February 13, 2012 Thoughts on My PolarTREC Experience - A Reflection
Nearly two months have passed since I walked down the gangway of the United States Coast Guard Cutter Healy for the final time. Getting home the week of Christmas ensured there was plenty to do and last minute preparations to be made. Celebrating the holidays and the New Year, returning to the classroom and resuming my coaching duties made the past two months fly by. It is only now that I have time to put my reflections into writing.
Having the opportunity to participate in an authentic research experience on the United States Coast Guards' ONLY operational icebreaker while working with world reknowned scientists has been the pinnacle of my professional career. The fact that this was the first ever winter expedition into the Arctic waters made the voyage that much more special. Knowing that only a handful of people have witnessed the things I was able to experience is amazing and I am truly thankful for the opportunity.
There were several things about this experience that are noteworthy. This was the first time I had ever participated in a long-term authentic research experience. Being trained as a K-12 teacher, that is an experience that is lacking in formal pedagogy. I teach my students about science every day...now I can truly say I understand how to apply the scientific method to an authentic set of research questions and become engaged in the quest to answer those questions. I have a better understanding of science because I spent 6 weeks with scientists and researchers on a one of a kind research expedition. We encounted problems, things broke, we had to make modifications and roll with the hand that was dealt. This is so much different than a high school classroom. In school, when students conduct an “experiment”, everyone begins with the same set of materials, works the same process and finishes with the “right” answer. That is NOT like real science!! Real science is a process...a search for answers..a quest for knowledge! I will emphasize this definition of science every year for the rest of my career.
I learned not only science processes, but also science content. I truly understand the niche that copepods and krill have on the Arctic ecosystem and the importance of collecting data on their winter behaviors. Learning to use science equipment, microscopes, key out organisms and ask questions furthered my undertanding of biological oceanograpy. This data will be extremely useful in determining the impact of global climate change on the Arctic ecosystem.
This was my first experience in the Arctic Circle...I am so lucky that this experience took place in the winter – one of the coldest, darkest, harshest places you could be in December! In fact, we experienced the storm of a century in the Bering Sea in November! Words can not adequately explain the place the Arctic has found in my heart and soul. I will forever remember the way the sun looked, low on the horizon, when the sunrise seemed to last forever, or the words written on the “Board of Lies”; “According to the MapSurfer, there will be no sunrise or sunset today”. Doing net tows in the Chukchi Sea when it was so cold our eyelashes became heavy with ice crystals and seeing the Farenheit and Celsius scale match at -40 are unique experiences I will share with others for the rest of my life.
I will love the Healy for the rest of my days...the Healy is a remarkable ship, with a hard-working crew led by an amazing team of officers. The Healy was my home away from home. For 6 weeks, I lived, worked and played aboard this 480 foot city at sea. I could not have asked for a more accomodating crew. Our cabins were spacious with all of the comforts of home...okay, no bathtub and the showers were a bit small, but other than that...just like home. The galley and Food Service staff was amazing. The food selection and preparation was better than I expected. The Healy has a first class galley! Morale night actvities with the crew – who took us in unconditionally – provided a break from the science activities. Internet service and satellite phones provided the connection to home even though we were thousands of miles away. The gym facilities were phenomenal...I enjoyed working out every night after our science operations were completed.
The science team; Dr. Ashjian, Dr. Campbell, Dr. Okkonen, Joel, Celia, Donna, Phil and my roomate Kristina, will be a part of this experience in my memory always. They took me in, made me a part of their team, taught me science skills necessary for my job and helped me become the link between the onboard science and my students and the general public. I cannot thank them enough for everything they taught me over these very special 6 weeks.
I began this quest in hopes to better understand the unique ecosystem of the Arctic. While I do have a much better understanding of the Arctic than I began with, there are still unanswered questions...questions whose answers have not been found. Questions that researchers and scientists will investiagte for years to come. As I said before, the Arctic has found a special place in my heart and soul...I will share this experience with others for the rest of my life. A special thank you to the PolarTREC program, the National Science Foundation, my researchers, the crew of the USCG Healy and my family and students for making this experience possible.
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