Once Afraid to Go Too Far From Home, Rutgers Graduate Finds Herself Conducting Marine Research in the Azores and Antarctica

Once Afraid to Go Too Far From Home, Rutgers Graduate Finds Herself Conducting Marine Research in the Azores and Antarctica

Emily Rogalsky also helped send Rutgers’ glider across the ocean
Once Afraid to Go Too Far From Home, Rutgers Graduate Finds Herself Conducting Marine Research in the Azores and Antarctica

Credit: Rachel Sipler, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
From the deck of the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer, Emily Rogalsky tries to gain a little perspective on her Antarctic experience.

Many students who graduate this month have come a long way. Emily Rogalsky, who will receive a bachelor’s degree in ecology evolution and natural resources, can lay claim to having gone a very long way, and come back. She has helped to send submersible robot gliders across oceans, learned to interpret their data, collaborated with international scientists, visited the Azores, and, most recently, spent two months in the Antarctic aboard the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer. After graduation, she plans to continue her studies in graduate school.

In high school, Rogalsky considered attending the University of North Carolina at Wilmington because of its strong reputation in marine science, and even took an exploratory trip to Wilmington with her family. But she hadn’t considered how far away Wilmington was from her home in Jackson Township, New Jersey. She “cried all the way home” at the thought of being that far away from her family, particularly her younger brother, to whom she is very close. So she chose Rutgers, which also has a strong marine science reputation, unaware of exactly how far she would go or how much she would do.

“I expected to be working on basic lab experiments,” Rogalsky said. “Then, Dr. Scott Glenn introduced me to the Slocum electric glider that he wanted me to work with. Having never worked with equipment like this before, I was both overwhelmed and excited.”

The Slocum electric gliders move slowly through the ocean in a roller-coaster track, using sensors to


Emily Rogalsky, in the white helmet, swings over the side of the ship to collect ice algae.

obtain information about the water. They send this information back to the lab by satellite phone, where scientists combine it with information from other systems (satellites, radar, etc.) to get a holistic, nearly real-time picture of the ocean’s condition. Glenn, professor of marine science and co-director of the Coastal Ocean Observation Laboratory in the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, was knee-deep in a project to send one of the lab’s gliders across the Atlantic, something that had never been done before. He and his two faculty colleagues, Oscar Schofield and Josh Kohut, deliberately looked for bright undergraduates to be part of the effort – to grapple with engineering issues, to deploy and retrieve gliders, and ultimately, to help steer them across the ocean.

In her sophomore year, as the lab prepared its first trans-Atlantic attempt, Rogalsky accompanied Kohut and other students to the University of the Azores, where they explained what they were about to do to their peers. Later that year, Rogalsky traveled to Cambodia in a nonscientific endeavor with Rutgers’ Human Rights House to study the after effects of the infamous genocide in that country.

When Rogalsky and her classmates began pitching in with trans-Atlantic project, much of what they did was as new to their professors as it was to them. When their glider was lost of the Azores in October 2008, she shared their despair, and when its successor made it safely to Spain in 2009, she shared their exultation, waiting until the wee hours of the morning to hear Kohut say the code words for success over the satellite phone: “The bear is in the igloo!”

The trip to the bottom of the world was “amazing, awesome,” Rogalsky said. “It was good to see all the experts in different aspects of oceanography together. There was lots of collaboration between different groups.”

Eventually, Rogalsky helped deploy a glider for Schofield as part of his Antarctic research. But at the beginning, did “underway sampling,” which is just what it sounds like, with the sampling tube coming into the ship. It was done round the clock for a week in the nearly continuous daylight of the Antarctic summer.

“When you had sampling to do, you got woken up,” Rogalsky said. “We did tag-team sleeping.’

It wasn’t all work. Rogalsky and her mates had “ice liberty,” in which they disembarked onto ice flows to stretch their legs and get some fresh air. “We kicked around a football, played Frisbee, and just enjoyed being on a flat, non-moving surface,” she said.

There was some fun aboard, too. “Dave, one of the cooks, made bagels,” Rogalsky said. “And they were such a hit that he started a bagel-making class.”