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Grad student aboard expedition exploring Mediterranean seafloor

Grad student aboard expedition exploring Mediterranean seafloor

Underwater landslides, deep-sea corals, ancient archaeological sites -- these are just a few of the cool phenomena that Adam Skarke, a graduate student at the University of Delaware, may get to see firsthand in the Mediterranean Sea aboard an expedition led by famed explorer Robert Ballard.

Skarke, who is working on his doctorate in geological sciences at UD's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, is now aboard the 211-foot expedition vessel Nautilus, doing research with Ballard's team in the eastern Mediterranean off the coast of Israel.

He is the third graduate student from the laboratory of Art Trembanis, UD assistant professor of geological sciences, to take part in the expedition, which began in June. Nicole Raineault and Stephanie Nebel participated in earlier legs of the expedition in the Aegean Sea.

Skarke is a member of a team of scientists on the expedition's last leg, aiming to learn more about the continental shelf, the undersea extension of the continent. Specifically, the research team is exploring the deep-water portion known as the continental rise, where sediments are deposited from rivers and streams flowing off the continent.

A remotely operated vehicle named “Hercules” will dive on selected areas during the sonar survey to collect detailed visual and geological and biological samples.

A veteran of previous expeditions with Trembanis, his adviser, and Ballard, with whom the UD group collaborates, Skarke says he's most looking forward to studying the unique geological features of the region.

“My interest is sediment transport processes along the continental shelf of the Delaware coast, so what I learn in the Mediterranean may help me in my research at home,” says Skarke, who will return to UD from the expedition in mid-October.

“My work is focused on understanding the form the seafloor takes when estuaries meet the continental shelf. This is a very unique environment in terms of flow processes and morphology. Seafloor ripples, for example, often are generated here. They are a roughness factor that affects the wave energy that makes it to shore, including wave arrivals during storms.”

Trembanis maintains an active collaboration with Ballard's group. In addition to his graduate students' involvement aboard the E/V Nautilus, Trembanis says his students based at UD's Newark campus also have served as scientists on call from UD's telepresence station -- one of only a handful in the world.

“This allows us to have direct HD feeds of the video and audio from the E/V Nautilus and to interact in real time with cruise participants,” Trembanis says. “Our new facility has allowed students -- high school, undergraduate, and graduate students -- and faculty to have an unparalleled access to the exciting discoveries going on aboard the E/V Nautilus, and the research and educational outreach opportunities are just fantastic.”

Trembanis's Geology 467/667 Data Visualization Class is taking data feeds from the E/V Nautilus and creating immersive 4-dimensional visualizations of what is going on during the cruise.

Additionally, on Oct. 5, his Geology 434/634 class will be standing watch remotely from the new telepresence lab.

You can follow the program at the Nautilus Live website.

Ballard was presented an honorary doctor of science degree by the University of Delaware in 2001.

Article by Tracey Bryant