NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 19-July 5, 2018
Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 12, 2018
Weather Data from Prairie State College
Conditions at 1510
Latitude: 41.45° N
Longitude: 87.53° W
Temperature: 26° C
Wind Speed: S 6mph
Science and Technology Log
How did we decide that June 21 is the first day of summer? Is this the day the pool opens? Is it the hottest day of the year? The critical date when students have de-stressed from the last school year and the next still seems far away?
In fact, the first day of summer says a lot about planet Earth’s annual journey around the sun. June 21 (sometimes June 20) is also called the Summer Solstice—the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Because Earth rotates on a tilted axis, this is the day that the North Pole is most directly pointed at the sun. From our view on the ground in Chicago Heights, the sun appears farthest north in the sky.
Conversely, winter begins on a solstice as well—the shortest day of the year when the planet is leaning away from the sun. In between, Spring and Fall correspond to “equinoxes”, the days when night and day are “equal” or roughly the same lengths.
It follows that in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are reversed. On June 21 while the North Pole is soaking in the sun, the South pole is in the shadows for the longest night of the year. A common misconception is that summer is when the entire Earth is close to the sun in an elliptical orbit and winter is when the planet is far away. If this was true, the Northern and Southern hemispheres would experience winter and summer at the same time. Actually, Earth’s orbit is fairly circular and the planet as a whole remains the same distance all year. Only the poles change their relative positions to the sun.
Introductory Personal Log
June 21 is a bittersweet day for me. As an avid gardener, the flip side of the Summer Solstice is that the days begin to get shorter and shorter until December 21. I start accounting foot by foot around the yard where “full sun” areas disappear and the infamous Chicago winter looms ahead. But this year, the Solstice brings a new excitement. Next week, Earth’s and my summer officially begins with a trip to Pascagoula, Mississippi to begin the second leg of the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) Summer Groundfish Survey aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II. Oregon II is a research ship that surveys various types of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. I can’t think of a better way to spend summer in these bodies of water.
How would I know about the Gulf, Atlantic and the Caribbean? I’ve lived in a few places around the U.S. My early childhood was spent in northern Virginia before moving to Florida where I stayed until I left for graduate school. That took me to New Mexico (truly enchanting!) and my current position brought me here to the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. My parents still live in Florida by the Indian River on a barrier island in the Atlantic Ocean. My bachelor’s degree is from New College of Florida which sits on a bay in the shimmering Gulf of Mexico. I haven’t had the pleasure of living in the Caribbean, but I have visited a couple of times.
[Break to answer the burning questions on everyone’s minds]
Florida its has drawbacks to beaches, such as the crushing summer humidity, hurricanes, mosquitoes, giant spiders–it’s not that hard to leave.
New Mexico is amazingly beautiful, boasting the best sunsets in the country. There are more plants, less oxygen and colder winters than you think. The elevation in Albuquerque is over 5,000 feet rising to 10,000 feet in the Sandias Mountains that border the city. I learned to ski here.
I like Chicago, the native wildflowers are the most impressive I’ve ever seen. The cold, dark winter, which aren’t terribly worse than Albuquerque, is balanced by fall leaves and an invigorating appreciation for spring as everything seems to rise from the dead. Hence the keen interest in solstices and equinoxes. Finally, Northeast Illinois is strongly nostalgic. The climate, plants and animals are very similar to Virginia so I actually often feel like a kid again.
I’m a biology professor at Prairie State College. We are a community college located 30 miles south of Chicago. While my educational background is in animal behavior and ecology, my graduate research spanned genetics, cell biology and immunology. Biologists often say they prefer cells or organismal biology over the other, but it is important to study the parts and the whole of any study organism, both of which respond to the ecological context. I typically teach Organismal Biology, which surveys the diversity of life on Earth with an introduction to ecology and evolution, and Environmental Biology. This fall, Cell and Molecular Biology will be added to my regular course rotation.
Community colleges are dedicated teaching institutions. However, Prairie State College supports faculty who engage with students outside of the classroom through research. I teach full time but I sometimes have the privilege of mentoring a research student. This past spring, my mentee won First Place in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Skyway Poster Competition! Community college students in the region present their original projects which are judged by scientist volunteers from Argonne National Lab.
Tylar tested different types of alternative plant growing systems such as hydroponics and aeroponics to grow lettuce. He is committed to developing and promoting practices that reduce the environmental impact of industrial agriculture while meeting the needs of a growing world population. My experience as a Teacher at Sea in the Gulf of Mexico is timely because agriculture in Illinois generates pollution that ultimately impacts the marine ecosystems of the Gulf. Additionally, his project is now a teaching tool that I can use in each of my classes along with what we learn on Oregon II.
Let’s get summer started!