University of Delaware
Several undergraduates spent spring break at sea aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp.

Spring break at sea

Undergraduates hop aboard UD's Hugh R. Sharp to assist in research efforts


9:07 a.m., April 17, 2013--Freshman Jeremy Keeler planned to spend a quiet spring break at home, gearing up for the last few weeks of classes.

Instead, he got to hop aboard the University of Delaware’s research ship and spend five days at sea.

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“I definitely jumped at this opportunity,” Keeler said. “I said, ‘I’m not going to pass it up.’”

Keeler and fellow College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment undergraduates John Lodise and David Hitchings accompanied faculty and graduate students on a research cruise investigating the geology and biology of the seafloor about 16 miles off the coast of Rehoboth Beach. They observed sonar runs, sediment sampling and launches of an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) while on the R/V Hugh R. Sharp.

The students weathered choppy waters the first few days before the ocean calmed for the rest of the trip. The experience was their first real exposure to the pace and mechanics of field research, with activity continuous all day and night as they participated in four-hour shifts every eight hours.

“My sleep schedule got a little messed up,” said Lodise, a sophomore majoring in environmental science with a planned concentration in physical ocean science.

Lodise’s shifts started at noon and midnight to help two graduate students conduct sub bottom profiling, a method of mapping the ocean floor using sonar underneath the ship. The work could help identify areas stable enough to anchor wind turbines in potential offshore farms.

The team also used a large metal claw, called a grab sampler, to scoop up sediment from the bottom of the ocean. They sifted through the muck to look for organisms living there, such as sandworms and bloodworms. AUV images collected showed that horseshoe crabs, skates, small sharks and fish also inhabit the area. 

The researchers used multibeam scanning to map the bottom topography of the ocean at the site near Redbird Reef, an artificial reef made from old subway cars to provide habitat for fish and other organisms. The lead scientist, Arthur Trembanis, associate professor of geological sciences and oceanography, is studying how Superstorm Sandy and the northeaster that followed affected the placement and wear of the subway cars. 

Keeler first met Trembanis two years ago at TIDE Camp, a two-week summer camp in Newark and Lewes offered by CEOE for high school students. As part of the camp, the high school students learned about AUVs and built their own for testing in the a pool.

At the time Keeler was leaning toward majoring in biology or chemistry, but the camp broadened his horizons such that he ended up majoring in geology with a focus on marine settings. His time aboard the R/V Sharp further cemented his interests.

“Definitely after the trip, I really, really like it a lot more,” Keeler said.

Hands-on opportunities are part of the undergraduate experience for many CEOE students, whether taking part in horseshoe crab censuses, scuba diving in study abroad programs or helping with lab experiments.

“Like many CEOE students, these students got the opportunity to spend time in the field experiencing marine and environmental science in a hands-on way,” CEOE Assistant Dean Franklin Newton said. “These experiences help students define and refine their goals and research interests by spending time with our faculty and other students. By utilizing state-of-the-art equipment in the field, they begin to have an impact in new discoveries even very early in their academic careers.”

Article by Teresa Messmore

Photos by John Lodise

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