Classroom at Sea

A USF Marine Science professor shares information on the expedition with USF students and the world via Skype.

Professor Teresa Greely uses Skype to show her students the JOIDES Resolution, the research vessel she has been living on for the past four weeks. Photo by Vickie Chachere | USF News.


By Vickie Chachere

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (April 6, 2012) – It is not every day that the view from class is a deep blue Caribbean sea and misty volcanic mountains in the distance. Nor does your professor normally have to shout over the hum of engines and the whooshing of a brisk sea breeze, the 470-foot vessel beneath her feet swaying just enough to induce the slightest feeling of sea sickness.

But for University of South Florida Marine Science Professor Teresa Greely, the exotic setting and the expansive research vessel the JOIDES Resolution has been her classroom for the past four weeks, and the international scientific effort a living lesson for classrooms around the world via the magic of Skype.

The JOIDES Resolution is on six-week scientific journey through the Lesser Antilles with an international team of scientists and crew members from 15 nations. They are exploring the volcanic processes along the island arc of the Lesser Antilles, an area formed by the eastern boundary of the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean that has a history of intense seismic activity, including frequent earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and the occasional tsunami.

The journey is part of the massive Ocean Drilling Program, an international effort funded by the National Science Foundation and 22 nations to study the history of the world’s ocean basins and the earth’s subsea crust. The 10-year program is so extensive some scientists describe it as the oceans version of the Hubble Telescope program.

Greely, a marine biologist who heads up notable education and outreach efforts at the College of Marine Science such as the girl’s oceanography camp, was selected as the expedition’s education officer – a position which has had her teaching college students, public school teachers and scientific groups around the world about the JOIDES Resolution mission and how scientists will examine the geologic, chemical and biological records left below the sea floor hundreds of thousands of years ago.

“I am here as a scientific educator, my job is to translate the science that is happening on board,” Greely explained to a group of USF Honors College students Thursday in a 45-minute Skype session as she introduced to the vessel and explained.

International Research

Because her Skype sessions are being held all over the world, Greely has worked 12 to 16 hours a day teaching groups in France, Guadeloupe, Martinique, the United Kingdom and Germany. Next week she will Skype with South Africa. Thursday she completed the second of three sessions with her students at USF’s Honor College on the Tampa campus, after having conducted a classroom session with students at USF St. Petersburg a day earlier.

Also joining her on the JOIDES Resolution is USF doctoral candidate Michael Martinez, a biological oceanographer, who is serving as a member of the scientific crew, and has pitched in on the Skype educational segments. Additionally, the entire JOIDES scientific crew has joined in on the social media effort by blogging and through Facebook, allowing thousands to follow along on their journey.

Greely has used a small camera to take groups on a tour of the vessel, with its massive drilling capabilities that pull up long cores of ancient sediments from beneath the sea floor to undergo analysis. With as the eons have passed, the seismic activity has deposited layers of material on top of each other. Scientists can analyze chemical and biological markers to understand how the Earth’s activity changed over the years and altered the environment.

“It is nice to be able to 'see' the students in the class via Skype and hearing their response to the different visuals from the vessel,” Greely said. “This is not your typical classroom and it is wonderful to have USF students experience this at sea learning.”

The JOIDES Resolution is drilling at several sites near Montserrat, home of the Soufrière Hills volcano, which has been erupting continuously since 1995, sending much of the resultant ash and volcanic material into the ocean.  Later to moving toward a site off Martinique, the scientists are investigating underwater traces of pyroclastic flows – fast-moving, deadly mixtures of gases and rock debris –from Martinique’s infamous Mt. Pelée, whose 1902 eruption killed 30,000 people and devastated entire towns. The event remains one of the deadliest volcanic disasters of the 20th century.

Thursday, Greely explained to USF students how 70 percent of the materials that erupt from a volcano end up on the sea floor, making the geological record an unparalleled window on the past. Erik Moortgat, a Marine Lab Specialist on the JOIDES Resolution, showed the students one of the sediment cores and explained the techniques for extracting scientific information and data from the sample.

 Walking through the vessel on Thursday amid brisk winds at sea, Greely struggled to keep the camera steady as she moved across the vast deck. “It’s like you’re on the vessel with me!” she quipped, even though she couldn’t have seen the USF students looking away to avoid the dizzying image.

The journey just isn’t an education for students and elementary and middle school teachers – Greely has held sessions for teachers in Massachusetts, California and North Carolina in addition to Tampa Bay area schools - but for Greely herself. Remarking on the international diversity of the JOIDES community, Greely said she is learning Hindi, Japanese and French from her fellow scientists and ship crew members.

“It’s personally been very exciting for me to work with scientists from around the world and learn about other cultures from around the world,” she told the USF students.

Matthew Wright and Sharon Cooper of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership Contributed to this report.

To read Teresa Greely’s blog Adventures at Sea, click here.

To read the JOIDES Resolution blog, click here.

To see the JOIDES Resolution Facebook page, click here.