kermadec Arc and northwest Pacific.  Check out this fascinating post about a man-made whale fall.

NIWA has a “blog” of sorts from the Tangaroa’s voyage for the International Polar Year and Census of Marine Life. The first two web posts are followed by PDF reports from the ship to download. Maybe not the most accessible format, but the content has the right idea.

Many researchers may write personal blogs about their experiences, but institutional backing really helps raise the profile of their work. The University of Otago linked to this blog created by one of its physiology students about conducting medical research at high altitude in Nepal.

Of course no discussion of New Zealand science/research blogs could possibly overlook the phenomenon that was Te Papa’s colossal squid dissection blog. It was a massively popular undertaking, with live video streams, audio updates and over 100,000 hits per day as the autopsy unfolded. Some even wonder whether it’s set a new global precedent.

Overall, the potential for this kind of science blogging remains largely unrealised in New Zealand. It would be great to see every university and CRI put up a dedicated page for research blogs on their websites, and encourage interested scientists to use it whenever they’re heading off on a big project. It’s a powerful and easily realisable science communication tool that has been largely neglected for too long.