I’m grateful for the Marshall program for exposing me to policy issues and giving me an education in UK government and international affairs, topics I normally wouldn’t have exposure to in my engineering-focused graduate work. Yet they are critically important to the ocean, especially in the coming decade as multinational bodies shape the future of our waters, for better or for worse.
Each year the Marshall Scholarship, the program funding my PhD, takes scholars on a trip to Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. This year’s destination was Northern Ireland. Our first stop was Belfast, the capitol. We toured the Parliament buildings there, received an overview lecture on Northern Ireland’s history, and a tour focused on the political history by Dr. Dominic Bryan, Director of Institute of Irish Studies at Queen’s University.
During the 4-day trip we also went on a walking tour of the walled city of Derry and attended a reception hosted by US Consul General Greg Burton. I particularly enjoyed the afternoon at the University of Ulster, chatting with graduate students in the Department of Computing and Intelligent Systems. It was a packed schedule! More photos on Instagram.
The highlight of our trip was a talk by Anne Applebaum over a delightful lunch in Queen’s University Great Hall. Applebaum is a Marshall alumna, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist, and wife of Poland's former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radoslaw Sikorski. She spoke to us about her research on communism. Her talk was one of the Marshall Scholarship’s 60th anniversary lecture series.
Many thanks again to the Marshall program, including administrators, alumni, sponsors, and my fellow scholars for the intellectually stimulating and action-packed week.
After the official program I spent the weekend in Dublin with a few other scholars. A day trip to the Cliffs of Moher was the highlight of the weekend. More photos on Instagram.
I had the chance to reunite with a PR2 robot at University of Ulster, Department of Computing and Intelligent Systems.
The Cliffs of Moher. I feel so fortunate and grateful to be living and working to better understand this great ecosystem lapping at the shores of the cliffs.
The last two months my research team at Oxford and I have been exploring mesophotic reefs using Hollis Prism 2 rebreathers. More information in this blog post -- "Diving Deeper and Longer to Study Never Before Seen Coral Reefs" and our Facebook page -- "Thinking Deep."
REBREATHER TRAINING: BEYOND TRADITIONAL SCUBA
The past weeks I've been learning to rebreather dive with two other Oxford PhD students. The rebreathers allow us to study reefs below traditional SCUBA depth limits (up to 120m/400ft). They also scare away fewer fish than traditional SCUBA because they don't produce bubbles. The concept is that on a rebreather you're essentially breathing the same breath over and over; when you exhale CO2 is removed and oxygen added. The only caveat is that the units are more mechanically complex than normal SCUBA rigs and therefore require more training and skill.
A LITTLE REBREATHER HISTORY
Rebreather technology has been around more than a decade, but they are only recently becoming more widely used and accepted in the scientific and recreational diving communities. Statistically, diving a rebreather is more dangerous than diving SCUBA. Accidents are all linked to user error, however, apart from a few truly freak accidents. If a diver is well trained, thoroughly inspects and maintains her unit, and follows a conservative dive plan, the rebreather diving is extremely safe and greatly benefits research. They allow us to dive to greater depths for longer periods of time and without bubbles that disturb marine life.
WHAT & WHERE
One of the research questions we are looking into is how deep reefs may (or may not be) sheltering some corals from the effects of climate change and fishing. More on that question in this PBS article.
We are training off the island of Utila, which is the site of my dive buddies' (Dom and Jack's) PhD experiments. They have a close relationship with the dive center here as they help run a program for marine biology students here on the summers. The reefs here are fairly healthy and can be reached without expensive boat trips, which is somewhat rare and helps keep research costs low. To top it off, Utila is a gorgeous Caribbean island!
The pictures with captions in the slide show below illustrate some of our adventures so far, including learning to use the Google Street "Ocean" View camera.