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Diving into oceanography: a world beneath the waves

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Moofushi Kandu FIsh

Diving into oceanography: a world beneath the waves

Over the weekend of 5-6 March 2016, a keen group of divers and marine enthusiasts from around the UK (including as far away as Plymouth!) converged on Norwich for the second ‘Introduction to Oceanography for Divers Course’ at the University of East Anglia. After the success of the inaugural course in 2015, there was a lot to live up to, and thanks to Carol’s flawless organisation and expert contributions from UEA, Cefas, BAS and SAHFOS, this year didn’t disappoint!

After a timely arrival by all (apparently divers are notoriously good timekeepers – missing a tide means missing a dive!) the morning got off to a historical start with a jaunt through the development of oceanography. Carol took us all the way back to the 4th century BC when Aristotle, the ‘father of oceanography’ made the first known observations of marine life, and we were brought up to date with Rob teaching us how innovations in the most modern marine technology, such as gliders, are used to gather physical oceanography data that may otherwise be difficult (or impossible) to obtain. Continuing in the scientific vein, other lectures introduced students to the importance of the oceans and its biology in regulating climate, the complex chemistry going on beneath the waves, and the delicate interplay between a changing ocean and the diverse ecosystems that live within.

Students weren’t confined to the classroom all weekend, however, and, over the two days, eight laboratory demonstrations allowed participants to get their hands dirty and put theory into practice. Dave Pearce illustrated how Cefas uses a network of buoys to collect tidal data used in forecasting, whilst Dave Sivyer demonstrated the collection of chemical oceanography data using CTDs, to help monitor the health of the UK’s seas. Other practicals involved seeing how Rob controls gliders, often as far away as the Southern Ocean, from the comfort of his office; Ollie used colourful chemistry, a tank and a miniature polar bear to demonstrate ocean circulation and acidification; and Cansu, Clare, Katrin and Cecilia untangled the trophic web, taking students from bacteria, to phytoplankton, all the way up to Antarctic krill. Julian completed the picture, with a hands-on demo of the types of tagging equipment Cefas uses to monitor fish to consistently improve our understanding of their ecology and how to manage fish resources for the future.

Of particular interest to the group were lectures on scientific diving (including in the world’s coldest, most inhospitable waters around Antarctica!); waves, tides and currents; and the range of ‘citizen science’ that individuals, amateurs and enthusiasts can get involved in, with little (or sometimes even no) training. See, for example, Kieron Hyder’s ‘Dive into Science’ programme. Simon Jennings’ reflections on human impact, policies and motivations for conservation gave us all pause for thought, prompting us to consider the many and varied ways we interact with the seas. We were also truly globally interconnected this year, with Simon Morley from BAS videoing in before flying home from his season at the Antarctic base of Rothera, hosting a dynamic lecture and Q&A session on polar biology and oceanography.

As the weekend drew to a close, it became clear that not only had the students come away with new knowledge, motivations, and enthusiasm for the oceans, so had the lecturers! Bonds had been formed and new friends made, and already there is talk of organising next year’s course! Thank you to everyone that helped organise and run the course, but most importantly, thanks to the students, whose enthusiasm and insightful questions made teaching it so fun and inspiring.

Posted by on Mon, 30 Oct 2017

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