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Educator Says Ship-board Experience One of the Best of her Life

Kari Fuller said she was geeked to spend a week this summer on the U.S. Lake Guardian research vessel, where she was part of a learning adventure that set a scientific record and sailed through a 100-year storm.

The gifted and talented teaching assistant was one of 15 teachers, and the only teacher from Michigan, chosen for the Shipboard Science Workshop offered by the Sea Grant Center for Great Lakes Literacy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The purpose of the trip — on Lake Superior from Duluth, Wisconsin to Houghton, Michigan — was to check on the health of the lake for the EPA and bring back data for use in the classroom. Fuller worked with scientists from four Midwest colleges analyzing data and creating a report that could be applied to what their students will be learning this fall.

Fuller in her “Gumby” suit, aka a Quan survival suit

Fuller described the trip as one of the best experiences of her life.

“I love geology, I love the lakes, I love the learning,” she said. “The science will allow me to enrich and accelerate the content they are learning in the regular classroom.”

Fuller will be able to brag that she was part of the deepest sampling dig ever done in Lake Superior. Samples are taken from different depths so scientists can study what is going on at each level. The group’s samples from a depth of 316 meters were the deepest taken from Lake Superior. “We were on the crew that dug farther than any other researcher in history,” she said. “That is very exciting.”

The record-setting activity took place off Isle Royale. One of the things researchers were looking for was Diporeia, a food source that is declining in other Great Lakes. It previously had been found at 200 meters in Lake Superior. From the ship experiments, researchers now know it is living at more than 300 meters and not disappearing at greater depths.

A Ponar sampler was used to gather the sediment samples for the EPA. Its claw-like device was dropped in the water to gather sediment, water samples and aquatic life. When the Ponar hit bottom, the claw grabbed the dirt and snapped shut. After getting samples, the teachers and scientists took them to labs on the ship to analyze. Fuller said they “respectfully” called the Ponar a “(P)erfect (O)pportunity for (N)erdy (A)quatic (R)esearch.”

Before the trip ended, educators gave presentations on their research and discoveries, including ideas for new classroom lessons. Fuller’s experience  will allow her to tell her students about the turbidity, alkalinity, pH, chlorophyll content and conductivity of Lake Superior.

Storm ‘Like Rocking to Sleep’   

While being part of a crew that dug deeper in Lake Superior than any other research team was exciting, others might have thought the top trip story was the storm they experienced.

The devastating July 11 storm that hit between the Keweenaw Peninsula and the Apostle Islands was labeled a “100-year storm.” Dark skies, sheets of rain and strikes of lightning were everywhere as those on board watched a huge line of black clouds coming toward them before the captain ordered everyone off the deck. “It washed out roads in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota,” Fuller said, “but the boat and its crew kept us safe.”

The rocking of the ship was awful for some, but not Fuller. “It was like rocking to sleep,” she said, adding the worst part for her was the captain having to blow the foghorn every two minutes because visibility was so bad.

So, what did Fuller bring home as a souvenir? A piece of dirt from one of the samples. She put it in a necklace.

Yes, Kari Fuller is still geeked.


APG Media account of storm

Read as teachers tweeted and blogged about their cruise

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Linda Odette
Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio or email Linda.


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