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Oceanography Student Interview

Above is a photo of Bar Harbor, part of the Gulf of Maine.
Photo by Blue Arauz from Pexels

On March 25th, students Anthony Gendron and Justin Oullette met with students in Professor Laureen Smith’s Oceanography class to interview them about a recent project. Interview participants included Zoe Froehlich-Ferris, Bradi Byers, Madelynn Hebert, and Jakob O’Neal. Here is the interview.

Anthony: To start off, can you tell us a bit about yourselves?

Zoe: I’m Zoe, I’m 24, and I’m a marine science student at SMCC.


Bradi: Hi, I’m Bradi. I recently applied to the marine science program so I’m doing a full-time semester in the fall. I switched over from doing accounting. I thought it was very boring. A couple of years ago I did a study abroad trip, like a volunteer trip in Madagascar where we did building coral reefs and diving and stuff, and that really just sparked my interest in the ocean and here we are taking hands-on classes next semester, so I’m pretty excited.


Madelynn (Maddie): … I’m 18, my name is Maddie, I’m a marine science major here, I mean I don’t really know where I’m going to go with it yet. Like I said, I’m 18, first semester, but I’ve always been interested in the ocean.


Jakob: My name is Jacob, I’ve been at SMCC, this is my fourth semester. I’m wrapping up my two-year degree in marine science and something a little bit unique about my background. I actually have already done a four-year degree. I have a bachelors in environmental studies and music and the marine science program at SMCC has just been a way for me to kind of build on that groundwork. I’m interested in a career in research and I’m interested in grad school and marine science so this is helping me kind of move towards that direction.


Anthony: What influenced you to take this class in particular?


Zoe: I have never taken an oceanography course before … and it was one of the required classes … I’ve heard that oceanography is one of the harder ocean sciences so I was pretty nervous about it but because it is an all majors course it feels like a good intro into the oceanography science.

Bradi: kind of similar it’s the first required course to take … I wish we had dissections, I think that would be very fun but we don’t … I wasn’t necessarily going to take it but my husband is very supportive of me going back to school so he pushed me to take it and I’m glad that he did

Maddie: Mine is kind of the same. I started out as a liberal arts major here … and my boyfriend kind of pushed me to take it and so I thought I might as well take the first course.

Jakob: … The girls touched upon this but it is a major requirement in these science majors and in my case I’ve been kind of taking courses out of order because I’ve had some requirements fulfilled coming in and I opted to take some courses that weren’t required for the major like physics and this class ended up falling into my second to last semester technically. But yea, oceanography is a really important topic in marine science. It really brings a lot to the table in the marine science curriculum.

Zoe: And it covers so many different disciplines within the ocean. It’s oceanography so it’s all-encompassing. It is like biology and geology and the water and the chemistry and the history and all of that so it’s like a great overarching ocean class to be taking.

Anthony: … Can you let us know a little bit about the project you are working on right now with this data?
Zoe: Yea, so the project we were working on is examining relationships in the Jordan basin which is one of the basins in the Gulf of Maine and we were -before going into specifics about data- generally looking at temperatures and depths and relationships between seasons and how they changed.

Anthony: That’s pretty interesting. Why do you think your instructor is having you work on this project?

Jakob: … This project is really a lab assignment. Oceanography has a lab requirement where every week we do some kind of lab and they are all related to the topic of oceanography. Some things we’ve covered outside of this are …, water chemistry, using a dissecting scope to look at plankton, things like that. Realy a broad scope of things, and so if you want to think of it in the frame of a project it’s kind of like our project of the week so to speak and it was basically just a way for us to get a snapshot of analyzing ocean data. We collected it from something that’s available through a website to anybody as a way to practice collecting data, organizing it, analyzing it, using a program like Excel to create graphs out of it… so the project was essentially a way for us to practice an important skill for marine scientists.

Zoe: … It was important to be able to interpret data into graphing and it’s probably important because it is our local Gulf of Maine.

Anthony: Do you have to work with data often? Is this your first data-focused project?

Zoe: I would say that there’s definitely data in every project that we do because it’s a science but specifically we were all researching and collecting data about different water masses that we had to present on so that was one of the bigger assignments where we collect data.

Bradi: And with a lot of the labs that we do we collect the information put it down in our lab notebooks and we have to transfer a lot of that data into Excel spreadsheets and graphs and so I think this is a really good stepping stool for the other labs we are going to take when we have to analyze all of this data.

Maddie: I think the only difference is that we usually go out and collect the data ourselves but this was given to us on a website anyone can use.

Justin: … What does the data indicate and why do you guys think it matters?

Jakob: I wanna be careful with this answer … So, to make it clear because this was a lab because we were really just practicing data analysis we were working with a really small data set and I would say what the data represents is just essentially what the temperature was at different specific dates. We collected data from various water depths … and we had a measure of temperature for each of those dates. We had four separate dates, two from [2022 and 2021] and two that were older [2006]
And basically, we were looking for very very general trends and how the temperature might have been changing.

Zoe: So, some of the very very general trends that we all saw were that in the winter months the surface temperature looked colder than the deeper temperatures of below 50 meters, and in the summer months because we were using August and February, the surface water in the summer was warmer and the deeper water below 50 meters was much colder so it was an inverse relationship between the two.

Anthony: That’s a pretty interesting trend. Is that common throughout the ocean?

Zoe: … No. It’s very weird.

Jakob: The reasons for why … so predicting trends about ocean temperature based on depth-there’s a lot of factors that go into it so hard to make very general statements about ocean temp trends across the board-we’re talking planet-wide [trends are difficult to make]. Just to add a little bit more context.

Anthony: I see. Going back to the general trends that you were mentioning earlier, what kind of general trends can you find in your data? Are you looking mainly at the trends of temperatures through seasons or are there other trends you can notice?

Jakob: We intentionally picked the same moths for the different years we were looking at. So we picked February representing the winter for 2006 and this year, I believe, and then we picked august of 2006 and august of 2021 and when you compare the temperatures almost at every depth between February of 2006 and February of 2022 for example there was a pretty much across the board slight rise in ocean temperature. And that was the case for august as well.

Anthony: I see. Are guys at the point where you can make inferences based on the trends you are seeing? What can you use your trends for? What can you do with your data you’ve collected?

Zoe: So, the reason we can’t come out and say this is what these trends represent and this is what they mean-this is what we found is because this is not research this is an observation of data and for something to be scientific research there’s a very set in stone scientific method that has to be followed. So even if we were performing the scientific method within our individual labs the data set is too small for it to be statistically significant. So we don’t have enough-we’re only looking at two very picked time periods and years and we’re only looking at like 7 sets of data within that so its too small to really mean anything of significance and we’re not analyzing it in a way that can represent actual research. So we are hesitant to say that the water is warming and this is because of this-so we can’t say because of anything but what we did find in the trends is the inverse relationship and that the water has warmed since 2006. And we can’t say why that is or if it’s really is a general thing that is happening.

Bradi: yea exactly. We’d love to say this is obvious evidence of climate change but unfortunately, we can’t make that statement. We can see the visible point differences in the months from the time difference in years-we can see an obvious difference and research shows that the Gulf of Maine is the fastest warming body of water on the planet-so theoretically we could say that this does-this could possibly point to an increase in water temperature but we can’t just say that statement it would be nice but …

Anthony: I see what you mean.

Jakob: What I would say is you can consider the results that we came up with a good like introduction into investigating warming temperatures, but it’s really just an introduction. You would need to do a lot more-well first of all you would need a much larger data set but you’d also need to do a lot more analysis and also find other support to make conclusions. But I think it’s a great starting point. I think what’s cool about it is that any person could go onto this website and do this type of data analysis. It could inspire further investigation. That might be a good point of emphasis-the average person can access this kind of information.

Anthony: That is pretty interesting. If an average person can access this data would you say that there are some obvious trends that the average person could make out from the data that you have seen and some trends that you might need some extra context for like skills that you have learned from your oceanography class that you might need to apply?

Jakob: I think for most people the graphs that we produced using the data we used are pretty straightforward to interpret and I think that the average person could probably look at those graphs and see kind of across the board that the temperatures we were seeing

Zoe: I would also like to say that we can talk about why we are getting this inverse effect based on actual research that we’ve read that has been actually performed and peer-reviewed but it’s not coming from our graphs-our information … so we can answer questions about why the Jordan basin itself is warmer below 50 meters in the winter and why it’s colder under 50 meeters in the summer but it wouldn’t have anything to do with the research that we didn’t do because it’s not research.

Maddie: The thing with this is it’s not like we spent time doing research on this. We had one article, we observed the data. It was more about the act of looking at the data and noticing the trends that were pretty obvious and then making graphs. It was more of like a thing to prepare us for the future rather than to go in-depth and research on this topic.

Anthony: I see, did you learn-I remember you saying you understand why the different depths are at different temperatures in the seasons-were you able to discover why the ocean is having this warming trend, or is that too related to climate change?

Zoe: No, yes. So we can talk about why the Jordan Basin’s bottom water is warm, and it’s because it has a delayed temperature response of three months compared to the neighboring sea shelves. And the reason it’s so warm in the winter is because of the gulf stream’s warm core rings. The gulf stream comes up and bends and as it bends pieces of it jut off in eddies which are like these swirling warm water-I don’t want to say vortexes but in the same way that when fire has little pieces pop off of it the stem itself bends in a way that eddies come off and those are part of the reason that it’s warm. And another reason is because of the Novascotian current which comes down Novascotia and wraps around into the Gulf of Maine and you have a lot of different currents colliding with each other causing a bunch of different warming effects and we get that the Gulf of Maine is the fastest-warming water body in the world and it’s warming faster than 99% of all of the other ocean areas mostly due to the warm core rings and the nature of the currents

The ice is melting and that is fresh water and it is coming into the Jordan Basin and because fresh water isn’t saltwater … water with less salt rises because salt has density and the water with more salt is going down to the bottom of the basin and because they have such different weights-or buoyancy- they aren’t mixing with each other so there’s no vertical mixing happening and that’s keeping them separate from each other and what that does is it allows the top water to stay at a different temperature than the bottom water. …

Jakob: Just to add a little clarification, the way in which melting ice is making its way into the Gulf of Maine in the form of water is through the Labrador Current which is a southward moving current. … That current colliding with the Gulf Stream Current pretty much right at the Gulf of Maine and that’s allowing the reactions that she [Zoe] has been talking about to occur. So, I think to summarize, there’s a lot of factors that play into why the Gulf of Maine’s ocean waters are warming at such a high rate compared to other places. It’s kind of a perfect storm of factors. Now what I’ll say is, you can relate this to climate change because we can say that climate change is responsible for polar ice sheets melting. That is the reason that freshwater is being brought to the Gulf of Maine through the Labrador Current-so there is a relationship there-but I think that the important lesson here is that the story is a bit more complicated than just “climate change equals warming oceans”

Zoe: But climate change does equal warming oceans and why the Gulf of Maine specifically is warning is because of all these factors like the Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream Current and these salinity differences and also because the two currents are colliding and the Gulf of Maine is like a little “C” shape, so they’re colliding there which is catching the water and those warm core eddies as well as … the Gulf of Maine is relatively shallow so its kind of like heating up a bathtub-so its more affected by temperature variation because it’s shallow. And we can also talk about the implications that the warming of the Gulf of Maine has. … For one, warming waters can cause dissolved oxygen in the ocean to decrease because warm water is not as good at holding oxygen as cold water is, so oxygen depletion is concerning because fish need it for their gills … Another thing is ecosystems and the food chain. When the water temperature rises there are certain animals that need a certain temperature to live so for instance cod is moving away because it doesn’t like how hot it is, lobsters-they are super not into the warning of the Gulf of Maine, so they are migrating north. That has economic implications because the lobster industry in Maine provides 1 billion dollars per year annually to the Maine economy and I think it was like 26 thousand jobs so it has economic impacts, it has cultural impacts, it has health ramifications, because with warm water we get something called toxic algae blooms and this isn’t something that’s just harmful to humans, its harmful to marine species and there’s scientific evidence that toxic algae blooms cause beaching of animals like seals. In the Gulf of Maine, we have a severely endangered species called the Wright Whale, and there are only something like 336 of them left and their main food source is the calcaneus copepod which is a copepod which is dying because warm water kills them. So then the food source for the Wright whale is dying so the Wright whales are all dying. …
Water has a really high heat capacity so the more the water heats up, first of all, molecules expand when they heat up, second of all, ice sheets are melting, when the ice is in the water it’s melting and sea levels rise. This is bad because 40% of the population lives costly so we have coastal displacement and that is a global issue for sea-level rise. …
If the water rose 1 degree we would have catastrophic sea-level rise as well as algae blooms, etc. And especially in the Gulf of Maine because … for 180 days out of the year the Gulf of Maine is hotter than it’s 90th percentile of temperature from the year, so-that’s from NASA-so what that means is for over a third of the year, the water is hot all of the time more than it was at the 90th percentile.

Anthony: It seems like there are a lot of unique factors about the Gulf of Maine and what’s happening here, but could the average Mainer walk along the shore and experience any of these peculiarities in person, first hand? Are there any like, immediate effects of this weird inverse trend of this coastal area or any trends experience now concerning the warming of this area?

Zoe: Yea, for instance, sharks are coming to Maine more than usual. That is a great example of how this can affect you first hand. Everyone [marine life] is trying to find the right temperature of water so lobsters are already leaving-that’s already something that’s happening right this moment, and the sharks are already coming. So, that could affect our ecosystems, because we now have an apex predator coming into a relatively small area of water, the economy is already being affected from fishing …

Bradi: On top of what you said about the sharks, the sharks have already kind of been here we’ve always had great white sharks in the area, we might not have seen them as often, but I mean if we’ve all been here for like two years, you remember like last year-two years ago there was seals washing up on the beaches there were seals with like chomps taken out of them where they were attacked by sharks- so we are seeing an increase, but they have always been in the area just not as many so it is increasing. And also we’re seeing more algae blooms with this increased temperature in the bay and those are pretty obvious to see if you go out … they’re dangerous to people, dogs, just animals in general- so that’s one you can go out and see.

Jakob: Yea, and it’s not only sharks that are moving farther north each year … one example is blue crabs which are native to warmer waters like the Chesapeake Bay for example which is all the way in Virginia, and we are seeing them in increasing numbers in Maine. And the research about why we are seeing them is still ongoing but there are speculations that warming temperatures are the reason why. There are plenty of examples …

Anthony: It sounds like there are a lot of effects and a lot of them seem pretty negative. What can the average person do to help in this situation? Can we do anything?

Jakob: So, there are, I think in Maine especially there are a lot of them, there are organizations that are working on offsetting the effects of climate change one way or another. We have conservation organizations, we have citizen science organizations, an example of that is Friends of Casco Bay who take water chemistry measures in Casco Bay and they take volunteers for that and there’s … a lot of examples of organizations that the average person can participate in. Climate change is a huge, overarching issue which a lot of different effects, and so when you are talking about dealing with it you are talking about really local action and talking about focusing on a specific impact, but I would say yes there are things the average person can do.

Anthony: Well that’s definitely a relief to hear. Is there anything else you would like to add on …. ?

Zoe: It’s really bad and it’s only getting worse and nothing substantial is being done to stop it and the Gulf of Maine is one of the worse examples of everything. It’s one of the quickest examples of what is going to happen to our oceans and that makes it really bad for people who rely on the Gulf of Maine and on the flip side of that it is interesting and good that we can do research on how global warming is affecting the Gulf of Maine and we can apply it to the rest of the ocean that isn’t bein impacted this heavily.

Anthony: … Going back to the data collection project you just finished, is there anything else you would like to add on that-any final points to add?

Zoe: Buoys collect information all over the ocean about temperatures and depth and photosynthesis levels and chlorophyll levels and oxygen saturation and salt and everything and those are all public resources that anyone can access- I just looked at some from Hawaii the other day and I think it’s a great resource for people who are interested in the averages and how they vary around the world to look into.

Anthony: And one other question I did have about the data that you have collected is does this project tie in with any previous projects … ?

Bradi: No, like Zoe said earlier, this course covers such a broad range of subjects in Oceanography so each week we kind of focus on a different topic so it changes from week to week and from chapter to chapter as we are going through the book.

We thank Professor Smith and her students for their time and participation in the interview.

Categories: Uncategorized

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