Texas A&M Oceanography Students Experience Life At Sea During Cruise

Twelve undergraduate students in Texas A&M University’s Department of Oceanography recently joined faculty and the crew of the R/V Point Sur on a research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico.

The four-day trip in June, which was founded in 2019 through a donation from Hal Schade ’67, gave undergraduate students the opportunity for hands-on experiences necessary to fully grasp all aspects of oceanographic research. The “Schade Cruise” also allowed them to experience working and living on a ship as a team.

Working closely together and developing strong bonds while doing meaningful work was a highlight of the cruise, said oceanography senior Charles Larrouilh.

“This hands-on experience exposed me to the reality of life at sea and has deepened my interest in this vocation,” he said.

The cruise was led by Chrissy Wiederwohl, instructional associate professor of oceanography, and Shari Yvon-Lewis, professor and department head. Together, they led their students in continuing the research started in 2019. Students and faculty were divided into two 12-hour shifts, working around the clock to accomplish the continuous sample and data collections throughout the trip.

“The overarching goal is to provide students with the opportunity to put into practice what they learn, either in their classes or during our shorter half-day field trips in Galveston Bay,” said Yvon-Lewis. “In class, we discuss data and what the data can tell us about conditions in the ocean, but this cruise drives home how we collect that data and can even make it more clear how we draw our conclusions from the data.”

Students performed several full water column profiles around the area of the 2010 Deep-Water Horizon oil spill. Temperature, salinity, pressure, dissolved oxygen and fluorescence were measured, and bottle samples were taken of oxygen, methane, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), total alkalinity, nutrients and salinity.

Larrouilh was given the large responsibility of overseeing the CTD Rosette, a device that measures conductivity, temperature and depth at various points between the surface and the sea floor.

Additionally, the students took samples for dissolved organic matter and colored dissolved organic matter, and looked for polyfluoroalkyl substances.

“We’re studying the hydrography of the area by looking at natural water mass motion in the area,” Yvon-Lewis said. “We collected additional water samples for tracers, which are chemicals found in seawater that identify specific water masses so we can look at circulation.”

The undergraduate students on this cruise ranged from freshmen to seniors. While it might have been the first cruise for many, the students stepped up to the challenge.

“The most important thing was how to time manage and keep yourself busy but also balance work and passing time,” said Veronica Burgos, an oceanography junior. “I enjoyed that I could openly ask everybody questions and that I could physically see and even touch what we were learning about.”

Chris Martin, an oceanography senior, said he was in charge of collecting samples for dissolved inorganic carbon.

“I just joined the oceanography department last year and have only had online classes,” Martin said. “So it was awesome meeting people in my major and talking with Dr. Wiederwohl and Dr. Yvon-Lewis. They’re really knowledgeable and really care about this stuff.”

For these Aggie undergraduates, the Schade cruise offered a taste of what it is like to work as an oceanographer.

“After over a year of teaching through Zoom, it was truly inspiring to watch our students renew and solidify their passion for being oceanography majors,” Wiederwohl said. “It was amazing to interact with our students in person and dive back into sea-going research and training.”

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