Working with MBARI and Princteon’s Bob Key has been a highlight of teaching Marine Biology
The central coast of California is legendary for the role its marine biologists have played in elucidating the intricate ecology of the intertidal zone and more recently the depths of the continental shelf and beyond. This section of the North Pacific ocean is especially rich in biodiversity. Beginning with Ed Ricketts work to establish a marine laboratory in Monterey and subsequent publication of his classic, Between Pacific Tides (1939), this region has attracted a great deal of attention and now draws thousands annually. The subtle beauty of the bay, the rich bird life, and the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium and Research Institute (MBARI) make this a very special place.
Where Literature and Biology Collide
Alas, I only know of MBARI by reading Ricketts and his best friend, John Steinbeck, and because of their excellent online resources. Incidentally, Steinbeck’s only nonfiction work chronicled he and Ricketts adventure around the Baja peninsula and into the Gulf of California. It is required reading for VSA’s marine biology class and is entitled, Sea of Cortez (1941).
Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling project
MBARI is dedicated to exploring and educating the public about the ocean environment and in particular Monterey Bay. The institute recently teamed up with scientists at Princeton University’s SOCCOM (pronounced SO-COM) project to facilitate construction, testing, and launch of the latest generation of ocean going data-logging tech. Data loggers sit and collect data passively. In the world’s ocean this includes pH, temperature, depth, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, dissolved oxygen, and more. In order to better understand the cycling of nutrients in the Southern ocean, Princeton scientists, including principal investigator Dr. Bob Key, developed SOCCOM. It stands for Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling project. The newly named Southern Ocean (2000) extends around the continent of Antarctica. It is the only ocean that does not have a true basin. It was formerly considered to be the southernmost extensions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.
VSA is the first online school to apply for and participate in SOCCOM’s Adopt-A-Float program. And we were awarded two floats for our three sections of Marine Biology! The education and outreach component of this program owes its success, in large part, to Dr. Key, Classes from 35 states and 6 different countries have participated in the Adopt-A-Float program since it began in 2015. When I first contacted MBARI in hopes of having VSA’s marine biology classes participate in the program I had little idea of how big a deal SOCCOM was and how much the project would influence our students.
I’ll Make Him an Offer He Can’t Refuse
MBARI and SOCCOM baited the hook well for participating schools: First, we needed to come up with a name and associated etymology for our to-be-adopted float. Between my two sections of marine biology many fantastic names with artwork were put forward. After the final vote we had our winner, the Codfather, named after the 1972 Oscar-winning film directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Marlin Brando. Well played, Gavin Daly. Dr. Paula Gossard’s class named their float, Mesosaurus.
The goals of the Codfather and Mesosaurus floats are to take consistent detailed measurements of a part of the world’s ocean where little is known. Scientists are still trying to understand how carbon and nitrogen cycles operate in the Southern Ocean. Questions they are asking include, how do these cycles interact with currents to drive populations of marine organisms? How do increases in atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide influence the carbon cycle in this part of the world?
Each of these floats continually collects data at varied depths and periodically uploads it to SOCOOM headquarters via satellite. Each float represents a node in a complex system that is just beginning to crystallize scientists’ understanding of the Southern Ocean’s role in the world’s climate.
A Special Visit and Hearing Back from the Codfather
Both Dr. Gossard and I were quite pleased to find out during quarter two that Dr. Bob Key himself wanted to arrange a time to present SOCCOM to each of our sections of VSA marine biology. Bob gave an hour-long presentations to all sixty-some VSA marine biology students! He drew us in with tales of life aboard the icebreaker R/V Nathaniel Palmer and their timely appointment with Russian scientists at the bottom of the world. During this particular tour the American crew gave their counterparts tons of food that day and medical supplies, saving them a great deal of suffering. He showed us what a day in the life of a marine scientist was like at sea. And he presented us with a view of science that was all at once both heroic and humble.
Dr. Gossard had the following to say following the in class presentations. “We enjoyed our session with Dr. Key immensely! He is a warm, engaging man with many gripping “sea stories.” My students were enchanted and even stayed after class for about 20 minutes just to keep talking with him!”
We are happy to report that the Codfather and Mesosaurus are out in the Southern Ocean doing their job and they should be for about five more years. In the good Lord’s providence perhaps a fish or two will read the floats and consider joining our school.
To learn more about SOCCOM and these remarkable floats follow their journey at https://www.icyinverts.com/shipboard-blog and https://soccom.princeton.edu. SOCCOM is now part of the larger GO-BGC project.