Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Erin Hunter's Internship, Spring 2012 - Part 1

Erin Hunter is a graduate student at the University of West Florida and is currently participating in a 3-week internship on the NOAA Okeanos Explorer research vessel.

About Erin Hunter's Internship Experience

The boundary between physical science and biological science from ecosytsem effects to molecular effects has encompassed the large part of my education. After studying at the University of Texas at Austin and receiving a B.S. in Biology:Ecology, evolution and conservation degree with a marine specialty from UT Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, my studies have continued at the graduate level under Dr. Wade Jeffrey from the University of West Florida, Center for Environmental Diagnostic and Bioremediation department. Currently, research on environmental stressors like ultraviolet radiation and temperature change on microbial communities with analysis at the genetic level defines my thesis work. This includes phylogenetic identification of the bacterioplankton populations under different levels and types of stress. Implications of research in microbial ecology can reach from environmental systemic impacts to human impacts. This internship on the NOAA Okeanos Explorer, using multi-beam sonar mapping to gather bathymetric data, is a new avenue into the physical science of Oceanography and represents a human drive to discover and examine all of Earth's processes.

On the bridge of the NOAA Okeanos Explorer.

Week 1: Background

Recently, a third grade class was asked how much of the world's ocean has been explored. The correct answer was not readily acquired because it was unfathomable to these children, literally living on the Gulf Coast, to imagine that 95% of the oceans are yet to be explored.
To help fill this void, in 2008, the NOAA Okeanos Explorer was commissioned as the only federal vessel dedicated solely to ocean exploration and discovery. This 224 ft vessel, with officers and crew of approximately 27 and up to 19 mission personnel, travels the globe mapping the seafloor with numerous scientific and technological tools.

The bow of the Okeanos.

On the Okeanos Explorer, new seafloor characteristics and potential targets for exploration are identified using a high-resolution multibeam sonar with water column capabilities. A permanently housed deep water remote operating vehicle (ROV) allows dives on target sites of interest shortly after mapping. Another feature of the Okeanos is the ability to live stream ROV dives and other communications to scientists, educators and the general public.

The 2012 Gulf of Mexico mission has been a successful venture with three legs already completed. Among other exploration, there was a ROV dive on a discovered shipwreck, a dive examining deep water coral habitats and a mapping mission on the DeSoto Canyon south of Pensacola, FL. We are currently mapping two more sites, Green Canyon and the Mississippi Canyon before heading out into the Atlantic to map the Blake Ridge. Check out the mapping, dives and mission logs for photos and complete information.

Personal Log for Week 1

Sunset off the bridge of the Okeanos.
We have all been assigned our cabins, room mates and shift times. I am watchstanding on the 8am-noon and 8pm-midnight shifts. In spare time, we eat a lot (the food is very good), watch movies, read, work on projects, go to the exercise room, do laundry or sit out on deck oh and I almost forgot sleep. The seas have been mostly calm at 1-2 feet for several days now. There are supposed to be higher seas by Friday. Learning the computer systems and programs has been my focus but I am happy to say I can make a google ready image from sonar pings from under our ship to imagery. Next log I will explain this process in a little more detail. Good night.

Post Author:
Erin Hunter

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