Why this deep-sea explorer thinks diversity is so important for science

To oceanographer Katy Croff Bell, the seas’ uncharted depths are full of opportunities to engage women and people of color in science.

This story appears in the December 2020 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Most of the deep sea, Earth’s largest habitat, has yet to be explored. Even after decades of probing and scanning the depths with submarines and remotely operated vehicles, scientists have seen just a fraction of what’s down there.

In those uncharted waters Katy Croff Bell sees a great opportunity to engage women and people of color in science.

A National Geographic Society fellow and an expert on the deep sea (below 200 meters), Bell has been on more than 40 oceanographic and archaeological expeditions since 1999. When she began, there were few women in the field.

“If we’re actually going to explore the entire ocean, we not only need new technology but also new communities of people to be involved,” Bell says. She has built a diverse coalition of deep-sea explorers and students, and has developed ways to make the area more accessible to them. (Why combining diversity with STEM is a good thing for kids)

New robotic and “telepresence” technologies have allowed Bell and others to make significant discoveries in recent years. In 2019 students monitoring deep-sea cameras in a collaboration with National Geographic’s Exploration Technology Lab were the first to document the presence of cow sharks in the Galápagos Islands.

Those students aren’t the only ones joining Bell in the deep sea. By deploying cameras in the depths and livestreaming her expeditions, Bell lets thousands of people around the world explore the ocean with her.

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