Mechanical engineering senior E.J. Rainville spent his 2018 summer traveling through the North Atlantic, aboard a 238-foot ship and encountering 60 mph winds and 23-foot swells.
But this was not for leisure – Rainville was collecting data to help scientists better understand climate change.
“It’s kind of interesting sleeping in that — you roll around a lot, and when you’re working your laptop slides around a lot and the instruments fall off the shelf, but you get used to it after [a series] of days,” Rainville said.
Rainville worked with the Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program (OSNAP), an international climate change research program. The program is currently in its second installment of an eight-year project.
Rainville said if the climate in that area warms too much, the formation of cold deep waters will be reduced. This could slow down ocean circulation and greatly affect the climate.
“They went out two years ago and deployed instruments into the ocean and left them out there,” Rainville said. “So, we came back and collected all the data and started learning from there, and we were taking measurements as well.”
Rainville’s five-week trip south of Greenland involved over-watching an instrument that is lowered into the ocean to collect data 24 hours a day. The team was split into groups of two and each group had an eight-hour shift.
“So I worked 2 a.m. to 5 a.m., and we would just help launch the instrument into the ocean so it would be lowered off the side of the ship on a crane,” Rainville said. “And, lowered down, it will take profiles of the temperatures and also pressure measurements.”
Research takes place south of Greenland due to the site’s overturning circulation. The formation of deep, cold waters at the pole and warm, surface waters create a conveyor-belt effect in the ocean, providing key data for climate change.
“It’s a relatively understudied area,” Rainville said. “I mean, there’s a lot of people that have done work there, but there is still a lot left to learn.”
Rainville said the program gave him the opportunity to learn more about how instruments are used, deployed and retrieved during oceanic research.
Rainville also won the outstanding student paper award with an oceanic research paper he presented at the geographical union fall meeting last year.
Rainville plans on working with OSNAP again next summer.
“It was a great experience – I would love to keep going out on trips like this,” he said.