NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — November 5, 2015 – When Melissa Omand was making initial plans last year to lead a five-day research expedition aboard the University of Rhode Island ship Endeavor, she had no idea that she would be nearly eight months pregnant by the time the vessel departed for the continental shelf.
But thanks to “telepresence” technology aboard the ship, the assistant professor at the Graduate School of Oceanography is still able to serve as chief scientist on the cruise Nov. 3 to 7 without leaving land. It is the first time that the leader of an Endeavor research expedition will not be aboard the ship.
“I’m going to miss being on the boat, but the technology is going to make it seem like I’m there for most of it,” said Omand, who joined the URI faculty in January.
Omand spends every day of the expedition in the Inner Space Center at the URI Narragansett Bay Campus, where she can communicate seamlessly with members of the research team and see live streaming video of the expedition from multiple cameras located throughout the ship, including in the control room. A video camera in the Inner Space Center allows those on the ship to see Omand.
“Much of the role of a chief scientist is decision making and being a liaison between the science party and the crew,” she said. “And all of the organizational stuff and making sure communication is good are things I’ve tried to take care of beforehand.”
Omand says she will miss the feeling of being part of the team aboard ship, and she thinks it may be challenging for her to keep everyone’s morale up when necessary without normal face-to-face communication. But she is treating the week as if she’s going to be at sea; she hasn’t scheduled anything else so she can feel as much a part of the cruise as possible.
Omand is leading the 14-member scientific party – a mix of faculty, staff and students from URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography, Moss Landing Marine Lab, Skidmore College and the University of Maryland – as they deploy several oceanographic instruments to collect biogeochemical data on vertical and lateral fluxes of carbon and nutrients between the surface and deep ocean.
“It’s a collection of people doing a series of projects that have overlapping questions or goals,” explained Omand. “We’re going to test out some new instrumentation and compare it to tested methods so we can use it to motivate future grants.”
The expedition will be streamed live on the Internet, allowing Omand’s colleagues at other institutions to observe the activities aboard ship, too. The public can view the live video at Inner Space Center Expedition.
“I’m grateful there’s an alternative to being at sea. It’s going to be fun to be involved in something so pioneering,” she said.