IMarEST Fellow Professor Ralph Rayner is well-known across the marine world – in industry, academia, and government – for his expertise in ocean science and technology. He shares his thoughts on his career, COP26, and why he fears time is short for tackling climate change.
Your career has been long and varied, it’s hard to cover it all…
At present, I have a portfolio of roles, many of which are pro bono. All are linked to my passion for the ocean.
Trained as an oceanographer, I am currently a Professorial Research Fellow at the London School of Economics and Chairman of the Sonardyne group of ocean technology businesses. I also work as industry liaison for the Integrated Ocean Observing System Program Office at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
I also serve on the Editorial Board of several journals, the Advisory Board of the Schmidt Ocean Institute and am a Trustee of Plymouth Marine Laboratory.
Over the course of my career, I have held board positions with a number of ocean engineering, science and technology businesses, including BMT and Fugro.
What is your role at the IMarEST?
I am a Fellow of the Institute and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Operational Oceanography. I co-chair the Institute’s Operational Oceanography Special Interest Group (OOSIG), alongside Gus Jeans and am a former Institute Trustee.
In the year of COP26, are you optimistic about what can be achieved?
There is growing recognition that climate change is an existential threat of a magnitude that could make the impacts of COVID-19 seem trivial.
I try to remain optimistic, but it is becoming harder. Sometimes I wonder if we are already too late, despite having the technological means to avert the greatest impacts. Much depends on the outcome of COP26, yet we’re not even sure in what format COP26 will go ahead.
I have had the privilege of working all over the planet, including conducting my PhD research on what was once the world’s most productive coral reef. It’s now 95% dead due to heat stress, despite being isolated in the middle of the Indian Ocean far from direct human impact. When you see changes of this magnitude over your own lifetime it can be difficult to maintain optimism.
To do more to raise the issues related to climate change and the ocean I have been helping to establish Rising Seas, a charity dedicated to raising awareness of ocean climate issues and especially to the challenges of accelerating sea level rise.
We’ve left it perilously late to act, which means we need a massive globally coordinated response. I really worry whether our politicians are capable of delivering this. It is up to all of us to pressure them to do so.
How does the climate change conference you are planning with the IMarEST complement COP26?
The conference will cover three main topics: climate change and sustainable use of the ocean and ocean resources, the role of the ocean in natural and engineered climate mitigation, and rising sea levels and coastal vulnerability.
This will be our most ambitious, two-day conference to date. We aim to link it directly to COP26 through side events in Glasgow, educational activities, and public outreach.
Who inspires you?
I have had the privilege of working with many highly-accomplished ocean scientists, technologists, and explorers. In my early career, Nic Fleming at the then Institute of Ocean Sciences' Wormley Laboratory, was an important mentor.
What career advice would you like to share?
Delivering the potential of sustainable use of the ocean and ocean resources will create many exciting career opportunities for engineers, scientists, and technologists.
My main advice – when you are presented with an opportunity, take it.
It’s also important to learn to say no to things now and then. I am hopeless at this which is why I am more than 100% busy all of the time!
The IMarEST Journal of Operational Oceanography is available to members when they log into The IMarEST Journals Hub.
The Operational Oceanography Special Interest Group (OOSIG) aims to raise the profile and understanding of operational oceanography and the application of ocean information to the delivery of economic and societal benefits.
The Underwater Technology Podcast on Stitcher (episode 38) features an in-depth interview with Ralph and was recorded in December 2020.