Polly Carrico admits she’s not much of a morning person, but when she learned that she would be waking up really early last Saturday to spend all day doing authentic, hands-on research aboard a ship for her USD oceanography class, that all changed.
“This is the first time I’ve been on a real boat and I was very excited to go,” the junior marine science major said several hours later aboard the Sailing School Vessel (SSV) Robert C. Seamans, a 134-foot steel brigantine owned and operated by Sea Education Association (SEA). “It’s a beautiful day out here. I even got to steer the ship for 15 to 20 minutes.”
Multiple whale, dolphin and sea lion sightings during the 10-hour day didn’t hurt, either. It all made for a perfect setting for a unique educational experience that Carrico and 39 other USD students won’t soon forget. Sailing offshore from Point Loma, the tall ship was an active classroom at sea. Accompanied by an experienced crew to back them up, USD students handled operation of numerous oceanographic instruments onboard to collect data and sediment, plankton and water samples.
Undergraduate students, as well as a few from USD’s Marine Science graduate program, got their hands dirty. Everyone pitched in to launch and, later, take down multiple sails on the Seamans, a sophisticated vessel that features a wet/dry laboratory, library, a classroom and computer lab along with some of the best research equipment around. They utilized a Phytoplankton net, a Shipek Grab and a Carousel Conductivity Temperature Depth (CTD) unit. The latter two instruments required students to use a winch to lower them in and out of the water.
Veteran USD Marine Science and Environmental Studies Professor Sarah Gray, the lead research professor among several USD colleagues onboard — onboard for at least one of two days were Sue Lowery (Biology), David De Haan (Chemistry) and Marine Science/Environmental Studies professors Drew Talley, Ron Kaufmann and Nathalie Reyns — said the trip provided a critical learning environment for students and plenty of research samples to keep a few classes busy for the rest of this semester.
“We’ll all be thinking back to this trip when we’re examining these the samples,” Gray said.
More specifically, though, she said students would analyze the data in laboratory sessions as part of a project to investigate the biological, chemical and geological characteristics of the marine environment offshore of San Diego. Students aboard the ship last Saturday took samples at varying depths, some as much as 300 meters.
“I think it’s really interesting to have a chance to get out of the classroom and lab and a lot of fun to actually be involved and see where the data we’re working on comes from,” said Ryan Sandsness, a junior marine science major who appeared quite comfortable on the ship.
Sandsness is a student as well as a Navy midshipman who is a member of the San Diego Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) program, which is headquartered on the USD campus. “This has been a great experience for me. It puts a lot of what we’re learning in the future in perspective,
Sandsness operated the winch, threw in and retrieved the Phytoplankton net and assisted with the raising and lowering of the multiple massive sails.
The opportunity that he and others were provided by USD and SEA doesn’t happen that often for local university science students — though previously, USD students have done hands-on-at-sea research trips on the Research Vessel (RV) Robert Gordon Sproul — but this fall, there will be plenty of activity in biology, marine science and chemistry labs throughout the Shiley Center for Science and Technology. Students will be busy working on something tangible, something that demonstrates many students’ willingness and eagerness to wake up early on a weekend for the sake of science and research.
— Ryan T. Blystone
See more photos from USD’s SSV Robert C. Seamans research trip