Sailing & Science: Baltimore Students Join Expedition Through the North Pacific Gyre Aboard the RV FALKOR

By Amanda Payton, STEM Coordinator, DSC & Stuart Proctor, Programs and Education Manager, DSC

On January 9, 2017, fifteen students from Wolfe Street Academy’s STEM Sailing After-school program and 4 students from the You Make a Difference STEMMA program in Baltimore took part in a Ship-to-Shore Experience, connecting with the crew of the R/V Falkor in real time while at the Downtown Sailing Center(DSC). This unique opportunity was recently provided to Downtown Sailing Center by 11th Hour Racing, a program of the Schmidt Family Foundation, which partners with the sailing and marine communities to drive ocean stewardship, sustainability and ocean health. Sister organization Schmidt Ocean Institute included two of 11th Hour Racing’s sailing industry partners – Brock Callen, Sr., Executive Director of Sail Martha’s Vineyard, and Brock Callen Jr.,11th Hour Racing Ambassador – on board their ocean research vessel. The Callens were active science crew members and also focused on outreach, connecting the sailing community with the world of ocean research.

Through a Google Hangout, the students had the unique opportunity to speak with the Callens and other crew members as they sailed across the Pacific Ocean. Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor conducts various technology-based science expeditions, and this one focused on mapping Johnston Atoll. The ship started its voyage in Guam on December 29th, 2016 traveling to Honolulu, HI.


The students are part of an after-school program at Wolfe St. Academy, which partners with many non-profit organizations around the city to provide diverse programming for the students.The STEM Sailing program is offered through a partnership with the DSC and utilizes US Sailing’s Reach curriculum to teach students STEM topics through the medium of sailing while connecting them to the science and stewardship of our local waters. They have spent this school year on the water and in the classroom learning about the fundamentals of scientific inquiry and sailing. This experience was a chance for students to learn more about ocean-related careers and STEM and connect the ideas they learn in the classroom to the real world. We also had 4 students join us from the You Make a Difference STEMMA program.

Students were very curious about life aboard the R/V Falkor. Questions ranged from “What types of animals have you seen?” (Melissa, grade 3) to “How do you keep directions and know where you are going?” (Zynobia, grade 7) to “Who inspired you to do your work and explore the ocean?” (Tyler, grade 4). The R/V Falkor crew graciously told the students all about their blue-footed boobies sighting, how GPS and computerized navigation systems make steering a boat like a videogame, and how a love for the ocean and curiosity about what lies underneath can manifest into meaningful careers. Andrew Kang, a Coral Researcher from University of Guam, captivated the audience with his tale of growing up near the ocean and wanting to explore it more deeply. Students also learned about radar in ocean navigation, crew dynamics, and how crew enjoy a feast of bacon, eggs, and croissants in the morning.

This cruise from Guam to Honolulu was the R/V Falkor’s first transit cruise, or “Research on Transit”. They departed in December stopping in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, 1,830 nautical miles (3,390 kilometers) southwest of Honolulu. In this remote protected area lies Johnston Atoll, the closest landmass to Hawaii, some 717 nautical miles (1,328 km) from Honolulu.

The team mapped over 7000 km² over four days along a portion of the unmapped Johnston Seamount group, where at least three unexplored seamounts were investigated. Scientists performed multibeam mapping, as well as sub-bottom and magnetics surveys. Falkor’s multibeam systems were used, as well as a Compressed High Intensity Radar Pulse sub-bottom profiler (CHIRP). CHIRP uses sound frequency within the radar ‘ping’ as it moves over a range, instead of a single frequency, bringing better resolution compared to fixed-frequency sonars. Falkor also towed a magnetometer to survey below the seafloor.

With data from these sensors and tools onboard, the team used Falkor’s supercomputing resources to combine this newly-discovered information with existing data and maps. The results will be provided to the research community and public.

We hope this opportunity will inspire our students to pursue STEM careers and develop a passion for our oceans and waterways.
The Downtown Sailing Center would like to thank the Schmidt Ocean Institute, 11th Hour Racing, and US Sailing for giving our students this wonderful opportunity.

If your center is interested in organizing a ship-to-shore call on an upcoming Schmidt Ocean Institute cruise, check out:

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