Intercultural Module|Dean of SJTU School of Oceanography Mr. Zhou Meng Invited to Deliver Lecture for SPEIT

On the afternoon of October 27th 2021, Dean of School of Oceanography of Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) Professor Zhou Meng delivered a lecture in person to the third-year students of SPEIT, titled “Living in a real or digital ocean”. The lecture focused on climate change and gave the students a glimpse of the digital ocean.


Before the lecture started, Chinese Dean of SPEIT Mr. LI Shaoyuan extended his wamest welcome to Professor Zhou. As an emerging school established to align with the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, the SJTU School of Oceanography has laid considerable emphasis on multidimensional and interdisciplinary integration and global scientific research, with a focus on deep sea and high seas. It was accredited with “Marine Science A+” just three years after its establishment, indicating its sheer performance.

We’re living in a digital world where the research in every discipline including oceanography relies on a considerable amount of digital technologies. We have built a virtual world of digital ocean, but will the digital world be our world in the future? And will the exceedingly simplified digital world be a reflection of the natural world? Professor Zhou encouraged the students to think about the correlation between the natural and digital worlds based on real-life scenarios. Visualization of numerical value spaces allows us to idealise or transform the virtual world. We can build a digital ocean through programming, but programming doesn’t have to follow any physical, chemical or biological laws or principles. We can hypothesize an ideal world through programming without having to deconstruct the complex natural world, and the results of programming would not have to be verified as they are only required to cater to popular entertainment and public opinion. Digitalization can be very charming and highly simplified. We can use potent models to analyze and research, but in the meantime we also have to be vigilant as the natural world is far complicated than models and fraught with a great deal of the unknown and uncertainty. We can use tools, but they are not magic bullets. The ocean is like a huge body of water that covers 71% of our planet and absorbs 90% of the anthropogenic heat pool and 90% of the anthropogenic carbon pool of CO2. But we are far from even scratching the surface of it, as numerous unknowns and problems are awaiting us.

Professor Zhou shared his story of doing ecological research in the Southern Ocean with a lot of amazing pictures and videos, including the ecological correlation between krills and whales, the science and technology relating to oceanic fertilization and the close correlation between emissions reduction and the carbon burial in the sea. Professor Zhou went on 24 polar and sea expeditions, and worked on scientific research with some of the world’s leading marine scientists and teams. He spent a number of wonderful days like a migratory bird evoking our desire for dreams and the future. As a learned gentleman, Professor Zhou had not only a good sense of humour but insightful views. And everyone at the lecture felt his passion for the natural world, his responsibility for geo-engineering and his mission for nurturing future generations of marine scientists.


In the final Q&A part, the students couldn’t wait to raise quations, all apparently with a keen interest in the scientific expedition in the Antarctic. The questions include:  “Why did you venture into the Antarctic in the winter rather than in the summer when the temperatures would not be that extreme?” “Where did your team start for the Antarctic expedition?” “How long did it take to complete the Antarctic expedition?” “How did you share and use the data and samples relating to the Antarctic expedition?” “Could we have the diving class of the School of Oceanography?” These questions are indicative of their curiosity about the unknowns out in the natural world.