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Students, Museum Visitors, and Web Surfers Can Join First Search for Life on the Arctic Ocean Floor

July 6, 2007

A multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers is conducting the first search for life and hot springs on the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean. Through the use of the World Wide Web and satellite communications, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and nine partner museums are bringing thousands of students and citizens along with them.

On July 2, WHOI researchers and communications specialists sent the first of 40 days of dispatches and photo-essays from the icebreaker Oden, which researchers are sailing into the ice pack of the Arctic in order to explore the seafloor mountain chain known as the Gakkel Ridge. Reports from the groundbreaking expedition to the world’s most isolated ocean are posted daily on the Polar Discovery web site, which also offers podcasts, games, video and audio clips, and a forum for emailing questions directly to researchers at the Pole.

This month, the research team will conduct live satellite phone conversations from the icebreaking ship to visitors at partner museums across the United States. Through these “Live from the Poles” events, students and other visitors will have the opportunity to interact directly with researchers while they are working in the field—driving robotic vehicles, deploying ocean sensors, and hunting for new communities of life.

Participating museums include: The Field Museum, Chicago; Birch Aquarium at Scripps, La Jolla, Calif.; Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, Md.; the Museum of Science, Boston; Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh; Liberty Science Center, Jersey City; the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC; the Houston Museum of Natural Science; the Houston Museum of Natural Science; and Pacific Science Center, Seattle. (See a schedule by clicking here).

The live presentations and Web dispatches provide a unique opportunity to observe how ocean science and polar exploration are conducted and to learn what real scientists are like—what excites them, how they cope with their environment, and what challenges they face as they try to gain a better understanding of our planet.

The Gakkel Ridge outreach effort is part of a two-year project to conduct live and virtual conversations between field researchers and museum visitors. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation in conjunction with the International Polar Year. The “Polar Discovery” project represents an innovative approach to education and outreach that brings together some of the nation’s best science centers and natural history museums, world-class ocean researchers, and creative multimedia talent.

“Polar Discovery makes it easy for scientists to participate in outreach projects,” said Chris Linder, a research associate at WHOI, a professional photographer, and a principal investigator on Polar Discovery. “They can plug into our Web site and take advantage of the partnerships we’ve developed with science centers across the country. Our goal is to apply collaborative, multimedia approaches to telling the story of polar research.”

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent organization in Falmouth, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment.