In Kenny Broad’s line of work, exploring submerged caves and blue holes, one mistake can equal death. He and his team must take every precaution to avoid such dangers as stirring up sediments that can wipe out visibility, succumbing to nausea as they pass through a toxic layer of hydrogen sulfide, or getting lost in maze-like passageways with a limited supply of diving gasses.
The need to study blue holes is urgent, as they are among the least studied and most threatened habitats on Earth. Over 90 percent of the Earth’s unfrozen fresh water is in underground aquifers. These systems are a source of drinking water for locals, boast a unique biodiversity of microbial and multicellular life that shed light on the evolution of life, and, due to their unique water chemistry, perfectly preserve skeletal remains of long extinct species and indigenous people. Cave formations such as stalagmites can be used to reconstruct climate as the Earth passed in and out of the ice ages, allowing us to better judge the rates and possible impacts of modern changes in climate.
These cave systems—with their reversing tides—can transition from giant rooms to narrow holes that divers must remove all of their gear in order to squeeze through. “You can’t send a remotely operated vehicle in to explore caves because the technology simply doesn’t exist,” he says. “It’s one of the few environments left on the planet where you must physically go to learn about it. It’s great for job security.”
An entertaining and witty presenter, Broad’s work combines the study of risk perception, exploration, and environmental anthropology. His interdisciplinary training includes an M.A. in marine affairs and policy from the University of Miami and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University. He is currently a professor in the University of Miami’s Division of Marine Affairs and Policy and is director of the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy. He is also a co-director of the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University. Broad has led or participated in extreme scientific and filmmaking expeditions on every continent—from urban jungles to the deepest caves on the planet—to gather information and samples that shed light on little-known environmental and cultural subjects. He was elected a National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2006, a Fellow National of the Explorers Club in 2009, and was selected as the 2011 National Geographic Explorer of the Year. His work was featured as the cover story of the August 2010 issue of National Geographic.
Kenny Broad, National Geographic’s Explorer of the Year for 2011, is also an accomplished cave diver. He pursues this extreme avocation not for sport but to gain valuable insights. Doubling as a recognized, and quite funny, environmental anthropologist, Broad uses his research to solve problems of climate change and freshwater resource management. Join him for a fantastic voyage into the beautiful but dangerous “blue holes” of the Bahamas—a potential treasure trove of scientific knowledge, captured in incredible images and video.
It takes a special kind of person to plunge willingly into a subaquatic cave in Cuba, or risk his life reporting on cocaine trafficking in Jamaica, or chase venomous snakes across Vietnam. Fortunately, environmental anthropologist Kenny Broad is an extra special kind of person. National Geographic’s 2011 Explorer of the Year, Broad finds a surprising amount to laugh about as he shares stories of his triumphs, his tragedies, and his just plain weird experiences while watching science evolve to further our knowledge of the world.
The Risky Science of Exploration
Best Job Ever
Public Policy and Climate Change