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Texas State Aquarium officials part of ocean mission

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — On one side of the world in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, underneath 6,500 feet of water, sits a mountain range the size of California that contains the biggest known volcano on Earth.

On the other side of the globe, 4,000 teachers and students in 103 classes across eight states in the United States wanted to learn more about this intriguing geological formation. And on a mission to connect the two were Suraida Nañez-James, the Texas State Aquarium's manager of distance learning and outreach and William Sager, the Texas State Aquarium's first Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics Professional in Residence.

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times ( ) reports the two, along with a team of other scientists and researchers, set sail on a 300-foot vessel called the Falkor on Oct. 5 from Hawaii to study and map the long-dormant volcano called TAMU Massif, which is about equal in size to the state of New Mexico, Sager said. The mountain range where it's located is known as the Shatsky Rise.

Their 36-day journey ended in Guam on Nov. 10.

Sager, a University of Houston geophysics professor who holds a doctorate in marine geophysics, said the purpose of the trip was to better understand how the volcanoes are formed.

Once Sager and the crew arrived at their destination, the used an instrument called a magnetometer to collect magnetic and topographic data about TAMU Massif. They collected the data the whole time the ship made the journey to the Shatsky Rise.

But the work didn't end there. Using Skype, Nañez-James taught and showed students in real time how the volcano was mapped and introduced them to the scientists and crew onboard the Falkor. She acted as the educator, blogger, and journalist on the expedition.

"I worked the midnight to 10 a.m. shift which worked out to be about 8 a.m. in Texas. I showed them life at sea and talked to the crew, went to the bridge, and I went to the control room and talked about topographic mapping," she said.

Nañez-James, a former educator who taught Advanced Placement chemistry, forensic science and biotechnical engineering at Moody High School, holds a master's degree in marine science and biology from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

"We really want to get kids excited about science. Our mission is to connect people with science, nature and conservation of the Gulf of Mexico," she said.

The other positive is for the students to see and learn about science careers, said Leslie Peart, vice president for education and conservation at the Texas State Aquarium.

"She made students understand if we're going to do projects like this, we will need a bunch of you," Peart said.

The trip was funded by a variety of sources, Sager said. The Schmidt Ocean Institute lent a team of researchers and student scientists, along with the research vessel Falkor. Sager's position at the aquarium is supported by Flint Hills Resources Center for Excellence in STEM Education funding.

"I got a small grant from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society funded the travel costs," he said.

Sager said he is just beginning the process of analyzing the information the team collected during the 36-day journey.

"We have data and will fit it together and put it in modeling programs. No matter what, we will learn more about the TAMU Massif," he said.


Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times,

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times

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