Photo: Erik Jepsen

The Ocean as a Classroom

Promoting shipboard knowledge production to be more accessible for future generations

Starting Dec. 16, 2022, scientists and students from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography conducted a six-day research cruise off the coast of San Diego on Scripps research vessel Sally Ride. The cruise offered an educational experience to students who might not have otherwise had the opportunity to go to sea. 

Students conducted various research projects examining the past and present ocean’s productivity by looking at different chemical elements and aerosols, zooplankton and microbial diversity, and the impact of plastic on the seafloor.  We led a quarter-long student seminar before the cruise to complement the cruise’s educational goals. This seminar, entitled Shipboard Knowledge Production, focused on understanding the history and legacy of how we have studied the ocean in the past and how we are studying it now to give students a better perspective to develop more diverse and inclusive approaches. 

We facilitated a series of discussions around how to make the collection, analysis, and dissemination of oceanographic knowledge more accessible and inclusive, and sought to highlight these values during the cruise itself. 

Our 22-person science team consisted of 14 graduate students, a postdoctoral researcher, an undergraduate student, a professor, two volunteers, and two research technicians. Our party represented six countries including the United States, Mexico, Ecuador, India, Austria, Malaysia and China. For more than half the party, the cruise was the first time they had participated in a multi-day research cruise.

During the cruise, we conducted multicore deployments, CTD casts, zooplankton net tows, and aerosol sampling at six study sites spanning the California Current.

Calm waters as we cruise in R/V Sally Ride to our sampling sites. This picture shows the multicore,which is designed to collect up to eight core samples of the seafloor while carefully preserving the interface between water and sediment.

Graduate student Ziqi Chew
Multicore deployment at night

Getting ready to collect mud!  Graduate student Ziqi Chew, the multicore, and a rainbow. Multicore deployment at night by graduate students Tricia Light, Linqing Huang, Aoming Yu. Research technician Noah Desrosiers helped guide the instrument into the water.

Graduate students Cate Wardinski and Laney Wicker sampling water
Paleobiologist Richard Norris and Ziqi Chew collecting mud.

Graduate students Cate Wardinski and Laney Wicker sampled water and mud from the sediment cores to measure microplastics in the deep ocean. Professor Dick Norris and Ziqi Chew collecting mud for the geological collection at Scripps.

Graduate student Ruth Varner working on the Sally Ride R/V deck.

 Research technician Noah Desrosiers explains the functions of a CTD.
Dr. Kaycie Lanpher,  Pierina Erazo, Emmet Norris, Linqing Huang, Ruth Verner, and Shannon Perry prepare to collect water from the CTD.

A CTD (or Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) profiler is an instrument that measures ocean data and collects water samples at different depths.  Research technician Noah Desrosiers explains the functions of a CTD  and getting ready to deploy instruments. Dr. Kaycie Lanpher,  Pierina Erazo, Emmet Norris, Linqing Huang, Ruth Verner, and Shannon Perry prepare to collect water from the CTD.

The CTD is deployed at a site in the North Pacific Ocean.

Scientists determined the depths to collect water from the CTD
Scientists determined the depths to collect water from the CTD.

Scientists determined the depths to collect water from the CTD by looking at different chemical and biological qualities of the water. Kaycie Lanpher, a chemical oceanographer and postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Jeff Bowman, demonstrated how to process water samples for a variety of biochemical analyses.

Shannon Perry and Kaycie Lanpher conducted 32PO4 incubations in the isotope van to understand nutrient cycling and microbial metabolism. 

Research technician Jeremiah Brower setting up a net tow for deployment. The instrument sieves through the ocean at depth to collect zooplankton. Zooplankton are tiny animals that are an important component of most marine food chains.

Scientists and students deployed net tows during the day.
Scientists and students deployed net tows during the night.

Scientists and students deployed net tows during the day and night to compare populations of zooplankton as they migrate up and down the water column daily.  

 Net tow in water.
 Net tow in water.

Net tow is finally in the water! 

Graduate students Ankitha Kannad and Laney Wicker helped  process zooplankton samples. 

Ruth Varner, Ziqi Chew, Aoming Yu and Emmet Norris set up GoPro cameras. In addition to research, students on the cruise also worked on various science communication projects including interviews of crew members, video tours of the ship and its instruments, and a science article for children about shipboard research.

We also celebrated Christmas on the cruise with some lab-made decor and a great meal prepared by the ship cooks Randall and Angelica!

Sunset from cruise.
Sunrise from the cruise.

Capturing sunrise and sunset. Beginning and end of a successful research cruise!

If you want to see more day to day activities at the cruise, take a look at the video below! 


All the videos and photos in the cruise were taken by all the students, scientists, and volunteers: 

Dick Norris, Tricia Light, Natalia Erazo, Ankitha Kannad, Kaycie Lanpher, Shannon Perry, Ruth Varner, Ziqi Chew, Kanisha Contractor, Anna Effinger, Linqing Huang, Emilio Romero, Emmet Norris, Catherine Wardinski, Laney Wicker, Aoming Yu, Dongran Zhai, Pierina Erazo and Ryan Kraft.

This project was made possible by funding from the UC Ships program. 

Natalia Erazo is a fifth-year graduate student in the lab of biological oceanographer Jeff Bowman working on host-microbiome and chemical ecology, microbial community structure and biogeochemistry in coastal ecosystems.

Tricia Light is a fifth-year graduate student in the lab of paleobiologist Richard Norris. Her work advances marine barite as a tool for studying the relationship between ocean productivity and climate change. Ankitha Kannad is a second-year graduate student in the lab of oceanographer Janet Sprintall and the Multiscale Ocean Dynamics lab. She studies upper ocean processes and their influence on monsoons and other climate systems that impact rainfall.


About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.

About UC San Diego

At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at

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