While NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer was mapping the seafloor off the East Coast of the United States, information was beaming from the ship, to a satellite, and finally, to Marcel Peliks’ laptop in Santa Cruz, California. Marcel, a graduate student and NOAA Ocean Exploration Explorer-in-Training, was processing the data in real time, expanding his skills while keeping the Okeanos Explorer’s mission on track.
Marcel was helping to pilot one of two new internship formats that the Explorer-in-Training Program introduced in response to COVID-19. The Explorer-in-Training Program is run through a partnership between NOAA Ocean Exploration and the Cooperative Program for the Advancement of Earth System Science, a community program of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Since 2009, the program has offered internships either on board the Okeanos Explorer or on shore at the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center at the University of New Hampshire. Now, students have new ways to train to become the next generation of ocean explorers.
Mapping the seafloor in the cloud
In response to COVID-19 safety guidelines that limited ship-based personnel for the 2021 Okeanos Explorer field season, the team moved their mapping software to a secure, cloud-based operating system. Marcel Peliks and three other Explorers-in-Training with previous mapping experience processed data from home as the information was collected at sea.
“The mapping team is happy to report successful data collection, and the students have described this experience as ‘exciting’ and noted that it exceeded their expectations,” said Trish Albano, NOAA Ocean Exploration Internship Program Coordinator. “This new approach will create opportunities for students who may not be able to participate in in-person activities for personal reasons.”
Expedition-support and science communication internships
In the past, the Explorer-in-Training Program has followed an expedition-based model, where students contribute to Okeanos Explorer cruises through internships that vary in length and take place at different times of the year. In 2021, NOAA Ocean Exploration tested a new 10-week summer internship model so students could contribute to long-term projects focused on science communication and expedition operations planning. The students also participated in professional development workshops and information sessions to learn more about ocean exploration, data management, and the federal service.
"This was an overall awesome experience ... and I am grateful for my role on the team," said Noelle Helder, who completed a 10-week internship in expedition operations and coordination.
More ways to explore
Since 2009, the Explorer-in-Training Program has prepared more than 140 students to become the next generation of ocean explorers. The program plans to continue offering more internship opportunities based on the evolving needs of the field of ocean exploration.
This past year, the Explorer-in-Training Program not only increased students’ seafloor mapping and operations-support skills, but also demonstrated another essential skill of ocean exploration: adaptability. "Being a part of the newly minted cloud-based mapping team was an exciting journey," said Marcel.