University of Rhode Island (URI) undergraduates participating on the Research Vessel (R/V) Endeavor's 500th research cruise last month learned about the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) program and particularly the Pioneer Array component of the OOI that will be located off the New England Coast.
Leslie Smith, a URI Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) alumnus and communications intern for the OOI Program at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, joined the team of URI scientists and students for the six-day expedition across the continental shelf, through the Gulf Stream to the Sargasso Sea. Along the way, Smith presented information on the Pioneer Array as the ship traveled near the arrays future location.
"The cruise was a great opportunity to take undergraduates out on a ship and teach them about oceanography and the potential of the OOI to truly transform ocean observation and study," said Smith. "The URI scientists and students on this cruise were extremely excited about the OOI program and the data that it will provide. Computers and the Internet are central to their leaning and their lives. When they found out OOI data will be freely accessible on the Internet you could see the wheels turning on how they would want to use that data."
The OOI will deliver high quality data and data products that will address critical science-driven questions and lead to a better understanding and management of the oceans for a 25-year-plus time period. OOI is a National Science Foundation-funded program planned as a networked infrastructure of science-driven sensor systems to measure the physical, chemical, geological and biological variables in the ocean and seafloor. Through the use of undersea robotics, moorings and more than 800 instruments, the OOI will provide sustained near real time and around-the-clock ocean observation data to anyone with an Internet connection. The OOI program is managed and coordinated by the OOI Project Office at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, in Washington, D.C., which is responsible for construction and initial operations of the OOI network.
The Pioneer Array component of the OOI will be located off the coast of southern New England along the "continental shelf-break," the boundary where coastal waters meet the open ocean. Information gleaned from the Pioneer Array will include sea temperature, winds, wave height and currents. The Array will be comprised of 10 moorings distributed among seven sites, three Autonomous Underwater Vehicles and six gliders.
As the R/V Endeavor neared the future Pioneer Array area, Smith provided a presentation on the background of the Pioneer Array, discussed frontal systems of that area and introduced a unique Instrument Table section of the OOI website designed for the scientific community that details what data products will be delivered from the OOI. The Endeavor remained in the area near where Pioneer Array will be located for a day as the students conducted experiments, Smith noted.
"The students were so excited about the future and the notion that with the OOI they would be able to receive data in these elements, 24-7 and that data will be available online and continuously rather just for a few days or weeks at a time," she added.
During the cruise the team deployed drifters into the Rhode Island Sound to get a better understanding of how water flows by the mouth of Narragansett Bay, through the Sound exiting near Block Island. On the continental shelfbreak they examined full day (diel) cycles of microscopic plants in the water column or phytoplankton. As the ship returned home they traversed the Gulf Stream, measuring its current, looking for meanders and the potential formation of cold core rings. And throughout the cruise the team collected samples to examine persistent organic pollutants in the air and the sea. Further sampling was scheduled for the Sargasso Sea, but rough weather forced the ship to turn back before the sampling could be conducted. Rough seas during this time underscored the challenges that oceanographers often encounter when conducting experiments in the ocean's dynamic environment.
Smith said as a graduate of GSO it was important to her to connect with current students and encourage their commitment to careers in the oceanography and science community and share the word about the OOI.
"It's invigorating to see how passionate these students are about their work and also how committed URI is to fostering careers in this field," she said.
Many of the students and scientists taking part of the cruise agreed it would be a lasting experience for them to carry back into their everyday study and work.
"I think it is very unique to be able to offer undergraduates the opportunity to sail with sea-going oceanographers and it shows what is possible at the University of Rhode Island," said David Smith, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, URI GSO, who led the cruise. "The experience of working at sea is something that you cannot teach in the classroom. I went on my first oceanographic cruise over 20 years ago. I remember it very clearly and it confirmed my choice of careers. I would not be surprised if this cruise has had the same effect on more than one of our undergraduate participants."
Many of the students said they would continue to follow the progress of the OOI program. The undergraduates were from several different ocean related departments at URI: geological oceanography, ocean engineering, marine biology, and marine affairs. None had experience on a large ocean going vessel like the R/V Endeavor.
"This cruise has given me a real hands-on experience and showed me more than I could learn in the classroom," said Adam Arrighi, URI class of 2012.
Pleased that she was able to introduce the OOI program to the URI students on the cruise, Smith said she believes part of the job of a scientist is to conduct research, but the other part is to inspire the next generation of scientists. The students on this cruise, she added, certainly left inspired to excel in their own work.
"I've been sold on Marine Bio since I was a little kid. But this cruise has shifted me a bit towards oceanography, maybe I can find something in the middle," said Crisostomo Gomez, URI Class of 2012.