Saturday, November 5, 2011
Rutgers students get hooked on ocean science
From CentralJersey.com: Rutgers students get hooked on ocean science
NEW BRUNSWICK — Danielle Holden, David Kaminsky, Shannon Harrison and Nilsen Strandskov came to Rutgers University at varying levels of uncertainity about their futures. Within a short time, they were doing real science to find answers to questions that had not been asked before and doing things they had not dreamed about.
Along the way, they also traveled to Australia, Norway, California and the Azores, volcanic islands in the North Atlantic.
The students worked on the Atlantic Crossing project led by Scott Glenn, professor of marine science in the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, which had sent the first submersible robot glider across the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. The glider observes the ocean in near real time, gleaning valuable information for oceanographers.
Holden, a resident of the Basking Ridge section of Bernards, graduated from Rutgers earlier this year and is pursuing a master’s degree in maritime systems at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.
As seniors in Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Kaminsky, Strandskov and Harrison continue to work on the Challenger Mission, which deploys gliders around the world for a worldwide project in which Rutgers plays a leading role.
The four came to marine science by varied routes.
A friend, Emily Rogalsky of Jackson, told Holden about an unusual marine science course she was taking, “Special Problems in Oceanography.” Holden visited the class, was intrigued and signed up.
Strandskov’s father urged his son to be practical in picking his first-year classes.
“He wanted me to take some business courses,” said Strandskov, from Towaco in Morris County. “So, I thought, ‘What’s the farthest thing from business?’ And I signed up for Peter Rona’s ‘Introduction to Oceanography.’ ”
Rona is one of the world’s leading geological oceanographers, credited with the discovery of the first seafloor hydrothermal field in the Atlantic Ocean. His work was featured in the 2003 Imax film “Volcanoes of the Deep.”
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Strandskov knew nothing of this, but he took a Byrne First Year seminar with Rona on careers in oceanography, and said he was hooked.
Harrison, of the Bayville section of Berkeley, and Kaminsky, of Marlboro, said they expected to be studying oceanography from the start, but they did not really expect to be doing it.
“I was surprised that they actually let me, a freshman, work on glider projects,” said Harrison, who also took Rona’s class and, like Strandskov, was working on an ocean observatory almost before she knew the meaning of the term.
Kaminsky took a class with Glenn called “Communicating Ocean Science,” in which Glenn talked about his glider project. Kaminsky, curious, asked for more information.
“By the end of that day, I was starting to work on satellite data,” Kaminsky remembered.
This sequence of events was old news for Rona, who has taught the basic course and a Byrne seminar, “Oceans of Opportunity,” for several years.
He also works with Glenn to recruit enthusiastic students to work in the Coastal Ocean Observation Lab room and the glider lab.
The scientists said they were glad to get Kaminsky, Harrison, Strandskov, Rogalsky and Holden. What they were trying to do had never been done, and they needed all the brains, energy and bodies they could get.
The students worked on different parts of the project at different times, and many of those tasks had never been done before, since no one had ever sent a glider across the ocean. Battery packs had to be built from scratch, and other internal parts configured.
Once the glider was underway, the students helped interpret the data it sent back, plus satellite and high-frequency radar data to make navigation decisions. They were all surprised at how much responsibility they were given. Glenn, his colleagues, and the students often worked as scientists together, asking questions for which they didn’t yet have answers.
“There were a lot of times when Scott just looked at us and said, ‘Well, you guys do it, you guys decide what to do,’” Harrison said.
“There were times when he just gave us the keys and told us to drive.”
Earlier this year, the Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences was named the fourth top oceanographic institution in the world, based on a Reuters survey of paper citations since 2000 and impact on marine sciences.
Visit www.marine.rutgers.edu for more information about the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences.