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To sea for themselves: a group of teens sets sail on a three-week learning adventure.

A group of teens sets sail on a three-week learning adventure.

At three o'clock A.M. a wind suddenly rose on the ocean. Waves slapped the SSV Corwith Cramer. Was a storm brewing? Never fear. At the helm of the vessel, Sarah Foster was prepared.

"Lower the sails!" the 16-year-old ordered a shipmate. It was up to Sarah to use a compass and charts to help steer the boat through rocky waters. "Everyone asleep is depending on you," she says. "You're in complete control."

Sarah, from Midlothian, VA, had never set foot on a ship's deck before taking part in a learning adventure called Science at SEA, sponsored by the nonprofit Sea sponsored by the nonprofit Sea Education Association. The three-week program is open to any student who has tackled two high school science or match classes. Students study on shore for two weeks at SEA's campus in Woods Hole, MA. Then they rig their research ship and head out to sea.


Once afloat, the students' immersion in the complex physical and biological systems of the ocean continues. "It's a mind, body, and soul experience in which a ship becomes a classroom and the ocean the teacher," says SEA spokesperson Kathy Frisbee.

Living on a ship was "strange and challenging," says Sarah. And plenty of work. The teens and ship's crew of scientists rotated four- and six-hour watches, or shifts. During a watch the students might help sail the boat, fix spaghetti in the gallery, or collect scientific data.

At different points, or "stations," during the voyage, for example, Ken Bell collected ocean water samples in bottles to test for temperature and salinity.

"It was really cool," says the 15-year-old from Diamond Bar, CA. Ken learned that the saltier the water, the denser it is. The variations in density and temperature help drive ocean currents far below the surface where no wind blows.

Ken also took chlorophyll samples from the water. Chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants that traps the sun's energy for photosynthesis. Find a lot of chlorophyll and you'll probably find a lot of phytoplankton, the microsopic plants that are the basis of the ocean food chain. So, says Ken, "knowing how much chlorophyll is in the water tells you how many fish0 you can expect to find."

Contrary to what you might guess, the students learned that the water in bays polluted with sewage is often "flooded" with chlorophyll. That may sound great for the hungry fish. But the plants use up so much of the water's oxygen--at night (during respiration) and also when they decay--that no fish can survive. The area becomes a dead zone.


A life zone, however, is what students found when they cast a special net called a neuston tow into the open ocean. Examining their catch under the microscope, the students saw thousands of phytoplankton and zooplankton, tiny animals.

"The ocean may look like one mass of water from a ship's deck or a beach, but it's really like a quilt of endless patches that vary in plant and animal life," says Tim Scott, a staff scientist. Says Science at SEA participant Ken Bell, "I learned new respect for the diversity of ocean life."

And what about respect for the diversity of human life? Was it tough bunking down with two-dozen total strangers? "It was like being in camp," says Mina Kim, 17, from Yardley, PA. "It's hard to keep out of everybody's way."

But the experience helped Mina grow as a person. "You're part of a team and you can't let everyone down," she says. "I'm more responsible now."

Mina also gained a new sense of awe for the ocean. "Watching the waves, the sunrise, the sunset, and the stars makes you feel like everything is connected."

Sarah Foster agrees. "I felt so far from home and everything I knew. But I felt like I'd had an incredible experience. The sea was less mysterious, and more of a friend."
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Title Annotation:Special Earth Day Action Issue: Make Waves; learning about the ocean
Author:Bregman, Mark
Publication:Science World
Date:Apr 15, 1994
Previous Article:Sending out an S.O.S.
Next Article:Sea's got the power.

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