From the Bottom of the World to Beachwood, N.J., Questions About Climate-Change, Phytoplankton, and 35-Hour Work Days

From the Bottom of the World to Beachwood, N.J., Questions About Climate-Change, Phytoplankton, and 35-Hour Work Days


To the 80 eighth-graders in the media center, Josh Kohut’s voice sounded as if he were underwater, warbling his answers to their questions about his research project in Antarctica.

Kohut, a Rutgers oceanographer, was calling from the communications room of the research ship Nathaniel B. Palmer, where he and Rutgers colleague Adam Kustka are examining the waters of the Ross Sea and their effect on the food web.

Eighth grader Dominique Wilson gets to ask Rutgers oceanographers his question directly, with the help of his teacher, Donna Matlosz .Dominique and Mrs. Matlosz were in the media center of Toms River Intermediate School South in Beachwood; Prof. Josh Kohut and his colleagues were on the research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer off the coast of Antarctica.
Kohut was making the first of several live satellite phone calls to answer questions about the project for middle- and high-school students in schools in New Jersey, New York and California.

Donna Matlosz’s students at Toms River Intermediate School-South, in Beachwood, N.J., were the first to get a call. There was some apprehension. Talking by satellite phone to the bottom of the world is not like calling across town.

“You’ll hear an echo,” Matlosz said to her students. “And there will be a delay.”

Sure enough, as the students spoke into the phone, it was as if their questions were being spoken into a deep cave: “Hello...(hello…), my name…(my name…) is Dominique (Dominique…Dominique…)”

Then there would be a delay before Kohut’s answer bounced off the satellite and through the speakers in the media room.

Students questioned Kohut about the gadgets used to gather information about the Ross Sea, including submersible underwater robot gliders, ship-board sensors, and satellite information. Then there were questions about the work.

“When did your project begin?” Jessica Daley asked.

“Three years ago when we wrote the (grant proposals),” Kohut answered. “Then there were all the logistical questions. How do we get the equipment to Antarctica? How do we get the people to Antarctica? How do we get the ship to Antarctica? We put the glider in the water on Dec. 10, and it’s been in the water ever since. We got on the ship on Jan. 19, but it takes so long to get here that I left my house on Jan. 10.”

Dominique Wilson wanted to know about his work schedule. “Do you work 24 hours,” she asked.

To save time and bandwidth, Aslyn Holland, an eighth grader at Toms River Intermediate School South in Beachwood, N.J., types a question for Rutgers oceanographers in real time. The question was then answered over the phone in real time.
“Yes,” Kohut said. “We’re far enough south where it’s daylight all the time, and we’re taking advantage of that. If you talk to any of the scientists here, they’re all pretty tired.”

He pointed out that the Nathaniel B. Palmer had crossed and re-crossed the International Dateline during the voyage, making it all the more difficult to keep track of time. One scientist   went 35 hours without sleeping.

The call to Beachwood was the first of eight scheduled by Rutgers and the Liberty Science Center, who sponsored a workshop last summer for Matlosz, her fellow-teacher Cherri Worth, and about two dozen other teachers. Most were from New Jersey, but three were from New York City and one was from a school in Los Angeles.

The phone calls are part of a larger project sponsored by an organization in which both Rutgers and Liberty Science Center are partners: Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Experience – Networked Ocean World, or COSEE-NOW (

The group has hired a science writer, Hugh Powell, and a photojournalist, Chris Linder, to document the work Kohut and his colleagues are doing in the Ross Sea. They maintain a blog that shows how science is done – its purpose, practice, hopes, and failures – and also what life is like for those who do it.

For Matlosz, a second-career teacher, the notion of telephoning someone at the bottom of the world was unfathomable.

 “If you had asked me five years ago, even a year ago, if we would be doing such a thing, I wouldn’t have believed it,” she said.

Media Contact: Ken Branson
732-932-7084, ext. 633