Side-scan sonar can provide a clear view beneath the water surface. (Courtesy of Tritech)
College professors know that preparing students to be good oceanographers takes a lot of hard work. Getting all the basics down, like the necessary math, chemistry and biology skills, among others, can be difficult on its own. But the real trick comes when all those skills are combined and used to approach actual work in the field. And when students finally get out of the classroom, there’s still more prep, like training them to use the advanced research tools that scientists use nowadays.
Still, college oceanography programs today get the job done by working in applied learning components that have students sailing on research vessels or suiting up in scuba gear to get hands-on experience. One such program is offered at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, where educators train students to operate advanced gear like water quality sensors, remotely operated vehicles and sidescan sonar.
“We have used the (Tritech StarFish) sonar primarily for teaching purposes. The most interesting thing we’ve looked at is a shipwreck,” said Scott Nooner, assistant professor of geography and geology at UNC Wilmington. “We have used it primarily in the intracoastal waterway, but we’ve also used it a bit in the Cape Fear River and just offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.”
Like other pieces of equipment used in the class, most sonar measurements are taken by the students, with supervision from the instructors. All the experience helps students to use and interpret data from oceanographic research tools they’ll use in their careers, says Nooner.
The Cape Fear River is part of the intracoastal waterway, a massive conduit for commercial activity and shipping in the northeastern United States. Studying there is useful in assessing the environmental impacts of all those actions.
Top image: Side-scan sonar can provide a clear view beneath the water surface. (Courtesy of Tritech)