When Emily Vierling returns to Animas High School for her senior year in August, she will have a doozy of a “What I did on my summer vacation” essay to write.
She has been named one of eight 2016 honors research fellows with the Ocean Exploration Trust. During the program, the students will spend four weeks at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, where they will work with scientists, engineers and science communicators on an interdisciplinary science, technology, engineering and math initiative studying deep-sea biology, geology and archaeology in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
“The application and interview process was intense,” Emily, 17, said. “The Animas High School chemistry project on the Gold King Mine spill and exhibition skills served me well. I still can’t believe it. I am extremely excited to participate in a program that offers so much of what I want to do in my future.”
Emily has known this is a career she wants to pursue since she was 9.
“We went on a family vacation to Hawaii,” she said, “and we went snorkeling. When I put my head in the water, I saw a whole other world.”
The application included two stages, with a résumé and two essay questions in part one, and an interview with four instructors from the program in part two.
“They wanted to know the challenges I’ve faced in pursuing my interest in oceanography,” she said. “I said living in one of the most landlocked states in the country is a major one.”
In addition to lectures from leading researchers in the field, the students will shadow graduate students as they conduct their research projects and conduct a project of their own. They will also be designing and building ocean current drifters. Then they present their results and explain their engineering process to an audience of faculty, professional explorers, students and peers.
It wouldn’t be much of a study of the ocean without going to sea, and that will take place during the final week of the fellowship.
The fellows will join the Corps of Exploration as members of the onboard science team on the Exploration Vehicle Nautilus in August. The team will explore the California Margin, a broad area that fits within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone – out to 200 nautical miles from shore – but is mostly unexplored, the Ocean Exploration Trust said in a news release.
The trust was founded by Robert Ballard, a professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, who is best known for his discoveries of hydrothermal vents and the sunken ships the R.M.S. Titanic and the German battleship Bismarck. The E/V Nautilus is Ballard’s exploratory vessel.
“There is a live, 24-hour webcam feed,” Emily said, adding that she’ll probably be on it for four-hour shifts, “where we look at deep sea creatures and ocean current data. I watch it for hours on end because it’s so fascinating to see research happening in real time.”
This is Emily’s third adventure pursuing her love of marine biology and oceanography.
She first explored diverse ecosystems in the Leeward Islands on a 21-day Broadreach voyage. In 2015, as part of the Duke University Talent Identification Program she spent two weeks in Sarasota, Florida, studying the intelligence of Cetaceans, including dolphins and whales.
The fellowship includes funding for travel, food, transportation and accommodation expenses.
In addition to watching the live webcam, Durangoans will have a chance to hear about Emily’s learning when she returns.
“Part of the program is community engagement,” she said. “Awareness about the issues confronting the ocean is a huge thing, particularly in Colorado, so far from the ocean. I’ll be making presentations at school and inviting the community to a presentation as well.”