GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Yampah Mountain High School science teacher Susy Ellison has been to both poles of the earth helping to study the effects of climate change. Now she’s headed to the bottom of the sea, figuratively speaking, as part of a project to map the ocean floor.
Ellison was selected as one of about two dozen teachers to be part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Teacher at Sea Program this year.
She sets sail Sept. 9 from Kodiak, Alaska, on the NOAA Ship Rainier to assist scientists on a 19-day hydrographic survey to chart the ocean floor near the Shumagin Islands in the Gulf of Alaska.
NOAA’s Coast Survey will use the data collected through the surveys to create the nautical charts necessary for marine navigation.
Ellison, a 2010 recipient of the National Environmental Education Foundation’s environmental education award and a teacher at Yampah for 17 years, looks forward to sharing what she learns with her students.
“Through my experience with NOAA, my students will not only be able to learn firsthand about exciting research projects at sea, they will be witnesses to them, and on some level, participants in them,” Ellison said.
“Seventy percent of the earth’s surface is ocean,” she added. “But beyond what I know about ocean science I really don’t know much about the ocean, other than it’s big and deep.”
Instead of trying to teach about the ocean from nearly 6,000 feet above sea level in Glenwood Springs, Ellison said it will be easier once she can relate it to her own firsthand experiences.
“Making their learning relevant through my own hands-on experiences is vital to getting students excited about science,” Ellison said. “I look forward to learning about another ecosystem that is far removed from our own backyard in Colorado.”
The latest research project will also build on Ellison’s previous experiences doing scientific research from one end of the globe to the other.
In 2011, she traveled to the North Pole as part of a research team through the National Science Foundation’s PolarTREC program. And 10 years ago she studied wildlife in Antarctica through the Teachers Experience in the Arctic program.
This year, NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program selected 25 teachers out of more than 250 applicants to participate in different research cruises.
Five teachers have so far been aboard The Rainier this summer assisting with the mapping project. Ellison will be the final teacher to take part this season.
“It’s pretty amazing to me what they do,” Ellison said. “It’s more complicated than just taking sonar readings, it involves some pretty complicated science and math.”
There’s also a social studies and history aspect she can learn more about and share with her students upon her return.
“The area off the Alaskan coast was first surveyed in the 1870s when the U.S. was looking to buy Alaska from Russia,” she said.
Over time, the maps of the ocean floor need to be updated because the underwater currents are constantly shifting the sand bars and creating different features that need to be recorded, she explained.
Once on her journey, Ellison will be writing a blog about her experiences on the vessel, which can be found at http://teacheratsea.noaa.gov/2013/ellison.html.
Now in its 23rd year, the Teacher at Sea program has provided more than 650 teachers the opportunity to gain firsthand experience participating in science at sea, according to program director Jennifer Hammond,