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Marshall University to offer oceanography class and welcome new professor

Amanda Larch | News Editor

Amanda Larch | News Editor

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Marshall University’s College of Science is offering an Introduction to Oceanography course this fall. Designed for non-science majors, the course was previously offered each fall semester over a decade ago, but as student enrollment continued to drop, it was discontinued.

Professor Ronald Martino, chair of the geology department, said the COS recently hired a new professor, Andrew Horst, to teach and revive the class.

“Dr. Horst’s research expertise has to do with the sea floor in its spreading as illustrated on the island of Iceland,” Martino said. “Because Iceland is one of those rare places where the mid-oceanic ridge has had so much volcanism, it’s built the level of the sea floor up above sea level, and that’s part of his research. When we interviewed him, we let him teach a couple of sample lectures, and he’s very energetic, very passionate about students and about geology in general, but I’m sure, and I know I’m this way too, when I start talking about something that I do research in, it just comes naturally that you’re pretty excited about it. That energizes the students and makes the class a lot more enjoyable.”

Horst said this will be his first time teaching an oceanography class, and some topics he will discuss in the course include a history of the oceans and how they formed, environmental policy, how the oceans and the atmosphere interact and more common subjects such as waves and tides.

“It’s actually something that is very near and dear to my heart, as far as teaching, I’ve never had a chance to teach it entirely myself,” Horst said. “It does overlap with some of my research interests so I’m going to try to infuse the class with some of those things as well but I’m starting off with a historical perspective on what are the oceans, where did they come from, when did they form and how did they form. Then we’ll shift gears a little bit and think about what’s coming off of the continents so sediments coming into those places. From there we’ll go into what is sea water, what is water, what are the physical properties of it, why does it freeze. Why should we care what’s happening around the planet and keeping that theme through to the interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere. A bit into climate and those kinds of things. Some more familiar topics which many people have heard of as far as waves and tides. Environmental policy and El Nino cycles, and how those affect places around the world on the opposite side of places that are nowhere near the ocean but are incredibly impacted by these things that are happening in the ocean. Marine pollution, ocean acidification, larger topics that can have local and global effects.”

Horst will also be instructing the lab section of the class, and he said that is where students will have more hands on learning experiences and opportunities.

“The lab section will allow us to delve into these topics a little bit more with some hands on things,” Horst said. “Of course, we’re not exactly near the ocean, but I’ve been toying with the idea of going to an aquarium. It seems more tangible than going to the coast, as much as I would love to. We’ll be doing some things with computers and there’s lots of interesting set ups with fiberoptic cables that go offshore of Washington state out to the Pacific Northwest and are feeding in real time date for these ocean bottom observatories. It’s kind of made a new perspective on studying the oceans, one place getting all sorts of data in real time and just streaming it onto the web.”

Martino said it is important to study the oceans, and the class will be relevant to today’s environmental and social issues.

“It is a good course, and so many things now, in the last 10 or 15 years, have become critical social issues that relate to the oceans,” Martino said. “The oceans aren’t important just because of the science that’s there, it’s because the oceans affect a lot of things that we depend on. We affect, we can affect and are affecting the oceans. For people to have a scientific literacy adequate to understand some of the things that are being talked about today, I think that even to a non-science major it really helps to have some understanding of what goes on in the oceans. I mean they cover 71 percent of the earth’s surface; most people don’t really know what goes on below the surface, and it’s a whole other world. Why wouldn’t somebody want to know more about it if they care about the planet?”

If the oceanography class is successful this fall, Martino said his department will continue to offer it, and in the future, it may be available to students online as well.

“We would like to offer it every fall,” Martino said. “The success really would be measured by the student feedback. We want to make sure it’s a course that’s not too rigorous but it has enough content in  it to be informative, and it is designed for non-science majors, so whatever science they need to understand it, it’ll be an introduction to the basics of that so that they can appreciate whether we’re talking about the gulf stream or tides or something like that, they’ll have enough of a basic understanding of the science behind it to know how it works. I’ve had several students inquire whether it would be available online, and right now since we’re offering it just for the first time this fall it’s not online this time around, but I think that’s certainly a possibility where we might have a section that could be designed for online students, but again, there would have to be enough demand to make it worth having to do that.”

Martino said while it is designed for non-science majors and fulfills the Core II natural science requirements, he would like to see geology and other science majors take the class.

“The majority of students in the past who took it were just students who were trying to meet a natural science requirement, and this does that and meets the Core II requirements,” Martino said. “We have different science courses, and some of them meet those Core II requirements for natural science and some don’t. In addition to getting a background, they’ll get credit for the Core II natural science. I would like our majors to take it even though it’s not a required course because it really does tie a lot of things together that really none of our other courses really do in a very direct way, so I’ve encouraged our majors to take it.”

GLY 150: Introduction to Oceanography will meet Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 to 12:15 p.m. and the accompanying lab will be Wednesdays from 1 until 2:50 p.m. The lecture meets in room 276 in the Science Building, while the lab room is 167 of the Science Building. Students interested in taking the course may contact Martino at [email protected]

“It’s a really good course for any science major and for people who really aren’t interested in science, but they’re interested in the environment, they’re interested in marine life, things like that. I think it would be a natural draw for them,” Martino said. “I’m very pleased that we have somebody who’s a really good student orientated teacher coming onboard to do it, and I think it’ll make a world of difference. The person who taught the course in the past almost put you to sleep. He’s a brilliant person, very smart, but if I put him in a room and if I put this new fellow in a room, it would be like looking at two different species. But that’s true of all professors, we’re all different. I’m just really encouraged by the new person; I think he will make a significant difference in the appeal of the course. The other thing that I think will make it pretty popular is the fact that it is so relevant. It gets into many things that are important to many people today.”

“If you present it in such an interesting enough way, I think, and within the context of the whole course of understanding the planet, I think it can be really helpful and insightful that even if you don’t care about geology, maybe someday you’ll go to the ocean and you’ll see these waves and see these other things and you’ll remember back to something and feel a little more confident in your understanding,” Horst said. “Just getting students to think a little bit more in depth about it and have enough interest to dig a little bit deeper into it but have enough solid foundation that they feel confident and know where to go find reliable information. Those are my main hopes.”

Amanda Larch can be contacted at [email protected]

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