Last week, I was teaching kindergarteners about animals using puppets, touch pools, and a smile so wide it hurts. This week, I’ve moved over to a world filled with robots, alien species, and pressures that defy comprehension at the bottom of the earth. Funnily enough, I’ve still got that smile plastered across my face. So what’s changed?
At my day job, I’m a teacher on staff at the Vancouver Aquarium. I’m still teaching, but now the classroom has changed to the deck of the R/V Thompson, a research ship sailing out into the Pacific Ocean through a partnership with Ocean Networks Canada. For the next month, I will be writing, Tweeting, and teleconferencing with people all over the place about the mind-boggling research being conducted in our oceans, just a few hundred kilometers west of Vancouver Island.
Ocean Networks Canada runs a deep water observatory called NEPTUNE that has continuous data from many different deep water sites. The observatory is hundreds of kilometers long, connected by fiber optic cables from shore to the depths of the ocean. Along the line, there are sites that have a “node,” which is like a power bar for scientists to plug in their observation instruments. The instruments then constantly send data back along the wire, enabling rivers of information to flow back from the bottom of the ocean.
We will be laying cables to connect all of the instruments together with the help of some exploratory remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), as well as sending down new instruments and maintaining the current batch of instruments, which have had to deal with some otherworldly-like conditions. Water pressures are intense down deep, and light doesn’t penetrate that far. Some observatory sites are frigidly cold, and a few select areas are superheated by hydrothermal vents. We’ll be looking at sites almost 2 ½ kilometers deep and hundreds of kilometers away from shore, such as the Endeavor Ridge site on the map below.
We are on the search for many things, including odd sea creatures, information on what happens when continents collide, and more importantly, how seasick I can really get.
We’re off on an adventure, exploring one of the last great unknown frontiers on Earth: our own oceans.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop grinning.
Okay, maybe long enough to be seasick.
Written by Colin Young, coordinator of curriculum programs at the Vancouver Aquarium