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Energy and the Ocean Environment


SEA Semester: Energy & the Ocean Environment

What Is It?

An investigative science and policy semester evaluating challenges to our sustainable energy future and strategies for achieving energy independence, focused on the social, economic, environmental, and technological dimensions of coastal and open ocean marine energy resources.

When Is It?

Spring 2014: Offered as Oceans & Climate; Space Available
February 4 - May 2, 2014
Special climate/energy focused program. Details coming soon!

Where Is It?

Cruise Track: Tahiti to Hawaii
Port Stops: Nuku Hiva (Marquesas Islands), Equatorial crossing, Hawaii (tentative)

Who Should Apply?

SEA Semester: Energy & the Ocean Environment (EOE) attracts students interested in investigating the problems and uncertainties associated with utilizing ocean resources for energy security while fostering healthy, sustainable marine ecosystems. The interdisciplinary curriculum is open to all majors; it is especially suited for students interested in holistically solving problems in energy potential and production, as well as its economic, political, and environmental impacts. Limited to 24 students per cruise.

Prerequisites: A minimum of two lab science courses, at least one at the 200 level OR two sequential 100-level labs. Not sure if you qualify? Contact your Admissions Counselor.

SEA Semester operates on a rolling admissions basis, so there are no application deadlines. Students are accepted on a case-by-case basis until the program is full.


Program Description

The challenges of ocean-derived energy are controversial but must be tackled if we are committed to energy independence and sustainable practices. In this semester, students investigate a number of ocean-derived energy resources including offshore oil and wind, ocean thermal energy, waves, tides and currents. Concurrently, they develop an understanding and awareness of the political framework, relevant policies, and planning, technological and scientific issues surrounding and at the limits of knowledge of the marine renewable energy sector. Strategies employed by different communities and nations are explored as we examine decision-making, cost/benefit analysis and resource management from local to global scales. Alternative energy sources may relieve U.S. and international dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate global climate change; however, there are associated environmental impacts, political complications, and economic concerns.

As we look to the ocean to supply more energy, how do we balance the desire for both economic stability and ocean health? Students explore this question and many others as they develop the critical evaluation, systems thinking, interdisciplinary problem-solving and communication skills essential to the next generation of engineers, scientists, advocates and policy-makers advancing this new industry.

On Shore in Woods Hole
Students engage in intensive coursework in the fields of oceanography, energy and marine policy, and nautical science, all of which focuses on central issues linking energy demand, production and transport to our oceans. They develop original research projects to be conducted at sea.

Students have access to SEA faculty, guest experts, and the world-renowned WHOI/MBL Library. They also explore local and regional issues at the energy-society-environment interface, including case studies of the Cape Wind project and the still-present effects of New England oil spills. Field trips may visit selected laboratories and research vessels of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the New Bedford Whaling Museum, power plants, sustainable energy facilities, and the Woods Hole Research Center.

At Sea in the Pacific
As full, working members of the scientific team and sailing crew aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans, students deploy oceanographic sampling equipment, manage shipboard operations, navigate by the stars, and make observations in port stops off the beaten path. Students will have the opportunity to visit and interact with scientists and operators at energy facilities using ocean thermal differential, solar, wind, geothermal, algal biofuel and other marine energy resources. Ocean-derived energy remains a prominent theme throughout the sea component, including the Robert C. Seamans itself as a closed system using and producing its own power and water resources.

Students implement their experimental design, analyze collected data, and present their scientific and policy-related findings upon completion of the sea component.

Energy & the Ocean Environment | Video Blog

Click here for several more videos from the Spring 2011 EOE program!

Special Program Features

Students work individually with SEA faculty and a series of visiting lecturers, all of whom are specialists in their fields, to design an original research project during the shore component. A poster session and scientific paper allow students to present their findings to one another.

Guest lecturers have included:

Dr. Christopher Reddy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Dr. Susan Farady, Roger Williams University Law School (SEA Semester Alumna)
Mr. Chris McGuire, The Nature Conservancy (SEA Semester Alumnus)
Robbie Gemmel, Documentary Filmmaker
Sean Corcoran, Senior Reporter at NPR
Mr. Rob Munier, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Dr. Jan War, Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority

Student field trips have included:

National Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (Kona, HI)
Makai Ocean Engineering Thermal Energy Test Facility (Kona, HI)
Keahole Solar Power (Kona, HI)
Pakini Nui Wind Farm (South Point, HI)
Puna Geothermal Venture (Pahoa, HI)
New Bedford Whaling Museum (New Bedford, MA)

Student research topics have included:

Auxiliary wind power along Pacific shipping routes
Phytoplankton abundance and community structure, linked to algal biofuels
Ocean impacts (biological and chemical) of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide
Small island alternative energy (wind, tidal, solar) feasibility assessment
Climate cycles in the Equatorial Pacific and their effects on marine energy resources
Feasibility of OTEC (ocean thermal energy conversion), both offshore and coastal
Energy production and use onboard the Robert C. Seamans
Potential energy in the Equatorial Current System
Wind-driven surface currents
Zooplankton biogeography and food web structure
Marine pollution and related policies
Water column chemistry and structure in the North Pacific

Energy & the Ocean Environment Photo Gallery

Click images to view full gallery (20 photos)



Oceans in the Global Carbon Cycle, CAS NS 321 (4 credits)
This course evaluates energy as it relates to the ocean. We cover an array of topics including the ocean as a source of energy and the associated technologies, the energy associated with metabolic processes in marine organisms, and the ocean's role in regulating the products of global energy consumption. We study marine carbon chemistry in depth and explore both global climate change and ocean acidification. In addition to regular course work, students develop a research project that they will carry out at sea. This course also incorporates prominent guest lecturers and field trips to local research institutions.

Ocean Science and Public Policy, CAS NS 320 (3 credits)
From revolutionary new Marine Spatial Planning regimes to support developing "clean and renewable" wind power, or the trumpeting calls to "drill baby drill!" in closed areas of the continental shelf, today's debates over energy policy are reshaping how America manages its ocean resources. Through case studies, visiting lecturers, and applied research, this course explores the meeting of public policy and science at the brave new world of ocean energy in the United States.

Nautical Science, CAS NS 223 (3 credits)
Nautical Science teaches the practical skills and theoretical background necessary to safely operate a tall ship on the high seas. Students learn and apply essential concepts in general physics, astronomy, and meteorology. During the sea component, students apply these concepts while acting as active and increasingly responsible members of the ship's crew, working toward the ultimate role of Junior Watch Officer.

Oceanographic Field Methods, XAS NS 324 (3 credits)
In support of student directed research, students master all aspects of the shipboard lab operations. Students will deploy and recover oceanographic sampling equipment, collect and analyze data from a variety of sophisticated instruments and be a part of the 24 hour/day oceanographic sampling team.

Directed Oceanographic Research, XAS NS 325 (4 credits)
Students collect, analyze, and present data for projects of their own design. Each student completes an original research project in oceanography under the guidance of the Chief Scientist on board the vessel.