Reaching Out and Pulling Up

Photos from UAB in Antarctica group on Flickr, related to this post
By Chuck
Posted on 05/02/10

Our UAB in Antarctica web site has always been about reaching out to folks at home to share our experiences here. We know that we are exceptionally fortunate to be here and that few people ever have the chance. It is a truly a privilege to be able to share our Antarctic world through these entries. We hope that we inspire some of you to follow in our footsteps here in Antarctica and that we inspire many of you who are students to look to science as a career. It is a great life!

    This past week we had the opportunity to reach out to and interact with many high school students. On Wednesday, we were able to talk live with students at 24 high schools throughout Alabama via two video teleconferences.

    The videoconferences were coordinated by Alabama Public Television (APT) as part of the Alabama ACCESS (Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators, & Students Statewide) network. The Alabama Supercomputer Center played a large role in bringing it all together.

    APT has a web site with a lot of information about the event and a “scavenger hunt” with questions about past posts on our UAB in Antarctica web site. Their website for the videoconferences is at Although it is not online at the time I’m posting this, sometime soon they will have recordings of both 50-minute videoconference sessions available at that site.

    The videoconferences were set up as “virtual field trips.” Since we could not take the teleconference video system out into the field with us, we prerecorded three videos showing our field work.

    The longest of the prerecorded videos showed what our diving operations look like on the surface from the time we put the boat in the water until the time we get back from the dive. Sometime soon I will edit that into a somewhat shorter form and put it up on our YouTube site. The other two videos showed underwater footage of Kate and Ruth diving on one of Kate’s outplant experiments (detailed in her “One alga, two algae, red alga, blue alga…” post) and a narrated version of part of the “Invertebrates at Palmer Station” video that is up on YouTube now.

    Although those videos were part of the 50-minute sessions, most of the time was spent with us taking questions from students in each of the schools and answering them as best as we could. We got great questions from some really bright students. It was a lot of fun for us and from all we have heard back since, it was for the folks at home in Alabama too.

   Until APT has the entire videos of the sessions up on their APT Plus web site (the link included above), we have put video taken from this side of two of the questions and answers on our YouTube site (link below the photos to the right). We also have a couple photos of ourselves getting ready for the session in the Flickr photos on the right.

    These teleconferences took a huge amount of preparation by the folks at APT, ACCESS, the Alabama Supercomputer Center, and the University of Alabama System office. It also took a huge amount of preparation here. Of course our UAB in Antarctica team had a lot to do, but even more, our Information Technology (IT) folks had an immense amount of preparation and testing to do.

    The head of IT in residence at Palmer now is Jeff Otten. You may remember Maggie talking about him in connection with the Skype video sessions we did a few weeks ago with news stations across Alabama. Those Skype sessions were nothing compared to what Jeff had to go through to get all this set up. And particularly in the final phases, he had a lot of help from our station Satellite Communications Technician, Bede McCormick. But Jeff is really the “man of the (two) hour(s)” for getting everything ready.

    All these preparations paid off wonderfully. Although what appears to have been a brief satellite interruption caused a short delay late in the first of our two videoconferences (each conference was set up to go to 12 schools), it all worked out very well.  We had a great time!

    That was not the end of our broader service for the day, though. Every year our project is here on Earth Day, we put on dives to pick up objects which have been lost over the years off the station pier. In several past years we have picked up hundreds of pounds of stuff. Our efforts have paid off and there is not nearly so much junk there anymore, but we can always find something if we hunt hard enough, which we did that same afternoon.

    After finishing with the videoconference, we started getting prepared for the afternoon Earth Day dives. If you are thinking “wasn’t Earth Day the week before last?” the answer to your question is “yes”. But the ship was at the pier most of that week so we couldn’t do the dives there. Shouldn’t every day be Earth Day? 8^)

    For the dives, our USF colleague Jason dove with Kate while Maggie and Ruth dove together. I put on my drysuit to help them into and out of the water off the pier and our USF colleague Alan helped as a dive tender too. 

    Each of the dive teams went in with a large collecting bag to fill with junk they found. At three places around the pier, we had ropes going to the bottom with empty collecting bags attached. When the dive team had filled their bag, they dragged it across the bottom to one of the ropes. They took the empty bag off the rope and put the full one on. Then they yanked on the rope to let folks on the surface know that there was a bag of junk there.

    We had lots of folks from the station out on the pier to help pull up the bags. A photo of the group and the (fortunately small) amount of junk that was there for us to retrieve is on the right. So it truly was a station-wide effort to help clean up our home.  Even beneath the surface of the sea that no one but divers ever sees.




  1. Re: Reaching Out and Pulling Up
    Posted by Terri Schoenrock on 05/03/10

    We IT guys sure do appreciate a shout-out from time to time!

    What you guys are doing is very cool for students everywhere. Even we old dogs are learning a lot from your posts.

    Best, Terri

  2. Re: Reaching Out and Pulling Up
    Posted by Kevin on 05/03/10

    It is great to see the lack of junk collected this year. Is there another location where you might be able to collect junk in future years, or will you continue at the current location and just search harder? What is the largest thing that has been collected over the years?

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/03/10
      We scouted the area off where the original station ("Old Palmer") was and saw very little there to pick up. Perhaps we will do that next year regardless of how little there appeared to be. I suspect that the largest thing we've ever collected is either a large tire or an old cargo net.
  3. Re: Reaching Out and Pulling Up
    Posted by Dave Bresnahan on 05/11/10

    Chuck you could shift your junk collecting diving efforts to McMurdo...never run out of stuff to collect off the bottom in front of the station.

    1. Posted by Chuck on 05/11/10
      Dave -- That is a good point! I'm not sure I want that kind of "job security" though... 8^)

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