Lindsay Knippenberg, an earth and marine sciences teacher at Mooresville High School, will join an expedition to explore uncharted areas of the ocean floor between Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Isles this month.
And her students will get to watch her participate in the Nautilus Exploration Program on a live feed.
The expedition, directed by Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard on the Exploration Vessel Nautilus, will send remotely operated vehicles to the ocean floor. The remotely operated vehicles, equipped with video cameras, lights and mechanical arms for picking items up, can be watched from a live feed on the ship and at www.nautiluslive.org.
The ship is one of just a handful of ships designated as Exploration Vessels in the world.
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Knippenberg, 34, has been teaching at Mooresville High for the past three years, though she has 12 years total teaching experience.
Before leaving for the trip, she spoke to her high school students, as well as seventh-graders at Mooresville Middle School and first-graders at South Elementary. During her expedition, each of these groups of students will get 20 minutes during the live feed to ask questions of Knippenberg and a team of scientists about what they are seeing on the ocean floor.
Knippenberg, who lives in Huntersville, will be on the ship Sept. 4-13. During the time, the British Virgin Islands seamounts, or underwater volcanoes, will be explored.
She said one of the most exciting things about the work is that human eyes have never seen much of the ocean floor, and the researchers do not know what they will find with the remotely operated vehicles. The team may find things like shipwrecks or ecosystems with undiscovered species.
The area she will help explore is a fault line where tectonic plates meet, the Greater Antilles-Lesser Antilles Transitional Zone, part of what caused the massive earthquake in Haiti. Researchers will also look for indicators of trouble.
For example, the will look for indications that a landslide or other geological event could occur. A landslide in this sort of underwater area could cause a tsunami in the future.
This expedition will be Knippenberg’s third. In the past she has joined a team researching in the Bering Sea, during which everyone became seasick because of 20-foot-high seas, and another near Antarctica.
During her undergraduate education, she spent three months camping on cliffs near Glacier Bay in Alaska to research seals. What she learned from this field experience was that though she loved science, she was also “a people person” and found it difficult to remain in the field for so long.
Knippenberg became a teacher and now uses her time in the field, like the upcoming Nautilus expedition, as experience she can bring back to the classroom with her to get students excited about science.
“They watch (science) shows on the Discovery Channel but see those careers as unobtainable,” said Knippenberg. She hopes students who see her conducting real research will be inspired.
This school year is the first that she has been able to teach a marine science class at Mooresville High. At least 25 students had to sign up for the class to be scheduled, and about 90 students signed up, said Knippenberg.
Her students will be able to begin learning right away as they watch the live feed while Knippenberg is on her expedition. They will also learn about Lake Norman’s ecosystems and how the lake flows out through rivers and eventually has an effect on the ocean ecosystems.
To get children interested in science, she recommends letting them play and explore outside a lot, encouraging them to be inquisitive without fear of being wrong.
“Science isn’t just something in a textbook,” said Knippenberg. “Little kids are the best scientists.”