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20,000 leagues out to sea

With ongoing trends of overfishing and pollution in oceans, the interdisciplinary subject of oceanography and other marine sciences are gaining popularity and importance in current scientific research around the world.

Anyone interested in participating on a research cruise or learning more about the oceanography major should contact the School of Oceanography. Options for non-majors include looking up ships' schedules and contacting the lead professor to see if there is space available on a particular cruise.


"If this particular research and education cruise is booked full, don't be discouraged. There are more such trips planned ... You can find our ships' schedules on our Web site."


Daniel S. Schwartz

School of Oceanography

"Oceanography is a young science," said Daniel S. Schwartz, manager of marine operations at the School of Oceanography. "[The] oceans play a critical role in our climate."

The UW contributes heavily to these fields with two world-class research vessels: the Thomas G. Thompson and the Clifford A. Barnes. Both are part of the University of National Oceanographic Laboratory System's (UNOLS) research fleet.

The larger of the two is the Thomas G. Thompson at 274 feet, with enough space and resources to accommodate 22 crewmembers and up to 37 scientists, students and technicians. It is owned by the U.S Navy and operated by the UW's School of Oceanography.

With its ability to manufacture up to 8,000 gallons of fresh water a day, store about 45 days worth of food, generate power and communicate through navigational equipment, the ship is a "miniature city," Schwartz said. The ship also contains several labs where scientists and students can conduct experiments.

"I had such a great time deploying the phytoplankton and zooplankton nets over the side, catching the samples and then spending all night, literally, looking at them," said Colleen Evans, a marine microbiology graduate student. "I was amazed to see what was down there."

The Thompson can spend up to 300 days a year constantly in motion, traveling to all parts of the world to conduct field research. As the third-largest ship of the UNOLS Research Fleet, it coordinates with other universities around the world. This allows UW students the opportunity to travel all along the West Coast to Hawaii, Alaska and even the Galapagos Islands.

"Pacific Northwest seas are one of the most teeming with life areas," said Schwartz. "[It's] a fascinating place to work and study."

The School of Oceanography is the oldest oceanography program in the nation and the only national program offering all levels of degrees (BA, BS, MS, and Ph.D.). It is also one of the few programs that offers the guarantee that all oceanography students will be able to take trips to conduct fieldwork and sets asides at least 45 days a year for educational research cruises. The research vessel also takes K-12 teachers aboard on trips.

"This is a point of pride," Schwartz said. "It moves classrooms out to sea ... [students can] actually participate [in] real time."

Last year, from September through October, the Thompson broadcast the first high-definition, real time recording of underwater volcanoes in the Juan de Fuca Ridge in the Pacific Ocean.

Equipped with remotely operated vehicles and high-definition cameras, the crew was able to study hydrothermal vents and determine any changes from previous observations.

The Thompson is "very versatile," said Deborah Glickson, a marine geology and geophysics graduate student. The ship can carry a great deal of equipment and has the ability to accommodate the varying fields in oceanography (marine biology, marine geology, marine chemistry and physical oceanography). While aboard the ship's Visions 2005 mission, Glickson studied the thermal vents.

"[It's an] educational platform for students," she said. "You get to see things most people don't."

In the spring, the Thompson will head off the West Coast, to Alaska in the summer and California at the end of the year.

Evans, who boarded the Thompson for her first research trip, said the ship is extremely useful for undergraduates interested in oceanography.

"I never knew what [being] an oceanographer was like until that cruise when I got the taste of it," she said. "I loved being out on the water on the Thompson and I really loved sampling and looking at all the creatures in Puget Sound. The week after that cruise on the Thompson, I switched my major to oceanography."

Reach reporter Doris Wu at features@thedaily.washington.edu.

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