Two humpback whales bubble feeding, one with a gull sitting on its head. Image collected under MMPA research permit #17355. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Leah Crowe

Dr. Ragupathy Kannan, a biology and ecology professor at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, will set sail Aug. 14, 2019, to assist scientists on a 16-day Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey along the east coast of the United States. Dr. Kannan will participate in this cruise as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's Teacher at Sea program, which bridges science and education through real-world research experiences.


"Through my experience with NOAA, my students will not only be able to learn firsthand about exciting research projects at sea, but they will also be witnesses to them and, on some level, participants in them," said Dr. Kannan. "Making their learning relevant through my own experiences is vital to getting students excited about science. Fostering that passion for science is my number one goal."


Dr. Kannan will work aboard the NOAA ship "Gordon Gunter” out of Norfolk, Va., and alongside fellow scientists to conduct the surveys along the northeastern U.S. continental shelf, working together to build a massive data set that will set indicators for future generations of scientists.


"We're gathering baseline data that scientists can compare to 20, 30, even 50 years from now,” Dr. Kannan explained. "We know, for example, that plankton are declining at the rate of 1 percent a year because of eco-monitoring surveys that were done decades ago."

"We're keeping a finger on the pulse of our planet," he said, "and that leads to questions: Why are zooplankton declining? Why are North Atlantic right whales or basking sharks declining? Questions we hope to answer with the data."


Dr. Kannan and other members of the NOAA teams will survey plankton, sea birds and sea mammals as well as monitor physical indicators of oceanic health, such as temperature, salinity, depth and conductivity. Dr. Kannan hopes to use his hands-on experience to collaborate with Karen Grady, former director of the UAFS Education Renewal Zone and a NOAA alumna, in the development of a marine biology course at UAFS, which could begin enrolling students as early as 2021.


NOAA provides grant funds to alumni of the Teacher at Sea program for just such development, helping the faculty who have completed the program further extend their experience to the classroom. Dr. Kannan plans to host a seminar this fall following his return, discussing his research and the ways it can be applied to student learning at UAFS.


Having taught study abroad courses in Belize for more than a decade, Dr. Kannan truly understands what an impact a program like this can have on student learning.


"Students can be inspired to explore careers in marine science, which is what the NOAA Teacher at Sea program aspires to accomplish by having teachers out in the oceans communicating directly to students in the classroom."


The experience also enables Dr. Kannan to serve as an inspiration to other faculty members, promoting continual growth in research as well as pedagogy.


"Education is a fast-evolving, multi-faceted experience that does not live solely in books – nor does it thrive if confined to them. These fields are experiential in nature. We must expose and support faculty and students in their exploration of the wide landscape outside the textbook," said Dr. Ron Darbeau, dean of the UAFS College of Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and interim dean of the UAFS College of Health Sciences.


Now in its 29th year, the program has provided more than 800 teachers the opportunity to gain firsthand experience participating in science at sea. This year NOAA received applications from nearly 300 teachers and chose just 19 to participate in research cruises.


"NOAA's Teacher at Sea program gives teachers the professional opportunity of a lifetime with a chance to participate in cutting-edge science on the ocean, working side by side with world-renowned scientists," says Jennifer Hammond, the program's director. "Teachers describe this authentic research experience as transformative and one that allows them to bring new knowledge and excitement back to their classrooms."


NOAA will analyze data generated by the surveys in partnership with outside scientists to determine zooplankton abundance, distribution and biomass estimates and time series of zooplankton abundances, and to establish baseline indices for zooplankton and hydrography in the northeastern U.S. continental shelf ecosystem.


To follow Dr. Kannan's work at sea, visit:*Kannan/blogs, where he will begin posting blogs Aug. 15.

Rachel Rodemann Putman
Photo Credits: 
NOAA Fisheries/Leah Crowe
Date Posted: 
Tuesday, July 30, 2019
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