Rhode Island Teachers Go to Sea


In August, eight educators from across Rhode Island had the opportunity to experience what few people have – participate in an oceanographic research cruise aboard R/V Endeavor. The educators accompanied Chief Scientist Chris Roman, a professor of oceanography and ocean engineering, and Principal Investigator David C. Smith, Associate Dean at GSO, as a part of the Rhode Island Teacher At Sea (RITAS) program. The RITAS program began ten years ago under the umbrella of the Rhode Island Endeavor Program, which is supported by the State of Rhode Island. RITAS is the educational component of the RI Endeavor Program, designed to establish sustainable partnerships between ocean scientists and educators who live and teach in Rhode Island.

A pre-cruise briefing and a few on-board lectures were designed to prepare the educators for upcoming oceanographic data collection; the majority of the three-day cruise was hands-on, with educators participating side-by-side with oceanographers. A typical day began at 6:00 am with educators deploying a Conductivity/Temperature/Depth sensor (CTD) for the morning ocean sample. Although supervised, the educators were responsible for properly preparing the Niskin bottles on the CTD and tending lines as it was lowered over the side, and later retrieved. Jennifer Pietros, a science teacher at Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School in Coventry noted, “the CTD went down to 2000 meters (6561 feet)! I still cannot get over how vast the ocean is. It is over a mile down to get to the bottom!”  Jennifer also had a bona fide “only in Rhode Island” moment when she met a former student, Kurt Rethorn, who now is an assistant engineer on Endeavor.

20577259540_9b368054ae_zGSO Professor Chris Roman told the group about one of the main purposes for the cruise, engineering testing of the “Wire Flyer,” an ocean sensing system that is towed by the ship but is designed to quickly slide up and down a wire in the water column, taking measurements en route. A 2000 lb weight called the “clump” holds the wire taut, and the operators “flies” the towed body by issuing commands to the fins. Nick Terry, from the Gordon School in East Providence, assisted. “My most proud moment of the day,” Nick said. “I actually got to help Chris Roman and his team of scientists retrieve the Wire Flyer! My job was to operate the A-frame, the enormous structure on the fantail that actually lifts the Wire Flyer and clump weight from the ocean, and place it on deck. My role consisted of operating this crane as well as communicating with the bridge to let them know exactly what was going on. It felt really great to help out and assist them in their important work.”

20112753964_4785d34bab_zGSO Professor David C. Smith led the group in conducting plankton sampling, followed by analysis in Endeavor’s “wet lab.” “We’re trying to determine whether the same bacterial communities live at different depths of the water column,” said Trisha Garland of the Paul W. Crowley East Bay Met School in Newport, RI. Alyssa Wood of Sophia Academy, Providence, went on to explain, “communities of organisms will give a characteristic reaction pattern called a metabolic fingerprint” on a test bed called an EcoPlate.

Alyssa and Trisha also assisted in testing telepresence technology recently installed on Endeavor. High-definition cameras transmit video and audio via satellite to GSO’s Inner Space Center for further distribution worldwide. The two educators narrated a launch of the Wire Flyer, while Meredith Ashworth of Narragansett High School operated the camera. The test was successful, with the Inner Space Center livestreaming the broadcast to a YouTube channel.

In addition to the high-tech aspects of the cruise, the educators also had an opportunity to learn some time-honored deck seamanship. Professor Roman offered a short class in celestial navigation. Everyone tried his or her hand at determining Endeavor’s location. Joe Bartoshevich of Bristol/Warren Middle School said, “there was a fierce but friendly competition to use a sextant to see who could come closest to our present location by finding the sun’s highest position in the sky and the time it occurs.”

Jessica Grant of Blackstone Valley Prep summed up the Educators at Sea Cruise by saying, “when looking back at the past four days at sea, it’s hard to believe how much I have learned in such a short time. Marine research is a never-ending job, but the results are so rewarding! I now have a sense of how small we are in this great planet and how we are even tinier in this immense universe. Just one little speck, sailing along, doing some pretty amazing scientific research! It is so beautiful out here and I feel so lucky to have been selected for this experience.”

The RITAS program continues with Helaine Hager (Mount Pleasant High  School) sailing on Endeavor with Chief Scientist GSO Professor John King, taking sediment cores and conducting sonar mapping of an area that may have been inhabited by the ancestors of the Narragansett tribe prior to sea level rise, and Shannon Donovan (Scituate High School) and Tiffany Risch (Coventry Public Schools) sailing on Endeavor with Chief Scientist Dwight Coleman, Director of the Inner Space Center, exploring several shipwrecks in Rhode Island waters, including a World War II U-boat, using remotely operated vehicles and telepresence technology.

Photos: Top, from left Meredith Ashworth, Nick Terry, Jenn Pietros, Joe Bartoshevich, Aman Malik, front row, Alyssa Wood, Trisha Garland, Jess Grant
Middle: Deploying a CTD (click to enlarge)
Bottom: the Wire Flyer (click to enlarge)

Cruise blog at http://www.gso.uri.edu/rieducatorscruise/