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Arctic Adventure Unites Oceanography, STEM Education Researchers

By Brendan O'Hallarn

Old Dominion University oceanographer Victoria Hill, a frequent traveler to the Arctic, had a partner from a different college on her recent research visit there.

She was accompanied by Petros Katsioloudis, chair of the Department of STEM and Professional Studies in ODU's College of Education, on a trip to far northern Alaska during spring break. It was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

For Katsioloudis, that's about as far from his native Cyprus as he could imagine. He was even required to watch polar bear safety videos to get ready.

"I can definitely say I never expected my work to take me here. I want to make sure that credit is given to Dr. Hill, as she is the one that made this possible. I am just helping," Katsioloudis said.

The principles of precision manufacturing that he researches and teaches in Norfolk led to the invitation to join Hill.

For several years, Hill's research has focused on indicators of climate change in the far north. She has made several trips on research vessels, collecting ice samples and analyzing biological matter to chart the scope and acceleration of climate change indicators such as sea ice thinning.

Her current project involves using Warming and Irradiance Measurement (WARM) buoys to assess the role of solar energy in heating and photosynthesis in the upper Arctic Ocean.

The study relies on continued observations using buoys placed in the ice or floating in the ocean. "The WARM buoy collects measurements of light, temperature, salinity and phytoplankton under the Arctic sea ice," Hill said.

Thinning and reduction of the seasonal extent of the ice pack has resulted in changes in the amount of sunlight penetrating to the ocean beneath, impacting natural processes such as warming, photosynthesis and photochemistry.

The project was a continuation of an Arctic Observing Network project to measure the penetration of solar radiation, temperature and biological characteristics beneath first-year pack ice during ice covered, melting and open water phases.

The ODU team, which this year also included a videographer, met a colleague from the University of Washington and a polar bear guard from Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation Barrow to deploy the buoys via fixed wing aircraft between 100 and 200 miles north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

The project also involved testing a new prototype light sensor that was made using 3-D printing technologies, which will aid in more accurate data collection and reduced manufacturing cost. That's where Katsioloudis comes in.

In his STEM education laboratory in the new education building, Katsioloudis manufactured a prototype light sensor that can survive the Arctic at a fraction of the cost that the device can be acquired currently.

"We redesigned the prototype using a three-dimensional prototyping technology. We were able to produce it at less than one-tenth of the cost of the existing light sensor," Katsioloudis said.

The Arctic trip also included an outreach visit to a school in remote Barrow, Alaska, where Katsioloudis talked about climate change and STEM technology with a group of elementary and high school students.

He was excited to represent the Darden College on the expedition, which has typically been the domain of oceanographers, chemists and biologists in the College of Sciences.

"We are planting a flag for our college as part of this research as well," he said. And he means it literally. Katsioloudis brought a flag with a Darden College logo, which he planted on one of the WARM buoys that was left in the Arctic habitat.

"This type of multidisciplinary research is a great way to show how researchers from our disciplines can work closely on important issues with other scientists," Katsioloudis said. "We are hopeful this will lead to further partnerships to help all of us."

The delegation was in Alaska from March 4 to 11.

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