Alumna helps map ocean floor during research expedition at sea

McDaniel College alumna Meredith Meyers stands in front of NOAA ship Okeanos.
August 15, 2012

Recent grad Meredith Meyers’ summer internship on NOAA’s research vessel Okeanos Explorer only confirmed the life’s direction she chose as a 5-year-old playing with Inky, a pygmy sperm whale being rehabilitated at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

“My dad used to take me with him when he volunteered with the Marine Animal Rescue Program at the aquarium,” Meyers says. “I was only about 5 but I still remember sitting there playing with Inky and thinking ‘yep, this is what I’m going to do with my life.’”

The Manchester, Md., native has never waivered from wanting to be in a field that involves exploring the sea. 

“I’m a big picture person,” says Meyers, whose paper on her collaborative research on baby lobsters with Biology professor Molly Jacobs at Woods Hole last summer won McDaniel’s top writing award, the Ridington Phi Beta Kappa Writing Award. “I need to know that my work is impacting the big world. Mapping the ocean floor on board the Okeanos left no question about that.”

Although nervous when she climbed aboard the 224-foot long converted U.S. Navy ship in Norfolk, the Biology major’s fears dissolved as she met the 30-person crew that included a team of eight scientists – two interns including Meyers plus engineers, geologists and other scientists – and discovered that the sea-sickness patches she wore behind her ears really worked.

She shared a stateroom equipped with Direct TV and private bath with another scientist from the University of Delaware. Yes, she was able to use the ship’s wireless network to check e-mail and Facebook, and the ship’s phone to talk with her parents for 15 minutes a day. Of course, the caller ID in the family’s home said the calls came from Hawaii or Guam or NOAA headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., although Meyers was at sea off the East Coast between Virginia and Rhode Island all along. 

“Since I was the newbee, I drew the best shift, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Meyers says, still radiating excitement weeks since the voyage ended on June 13. “But I would have worked the overnight shift or any other shift.

“It was the best experience of my life.”

Meyers spent her shift in a scientific control room that looks like a miniature version of NASA’s mission control in Houston. She quickly learned how to monitor data collected through multibeam sonar mapping technology and to recognize and remove what she calls “outliers” – data points that obviously don’t fit, such as from a school of fish.

“Viewing the topography of the ocean floor as you literally float above it was an incredible experience,” she says, adding that she is currently looking at graduate schools that offer master’s degrees and Ph.D.’s in deep-water biology and certificates in ocean floor mapping. 

While on board, Meyers interviewed and wrote about David Packer, a scientist studying the deep-sea corals that may make their homes in the deep-water canyons along the continental shelf that the Okeanos expedition was mapping. Packer believes these canyons may be prime habitat for these corals and therefore worthy of protection since deep-sea corals provide critical habitat for many fish species and other sea life. Click here to read Meyers interview on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website.

Read more on McDaniel’s Biology blog about Meyers experience on the Okeanos – about movies shown on a sheet thrown over the ship’s ROV hangar, about meals that included Belgian waffles, lobster, and Chinese cuisine, and about tropical storm Beryl which kept everyone on board the ship wide awake all night and rendered the data collected that night useless.

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