Department of Physics & Astronomy
University of New Mexico

Physics and Astronomy Colloquium

Wave Piloting in the Marshall Islands

Presented by John Huth, Harvard University

Indigenous navigators in the Pacific Islands had, and have a kind of toolkit that relies on natural signs to cross vast distances of ocean without instruments. They used the stars, the sun, birds, and ocean swells as wayfinding signs. The art of using ocean swells and their interactions with land to navigate reached its height in the Marshall Islands: a chain of atolls and islands in the central Pacific. Here the techniques were taught using stick charts: lattices of palm ribs tied together to indicate both geographical locations and the response of ocean swells impinging on the shores. One local navigator, Captain Korent Joel, was taught the local techniques by his grandfather. He sought the help of scientists as a way of validating their traditional navigational schema to further its dissemination. In June of 2015, I traveled to the Marshall Islands along with Joe Genz, an anthropologist, and Gerbrant von Vledder, an expert in the numerical s imulation of waves. We met Captain Korent, and participated in a voyage between two atolls in a traditional outrigger canoe. This is an account of our attempts to understand the techniques of wave piloting as articulated by Captain Korent in terms of Western concepts. Sadly, Korent passed away this year, but we intend to help further the traditions.

4:00 pm, Friday, March 24, 2017
Room 125, Dane Smith Hall
Southwest corner of Las Lomas and Yale, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Refreshments will not be available at this event, in the lobby of Dane Smith Hall.

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