Exploring the deep frontier
The expedition, Extreme 2004: Exploring the Deep Frontier, and a concurrent virtual voyage for middle and high school students, is being held from Nov. 30 to Dec. 20 under the leadership of Craig Cary, a UD associate professor of marine biology and biochemistry and director of the Center for Marine Genomics.
UD researchers will be aboard the research vessel Atlantis and will make use of the submersible explorer Alvin to study hydrothermal vent sites and the unusual creatures that inhabit them, including the Pompeii worm, the vent crab and various bacteria. These creatures live at the extreme, with very high temperatures close to the vents and very low temperatures in the seawater surrounding them.
This year, we will focus on introducing students to the concepts of environmental biocomplexity and genomics, Cary said. We will be employing new scientific tools borrowed from the human genome project to investigate how these organisms survive such hostile conditions.
Specifically, he said the scientists will study the bacteria that live on the worms and how these bacteria respond to the harsh environment.
Countries represented this year include Canada, Iran, Mexico, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan. Additionally, Bryant said a companion program is being hosted in Austria this year, using UD resource materials translated into German.
Students will be able to follow the expedition on a UD-maintained web site and communicate with the researchers via e-mail and telephone calls placed directly to Alvin as it makes its way deep into the Pacific. The web site can be found at [www.ocean.udel.edu/extreme2004].
Participating teachers and students have been provided a printed curriculum, a video documentary and evaluation materials, Bryant said, and classes from 48 schools will be provided an opportunity to place a call to the Alvin.
Cary said the telephone calls are among his favorite parts of the expeditions. Every phone call to the deep is an emotional experience, he said. Just hearing those enthusiastic voices so far away makes it all worthwhile.
It is like having this second critical and enthusiastic audience cheering you on while at the same time wanting to understand every step and why it is being taken, he said. It is a challenge to make sure that we explain everything so that they can follow what we are doing. This will be particularly challenging this year with our genomics emphasis.
Cary added that having an international audience is also a bit scary because our intent is to not only show them all of our successes but our failures as well. That is what science is all about, what makes it challenging and yet so rewarding. Two years ago, he said, the expedition lost a key piece of equipment on the ocean floor.
Cary said he hopes the students who are involved gain an appreciation for what science is all about and that it is a multifaceted discipline that brings together all types of people and fields to work toward solving common questions of interest.
The 2001 expedition marked the first time DNA sequencing had been accomplished at sea, and, during the 2002 expedition, a middle school teacher joined scientists and crew aboard the Alvin to explore the ocean depths. In 2003, a number of new scientific sampling instruments and methods were tested, which will be used in this years major genomics study of the Pompeii worm.
Extreme 2004: Exploring the Deep Frontier is sponsored by the University of Delaware College of Marine Studies with primary funding from the National Science Foundation. Additional support has been provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations National Sea Grant College Program and WHYY-TV, the Public Broadcasting System affiliate serving Wilmington and Philadelphia, and the University of Waikato in New Zealand.
In addition to the University of Waikato, other institutions participating in the 2004 expedition are the Desert Research Institute, Harvard University, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the University of Greifswald in Germany, the University of Vienna, the University of Oregon and the University of Southern California.
The shipboard education coordinators will be League and Karen Romano Young, a writer, illustrator and educator.
Cary has high hopes for the future of the Extreme expeditions. I hope we can continue to run this program each year for all those young budding scientists to experience, he said. I hope that through additional support we will be able to expand the program to include other interesting habitats, such as Antarctica, coral reefs and kelp forests, in our virtual field trip program so that teachers can pick and choose one or more to include in their class.
Article by Neil Thomas
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