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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Early-career oceanographers learn to be chief scientists aboard URI ship Endeavor

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

Weeklong trip departs Bay Campus dock Oct. 22

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. – October 17, 2013 – Fourteen graduate students and early-career oceanographers from around the country will travel to the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography this weekend to participate in a workshop and weeklong expedition aboard URI’s research ship Endeavor as part of an effort to train them to become chief scientists.

It is the fourth training cruise in the last three years and the first on the East Coast funded by the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research. The training program is coordinated by the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), which schedules and deploys the nation’s fleet of 19 research vessels. UNOLS is based at URI’s Narragansett Bay Campus.

“The Endeavor was selected because it’s a good-sized, multi-purpose vessel that allows us to have a science party of 16, but it’s not so big that it’s unmanageable for young scientists,” said Clare Reimers, professor of oceanography at Oregon State University and leader of the project. “It will enable us to have a multidisciplinary research program onboard and expose early career investigators to a wide variety of operations and opportunities for collaboration.”

The training cruise and workshop are designed to help younger scientists understand the process of requesting ship time and the complicated logistics involved in planning an expedition, ensuring proper equipment is aboard, allocating space for scientists, and numerous other details necessary to make a research cruise run smoothly.

“The oceanography community needs to train not only the next generation of sea-going scientists, but also the next generation of those who will step up and take charge to organize cruises,” said David Smith, associate dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography. “That’s what this program is all about.”

Dreux Chappell, a recent post-doctoral researcher at URI, is one of the 14 trainees. She has already participated in several research cruises during her career, but while she has thought about the logistics involved in planning an expedition, she's never been in charge of an entire science team.

“There are so many things to keep in mind,” she said. “Like, how much time does it take to get from one place to another; how many pieces of equipment will be deployed over the side of the ship and in what order; what size vessel do you need to do the work you need to do; and will the winch on that ship hold the equipment you need it to hold? I’ve never been the one making those decisions before.”

In addition to teaching young oceanographers how to be chief scientists, the participants are also expected to carry out scientific research.

Dave Ullman, a marine research scientist at GSO, will participate in the cruise and serve as mentor to the trainees, along with Reimers.

“Everyone on the cruise has their own mini-projects they need to accomplish, and I’ll be lending a hand wherever I can to help people with whatever issues they may have,” he said. Daily group meetings will address questions, concerns and safety issues.

“Early career scientists often find it challenging to get access to research vessels, and sometimes on their first cruise they have to serve as chief scientist,” said Annette DeSilva, assistant executive secretary of UNOLS. “There is a lot of responsibility that comes with being chief scientist, so this cruise gives them hands-on practice that will help them for the rest of their career.”