Oceanographic Experience Across the Pond

University of Oxford, CTD instrument

Last month a group of students from the University of Oxford visited BIOS as part of their senior year studies in the school’s Earth Science program. During their weeklong visit they had the opportunity to participate in a research cruise aboard the R/V Atlantic Explorer where they learned how to deploy the ship’s CTD instrument (shown here) to collect ocean profiles for long-term oceanographic and climate studies.

For the last nine years, students in the Earth Science program at the University of Oxford in England have visited BIOS to gain first-hand knowledge of coastal and deep-water oceanography, as well as the unique geology of Bermuda.

In September, a group of twelve students—led by Heather Bouman, associate professor of marine biogeochemistry; Helen Johnson, associate professor of physical oceanography; and Hugh Jenkyns, senior research fellow and professor of stratigraphy—spent a week at the Institute as part of their senior year studies, which also include seminar courses and independent research projects.

Bouman, who taught a course at BIOS as part of the Nippon Foundation-POGO Centre of Excellence in 2010, says the research station gives her students meaningful interactions with the open ocean—something they have limited interaction with during the first three years of their degree program.

On a day-and-a-half cruise aboard the Institute’s research vessel Atlantic Explorer, which took place just before Hurricane Humberto impacted the island, the Oxford students worked together to deploy the ship’s onboard CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) instrument. They also learned how scientists use long-term oceanographic data sets, such as those collected at the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) site and Hydrostation ‘S,” two deep-water research moorings located off the coast of Bermuda.

“Going to sea on the Atlantic Explorer is a brilliant way of getting students out into the field to do proper oceanography,” Bouman said. “It’s really special to be able to go out to Hydrostation ‘S’ because the students collect open-ocean physical, chemical and biological data, learn how it fits into the big picture, and see how important time-series are to understanding change in the ocean.”

Ella Penny, a fourth-year student looking to go into management consultancy, echoed her professor’s views. “It was particularly exciting being able to see all the aspects of oceanography that we study at university being measured in real life,” she said. “We couldn’t have imagined a more fulfilling trip!”

During their time in Bermuda, the group ventured out on one of BIOS’s smaller research vessels into Harrington Sound, where they collected water and sediment samples to compare with those collected from previous years’ trips. The students also visited the island’s caves, quarries, and limestone outcrops to see how past sea level change has been captured in geological records, such as the stalactites and stalagmites found in Crystal Cave.

In fact, much of what the students learn about Bermuda’s geology comes from Jenkyns, who first visited the island in 1973 to attend a course at BIOS, then known as the Bermuda Biological Station for Research, on the sedimentology of shallow-water subtropical carbonate environments. His experience mirrored that of his current students in many ways, with field trips exploring Bermuda’s coral reefs, inland waters, and geological structures. Clearly it made an impact, as Jenkyns continues to share his passion for teaching and learning about geology—including his specialty in paleoceanography and paleoclimatology, or the study of the history of oceans and climate in the geologic past—with his students.