Oceanography: A new addition to Earth and Environmental Sciences

By Alayna Callanan ’14
Univ. Communications

Many students at the University of Rochester may enroll in introductory chemistry courses with no clue how the material can relate to anything they care about. But, Associate Professor John Kessler hopes his new class, EES 212: A Climate Change Perspective to Chemical Oceanography, can demonstrate how the material relates to students and help them understand the course concepts.

Kessler hopes to show students that “chemistry can be done outside a sterile chemistry lab.” Oceanography, he explains, provides tangible, real-life applications of chemistry, geology, and biology. It is a topic fairly new to the University, but since nearly 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean, study of the oceans is critical to understanding climate change.

Junior Erin Hayes is pursuing a degree in the geological sciences and has been looking for this missing link ever since she took an oceanography class in high school. “I’m very excited to take a course that combines both my interests in Chemistry and Geology,” Hayes says.

Research experience is another academic component that Hayes and many other students strive to get.  Kessler is planning an exciting field trip where students will be able to conduct research themselves. The research will focus on oceanic methane, a contributor to greenhouse gases and a personal favorite of Kessler’s, and will explore the dynamics and effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Students interested in the opportunity should contact him or take his class to find out the details of the project.

Kessler previously taught oceanography at Texas A&M University and has done extensive work as chief scientist regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He normally has a limited scope of how he can study oceanic methane, but with this unfortunate accident, researchers used the opportunity to “learn how the planet functions naturally,” says Kessler. Geologic record has shown that similar situations have occurred in the past. Since no one can deliberately release at least 200,000 tons of oil and gas, this phenomenon has not been able to be replicated. Although Kessler typically studies natural events, he performed work on this because the spill was natural but accelerated, essentially. Research from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is still being analyzed. Professor Kessler hopes to introduce students to oceanography, more specifically chemical oceanography, and will tie in his personal knowledge and research to the class.

Read More: At Least 200,000 Tons of Oil and Gas from Deepwater Horizon Spill Consumed by Gulf Bacteria

Alayna Callanan ’14 is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in geological sciences. She is the president of UR Rock Climbing Club and the Outing Club, is the secretary of the Undergraduate Student Geological Organization and is a member of Gamma Phi Beta.

In the Photos (courtesy of John Kessler): Professor John Kessler conducts research during his first expedition to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.