San Diego, CA
While most of the life in the ocean lives in relatively shallow water, sometimes we need to dive deeper to gather data for the projects that we work on. And sometimes we’re not always interested in the life in the ocean, but rather some of the more physical aspects. While SCUBA diving is a great tool for gathering data, sometimes it’s better not to put divers in the water. Over the last several years, the use of Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) have become vital for studying physical and biological patterns in the ocean. Tethered to a boat and operated by a “pilot”, scientists can “fly” ROVs from shallow waters down to the deepest depths; equipped with all sorts of cameras sensors and instruments, these “robots” have allowed us to explore the ocean safely and efficiently. One of the most famous ROV discoveries was that of the wreck of the Titanic by Dr. Bob Ballard in 1998.
So, you might be asking yourself, “why is a self-proclaimed algae nerd talking about ROVs?” Well, I am incredibly excited to introduce Project Pegasus. Along with four incredibly talented high school student-interns from La Jolla, San Diego, I will be building the Edwards Lab’s very own ROV! With the help of the Edwards Lab, we were able to purchase our very own OpenROV v2.8 kit, which is essentially a DIY ROV kit. While the concept of a DIY ROV kit is pretty outstandingly novel, one of the coolest aspects of OpenROV is the international community of ROV users. Folks have built and modified these little robots for use in lakes, underwater caves and in oceans around the world. And now we have our very own!
As I mentioned above, the team consists of four determined high school students from the Windansea Surf Club in La Jolla. These committed ocean-enthusiasts proved their mettle when they mapped their local reef with the use of a fish-finder and a couple of kayaks in 2015. Now we’re hoping to really step things up with Project Pegasus; we’ve already got some exciting projects in the works. As part of this internship, the team members are each responsible for drafting grant proposals centered around ROV-related projects. I’m really proud of the team’s creativity, so be sure to check back in for updates as we move forward
However, we’re just getting started with the actually construction of our ROV. The team and I learned a lot about acrylic and solvent welding. For example, you don’t technically glue acrylic, you use a solvent to weld pieces together. Along the way my interns and I will be learning how to solder, work with circuit boards, and trouble-shoot any and all issues related to the construction and deployment of an ROV. And the clock is already ticking! We’ve got just a few short months before the Edwards Lab takes off for our last Aleutians cruise, and we’ve already got big plans for little Pegasus.
Be sure to check back in as we work through the build-phase of Project Pegasus. And check out our OpenExplorer page for more exciting updates!
Keep on exploring!
-Baron von Urchin
San Diego, Ca
As a graduate student, and an early career scientist, I get a lot of questions about the things I do, the places my work takes me, and the importance of science. Over the last several years I’ve been asked questions like: “So you’re a marine biologist, do you just play with dolphins all day?”, “Why is the ocean so cold?”, “Is it safe to eat fish after Fukushima?”, “Why should I care about algae? They’re not even interesting!” and most alarmingly, “Is climate change real?”.
While all of these questions are answerable (No; because of heat transfer; yes Fukushima likely didn’t affect fisheries in the Eastern Pacific, but also no, it depends on the species; algae are always interesting! Oh let me count the ways; YES, "unequivocally" yes), the bigger issue is that the answers to these questions (and many more) are not shared with the general public in a clear and understandable way. Many aspects/functions/species/trophic interactions/ecosystem dynamics in the ocean are still mysterious to marine scientists, but that doesn’t mean that the answers we already have need to remain a mystery to non-science folks.
The relatively new field of “science communication” aims to bring the work that scientists do to the general public (and policy makers). When done effectively, the mysterious become clear, the inapproachable becomes tangible. You’ve probably seen nature documentaries, or heard about recent works in newsbreaks. That’s all a great start, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Recently, my lab mate, PhD candidate Melissa Ward, hosted a SciComm seminar/workshop at the Coastal and Marine Institute in San Diego. I’m still digesting all of the great resources Mel shared with us. But, I think, the biggest messages from the meeting is that the scientific community and the general public need to actively breakdown the barriers that keep our “worlds” separated. What I mean by that is, as I’ve said before, even though we’re over worked and underpaid, scientists need to work on coming down from their “ivory towers” as much as non-scientists need to feel like we are approachable members of society.
Not all of us in the scientific community want to be active communicators, and that’s OK. However, you never know when you’ll find yourself in a position to communicate the work done in your field, or even the details of your research to a member of the general public. Have you ever been sitting on an airplane, or standing in an elevator, when someone asks you, “So, what do you do?”. You’ve got a very limited amount of time to relate your passions and pitfalls, and the nuances of your work before the other person either gets lost or looses interest, or both!
So, I encourage all of you actively working in academia and in research, to take some time to think about your field, and the significance of your work. Even if you’re not actively engaging in SciComm, chances are you’ll have to relate your work in “layman’s” terms at least once during your career. Challenge yourself to write about your work using the 1,000 most common words in the English language! And, to those of you who aren’t actively pursuing research or academia, don’t be afraid to ask questions. I can’t speak for all scientists, but most of the folks I know love to talk about the ocean, their research and the natural world with anyone who cares to ask.
Be sure to check back in soon, there are some pretty exciting projects in the works right now!
Baron von Urchin
Disclaimer: This is not a political blog. This space is designated for talking about ecology, research, and a particularly salty lifestyle. However, we live in very, very interesting times.
Regardless of your political affiliations, please call or email your Member of Congress and let them know how vital the services provided by NOAA and SeaGrant are to oceanographic and atmospheric science, early warning systems and coastal economies. If you like eating seafood caught in US waters, or knowing when hurricanes are coming then I strongly urge you to take action.
Check out post by the good folks at Southern Fried Science for more information and a script for your phone call/email.
Keep a weather eye on the horizon!
-Baron von Urchin
Pike Spector is currently a Research Operations Specialist with Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary