The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is playing a leading role in raising the climate alarm — and scientific understanding — of the perils of climate change. Now it is helping oil and gas companies identify new sources of fossil fuels and signing agreements with Saudi Aramco to study the potential for “hydrocarbons” in the Red Sea.
Its famed research vessels and scientists are arrayed across the globe, installing weather instruments off the Cape, tracking water currents in the Labrador Sea, monitoring monsoons in India, and measuring melting ice in Antarctica.
In these and other ways, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is playing a leading role in raising the alarm — and scientific understanding — of the perils of climate change.
The potential that Woods Hole’s world-renowned expertise in deep water exploration could become a new tool for oil firms — through its newly established Center for Marine Robotics — is troubling to some environmental groups and others who worry the institution’s scientists could be co-opted by private interests if they are forced to rely too heavily on their support for research.
“It is a real problem,” said Walter H. Munk, a professor of oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., which is part of the University of California, San Diego. His university has received money from corporate sponsors. “You have to be quite sure you are getting the money in circumstances that don’t limit your [scientific] freedom,” Munk said.
In the coming days, according to officials at Woods Hole, the institution is set to sign agreements with Saudi Aramco, the primary oil company owned by the Saudi government, to study the potential for “hydrocarbons” in the Red Sea. It is also preparing to ink a deal for a “simulation study” on behalf of the Italian oil company Eni, while it has half a dozen other proposals in the works with unnamed corporations, the officials said.
Yet earlier this month, Woods Hole coauthored the Obama administration’s National Climate Assessment, which partly blamed hydrocarbons for causing climate change and damaging oceans.