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News contact: Steve McGregor, UTD, (972) 883-2293, smcgreg@utdallas.edu

U. T. Dallas Geosciences Graduate
Conducting Research in Antarctica

Field Assignments Help Bolster Students' Education, Job Prospects

Photo - Jennifer NiceRICHARDSON, Texas (Feb. 3, 2004) — Less than a month after getting her bachelor's degree in geosciences from The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD), Jennifer Nice is putting the lessons she learned in the classroom into action aboard a scientific research ship doing seismic studies off the coast of Antarctica.

While the six-week stint, which began in mid-January, fulfills a dream the 21-year-old Weatherford, Texas, resident has had for some time, the assignment has a practical side as well - as a resume-enhancer that could open doors as she continues her education and ultimately seeks employment.

It's one of the services that Geosciences Department Head Dr. Robert J. Stern and his colleagues are happy to provide the 85 undergraduate and graduate students in the department.

"It gives me a lot of pleasure to help young people see the world and get a new perspective on it," Stern said. "Assignments like Jen's get students out of the classroom and into the field, which is critical to the study of geology."

Stern plans to take along a UTD graduate student on a research trip to the North Pacific Ocean island group of the Marianas in March, where they will study hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor using underwater robots. In May, he'll be joined by another graduate student on a research trip to Bonin Island, Japan, where they and other scientists from the United States and Japan will study underwater rocks.

In December, one of Stern's colleagues, Dr. Mohamed Abdelsalam, took two groups of students to Ethiopia. One group worked in the Afar Region, a geologic hot spot of complex tectonics and volcanism, while the other group worked on the Gorge of the Blue Nile.

The genesis of Nice's trek to Antarctica involved her telling Stern she wanted to do research on the frozen continent. Stern responded by asking a friend, Dr. Larry Lawver, a scientist at The University of Texas at Austin, if Nice could join an upcoming research cruise he planned to lead there. Lawver agreed and, after the requisite red tape was cut and paperwork completed, Nice was headed for her destination more than 6,000 miles from home.

"Jen is one of our outstanding students - she's bright, outgoing, active in the Geosciences Club," Stern said. "When someone like Jen identifies something he or she wants to pursue, we'll make every effort to arrange a research assignment related to that interest."

Nice left the U.S. on Jan. 12, flying first to New Zealand, then on to McMurdo Station, the American scientific base on the Antarctic coast. After a few days in the "New York of Antarctica" (so-named because it's current, summer population swells to about 1,200 from the winter norm of 200 people), she boarded the Research Vessel Ice Breaker (RVIB) Nathaniel B. Palmer , a large ship operated by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Since leaving port, the 300-foot-long Palmer , with a bow made of steel plate more than a foot thick, crunched through sea ice and dodged icebergs, one the size of Rhode Island, on the way to her destination - the Western Ross Sea. Once in the area, Nice and the other scientists on board began pinging the sea bottom with sound waves to map a geologic formation know as "Terror Rift," named after Antarctic explorer Admiral Sir James Clark Ross' ship.

In periodic e-mails sent from the ship to Stern and others at UTD, Nice described Palmer as "an awesome ship. It is bright orange and so big. When it pulled into harbor, the whole town wanted to come onboard and see it."

" Palmer is a seagoing workstation with numerous labs on board and all of the equipment a geoscientist could ask for," Nice wrote. "We are mapping the rift and the structures beneath it to understand how continents separate and form new oceans."

Nice works an eight-hour night shift aboard ship - from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. - though there's little distinction between day and night, since the sun never sets during the Antarctic summer. Among her duties are helping to analyze sonar data from the seismic mapping operations and spending time on the bridge watching for marine mammals.

"The effects of seismic surveys on marine mammals are not clearly understood, so if we spot a mammal within a 'safety radius' of the ship, we have to shut down operations," Nice explained. "So far we have been lucky; the only times we have spotted killer whales have been when we are not running seismic surveys."

During the course of their survey activities, according to Nice, the researchers aboard Palmer have discovered an underwater volcano in the Terror Rift and dredged the sea bottom for rock samples. All of the data collected will eventually help scientists better define this particular geologic feature and help understand other modern rifts.

"Jen is learning about ice sheets and marine geophysics and getting to see how science is done," said Stern. "She's able to do both science and sightseeing at the same time."

Nice's scientific sojourn will end on Feb. 22, when she heads back to the U.S. However, there will be little time to catch her breath upon her return. There are plans for graduate school (UTD or elsewhere), a future career to ponder (she wants to be an astronaut) and, oh, yeah, she's getting married 13 days after returning from Antarctica.

About UTD
The University of Texas at Dallas, located at the convergence of Richardson, Plano and Dallas in the heart of the complex of major multinational technology corporations known as the Telecom Corridor®, enrolls about 13,700 students. The school's freshman class traditionally stands at the forefront of Texas state universities in terms of average SAT scores. The university offers a broad assortment of bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs. For additional information about UTD, please visit the university's web site at www.utdallas.edu.


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August 03, 2013