Sea Secrets lecture describes ‘Beauty and Peril in the Red Sea’

Professor Sam Purkis aboard a research vessel in the Red Sea. Photo: Courtesy of Sam Purkis
By Janette Neuwahl Tannen

Professor Sam Purkis aboard a research vessel in the Red Sea. Photo: Courtesy of Sam Purkis

Sea Secrets lecture describes ‘Beauty and Peril in the Red Sea’

By Janette Neuwahl Tannen
Marine geoscientist Sam Purkis gave the first presentation of the Sea Secrets lecture series about his return trip to explore the Red Sea aboard the OceanX research vessel.

Professor Sam Purkis was drawn to the Red Sea at a young age.

Before college, the marine geoscientist worked as a SCUBA instructor on the Red Sea coast of Egypt, just north of Sudan.

“There’s something really evocative about how stark and arid the desert is, and then you cross into the ocean and you find some of the richest coral reefs on Earth,” said Purkis, who is also chair of the Department of Marine Geosciences for the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

Years later, when Purkis was invited to join a 2020 research expedition facilitated by OceanX to map the seafloor and study the oceanography, biology, and geology of the Red Sea, he jumped at the opportunity.

Scientists believe the Red Sea only started to form about 30 million years ago when the African and Arabian tectonic plates began to separate. Although that may seem like long ago, according to Purkis, considering that the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart to form the Atlantic Ocean 245 million years ago, geologically speaking, the Red Sea is young. The rate at which the Red Sea basin is presently opening is measured in centimeters per year and is accompanied by a great deal of seismic activity in the region.

“The Red Sea is really evolving on human timescales,” Purkis pointed out. “That’s how incredibly young it is, and by studying the Red Sea, we can look back at the birth of the great oceans. That’s why this is such a unique place on Earth and such an interesting place to work.”

The marine geoscientist described his six-week adventure into the depths of the Red Sea—along with his discoveries aboard a small submersible—during the first Sea Secrets lecture of 2022, “Beauty and Peril in the Red Sea,” hosted by the Rosenstiel School.

It was the first of six lectures, which was offered virtually, but ideally may soon be offered both virtually and in person, said Dean Roni Avissar. All Sea Secrets events begin at 7 p.m. and typically last one hour.

Upcoming Events

Feb. 8: Edith Widder, an oceanographer, deep sea explorer, marine biologist, and co-founder of the Ocean Research and Conservation Association will give the lecture “Here Be Monsters: Exploring the Edge of the Map,” which will focus on how the discovery of the giant squid helped demonstrate how little of the ocean scientists have explored. Register here.

Feb. 17: Shimon ElKabetz, chief executive officer and co-founder of (formerly Climacell), will talk about the need for climate security and preparation in the face of global warming. His lecture, “Weather Intelligence: Climate Security is the New Cyber Security,” will address the need to put systems in place to adapt to the changing climate. Register here.

March 15: Bradley Moore, distinguished professor and director of the Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California, San Diego, will discuss “Reading and Writing the Genetic Code of Marine Life to Cure Human Disease.” Register here.

April 5: Ved Chirayath, director of the Aircraft Center for Earth Studies and the G. Unger Vetlesen Chair of Earth Studies at the Rosenstiel School will tackle the topic of emerging technologies that can be used to explore the oceans and space in his lecture, “Revealing the Ocean Deep: Next Generation Sensing Technologies for Marine and Planetary Science.” Register here.

April 19: Cynthia Barnett, award-winning environmental journalist, and journalist in residence at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communication will discuss her latest book chronicling the relationship between humans and seashells during her lecture, “The Sound of the Sea: Seashells and the Fate of the Oceans.” Register here.

Read more about Sea Secrets events. Watch a video of Purkis’ lecture, “Beauty and Peril in the Red Sea.”