CORVALLIS - Summer vacations are usually a routine excursion to a favorite Cascade lake or a week along Oregon's beautiful coast. But Gerhard Behrens, a third grade teacher at Adams Elementary School in Corvallis, is taking his summer vacation to the limit as he joins an Oregon State University crew aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Healy to the Nares Strait near Canada and Greenland.
Behrens will be aboard the icebreaker from July 21 through August 15 with researchers from the United States, Canada and Japan as they conduct research to understand how much seawater and ice flow south through the Nares Strait. The amount and timing of these flows affect North Atlantic waters and global ocean circulation, which is influenced by temperature and salinity. The 5-year, $3.5 million research project involves about 50 scientists from several research institutions and the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU.
Behrens was asked to join the cruise because of his interest in piloting science materials for the Corvallis School District.
"I've known Kelly Falkner, the lead investigator, for the last 12 or 13 years, and have had a lot of contact with the scientific community through the Science Education Partnerships program," said Behrens. SEPS is a local Corvallis program developed by OSU, Hewlett-Packard and Corvallis science teachers that uses community scientists to help teachers provide a quality science education for all students.
Behrens' job aboard the Healy hardly likens to standard vacation fare, but is a critical outreach component of the project.
"My primary job is to maintain a website with text and photographs so people can follow what is happening with the cruise on a day-to-day basis," said Behrens. "And I'm a big gopher - filling and marking bottles, collecting data, and watching monitors."
Anyone interested in tracking the progress of the study throughout the summer can log on to http://newark.cms.udel.edu/~cats/. Behrens will also have e-mail access during his trip. From July 21 through July 31, contact Behrens at firstname.lastname@example.org. From August 1 through August 15, he can be reached at email@example.com.
Behrens says he is anxious to return and inform his students about what it takes to become a scientist.
"When I come back, I can preach the gospel of the Arctic, and what scientists do in the field," said Behrens. "I want to let my students know what skills it takes to be a scientist - personal skills in addition to the math and science. Good scientists need to be able to look for patterns."
Behrens said he is looking forward to the research cruise with great anticipation and excitement.
"I'm looking forward to the sense of adventure every day," he said. "I have no idea what the Arctic is going to look like or what it's going to be like on a ship for that long. And I have some trepidation about motion sickness and being physically uncomfortable."
Behrens underwent rigorous preparation for the cruise. He spent two days in Anchorage, Alaska, this summer participating in survival training.
"We learned how to take care of ourselves in perilous situations, especially aircraft debacles," said Behrens. "We learned how to escape the vessel, and prepare ourselves mentally and physically."
Behrens is fascinated by the scope of the questions involved in the research cruise, and said he is enthusiastic about relating the study to his third grade students when he returns.
"The real emphasis in the science curriculum is going through a scientific process, how to ask a question," he said. "What I do with students is encourage the question. It doesn't necessarily have to be a big question, but some kind of question. COAS scientists are at the far end of the scale asking global questions. But it's important for younger students to ask any kind of question. As they get older, their questioning becomes more sophisticated, but to begin the questioning process is really important."