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Outreach

Flat Isabel Goes on a Research Cruise



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Flat Isabel with a black-bellied rosefish.
Above: Flat Isabel with a black-bellied rosefish. [larger version]

Christina Kellogg and Flat Isabel with senior submersible pilot Craig Caddigan
Above: Christina Kellogg (right) and Flat Isabel with senior submersible pilot Craig Caddigan, immediately pre-dive. [larger version]

Flat Isabel visits the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in the Johnson-Sea-Link submersible.
Above: Flat Isabel visits the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in the Johnson-Sea-Link submersible. [larger version]

My scientific colleagues were understandably curious about why I seemed to be playing with paper dolls (in addition to isolating bacteria from deep-sea corals and invertebrates). Admittedly, it was a bit out of character for me. But, then, this wasn't just any paper doll. It was Flat Isabel, and she was my special guest on a deep-sea research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico.

Flat Isabel is a friend of Flat Stanley. Flat Stanley is the title character of a children's book and has become the basis of a popular school project that promotes literacy, writing skills, and "connectivity" between students and new people, places, and activities. Dale Hubert, a grade-school teacher in Canada, started the Flat Stanley Project in 1995. There are variations on the project, but usually the class reads the book and then they make paper Flat Stanleys (or flat versions of themselves). These figures are then mailed to other people, who are asked to treat the figures like visiting guests. The hosts typically take photographs of the paper doll with local landmarks or participating in interesting activities and then return the doll with the photos and sometimes maps, postcards, or other souvenirs. The students then get to learn about all the places their various "flat friends" have visited. It is particularly appropriate for Flat Isabel to go to sea with us this year, since the Flat Stanley Project has declared 2009 "The Year of Science" and, in collaboration with the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science, is inviting students and teachers to send Flat Stanley on scientific adventures of all kinds.

Nine-year-old Isabel Castro of Alpharetta, Georgia, sent Flat Isabel on this research cruise, which was part of the DISCOVRE program (Diversity, Systematics, and Connectivity of Vulnerable Reef Ecosystems). Like her maker, Flat Isabel is a cheerleader and kept the scientists' morale up during their 12-hour shifts. She toured the research vessel Seward Johnson, supervised loading of sampling gear onto the Johnson-Sea-Link submersible, and participated in the sorting and photographing of deep-sea animals we've collected, including fish, a variety of crabs, and corals. Of course, it wasn't all work and no play! When Flat Isabel wasn't on a duty watch, she had the same options to relax that the science team had—go on deck and get a little sun, read a book from the ship's library, work out on the treadmill or stationary bike, watch a movie in the lounge, or catch up on sleep before the next 12-hour shift!

September 20 was a big day for Flat Isabel (and me)! It was finally our turn to dive with the submersible. We visited a site called Viosca Knoll (VK862) and collected some Lophelia coral for my microbial ecology study. I sampled the very same coral mounds in 2004, so this was a rare opportunity to look at anything that might have changed in the past 5 years. Flat Isabel had a 180-degree view of the ocean floor from the front acrylic sphere of the submersible. I'm betting she's the only one in her class to visit the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico (1,000 feet deep)!

To learn more about the project Flat Isabel assisted us with, read the USGS Fact Sheet Gulf of Mexico Deep-Sea Coral Ecosystem Studies, 2008–2011. Also see "Scientists Cruise Deep into Coral Ecosystems" in the Fieldwork section of this issue.


Related Sound Waves Stories
Scientists Cruise Deep into Coral Ecosystems
December 2009

Related Web Sites
DISCOVRE
USGS
Gulf of Mexico Deep-Sea Coral Ecosystem Studies, 20082011 - USGS Fact Sheet FS 20093094
USGS
Flat Stanley Project
international literacy and community building activity
Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science
coalition for national scientific literacy

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in this issue:

Fieldwork
cover story:
Surprises from the Samoa Tsunami

Scientists Cruise Deep into Coral Ecosystems

Mapping Seafloor Habitat and Geology along the California Coast

How Mangrove Islands Kept Up With Sea-Level Rise

Research Tsunamis Generated from Outer-Rise Earthquakes

South Carolina Beaches a Model for Preservation

Outreach Flat Isabel Goes on a Research Cruise

Awards USGS Employees in Louisiana Garner Awards

Staff New Director of USGS Woods Hole Science Center

Publications December 2009 Publications List


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