NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
April 29-May 11, 2013
Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Woods Hole, MA
Date: April 29, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge: Air Temperature: 12° C or 53.6° F, Sea Temperature: 11° C or 51.8° F, Winds out of the south at 10 knots, Partly Cloudy
Science and Technology Log: Flexibility is definitely the key to success on a NOAA research cruise. I am in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Our ship, the Gordon Gunter, is having minor technical difficulties, so we are not leaving port until tomorrow morning at 8:00 am, one day later than planned. This delay gave me the opportunity to explore a town known as “Little Village, Big Science”!
Woods Hole is a world center for marine, biomedical, and environmental science. Within this tiny village are two large private science organizations, the Marine Biological Laboratory (MLB), and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Also in the village are two large federal government science facilities, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). In short, a science town with, not one, but two great coffee houses!
I was able to visit the WHOI Ocean Science Exhibit Center. This is small museum that features the work done by the “Alvin Submarine” including the exploration of hydrothermal vents, and the discovery of the Titanic. I was not familiar with Alvin, so I spent quite a bit of time at this exhibit. Alvin is a submarine that probes the depths of the oceans (all the way to the bottom!) with three scientists in a small titanium sphere. The museum has a simulation model that I was able to board.
Curiosity killed the cat. After leaving the museum, I set out on a quest to find the real Alvin. It seems all I have to do in this town is tell people I am the NOAA Teacher at Sea aboard the Gordon Gunter, and I am permitted to go where no other man has gone before! I. FOUND. ALVIN. Not the old Alvin, but the brand new, not even fully assembled yet, scheduled to deploy this weekend, Alvin! That’s right, folks, I was standing right in front of a scientific vehicle that will propel itself along the floor of the dark, cold ocean with three humans on board in a tiny compartment for a nine hour dive! No standing, no walking, no sunlight, and no bathroom…
I met Bruce, one of the Alvin pilots, who has served on over three hundred dives. He was frantically working on the submarine actually owned by the Navy, to meet his weekend deadline. I was amazed that he not only pilots this underwater ship, but he also works on assembling it. I asked him, “What is the worst part about doing a nine hour dive in Alvin?” I was coming up with answers to my question in my own head such as, “leg cramps, claustrophobia, an unexpected need for a bathroom…” He thought a moment and said, “Nothing. There is no worst part of a dive.” He has never turned down the opportunity to dive. I knew then, that I had to figure out a way to become a “Teacher in Alvin”…
Personal Log: Even though our ship hasn’t left the dock, I am already having a great time learning about so many things I never knew existed. I saw a lady walking out of a NOAA building, obviously on her way home after a long day at work. I introduced myself, once again dropping my new powerful title, and I learned that she is a “scallop scientist”! A NOAA PhD! Even though the NOAA aquarium was closed for the day, she took the time to give me a private tour. She showed me her office, shared a Powerpoint about scallop survey research with me, and gave me a scallop shell. I have collected a new scientist friend.
Today I have learned that so many more things are possible for my students than even I had imagined. In the past I have had a few students say to me that they wanted to be marine biologists. I have made the mistake of telling them to consider limnology, the study of inland waters, because we live in a state bordered by Lake Erie. While limnology would be an amazing field of study for any Tecumseh scientist, marine biology is NOT out of our reach. I see that now. We set sail in the morning.