Campus Currents

Underwater Ed

It's a gray November day and the wind is sweeping whitecaps on the 45-degree water off Nubble Light in York, Maine. Tourists visiting the 1879 lighthouse have thrust their cold hands deep into fleece-lined pockets. So what are those UNH students doing on the rocky water's edge, stripped down to their bathing suits?

Welcome to an open water dive for Kinesiology 730, or Research Diving Techniques. Students in this class have spent the better part of a semester learning navigation, CPR and first aid, and how to administer oxygen in the event of an emergency. They've also studied Boyle's Law and dive tables that tell them how much time they must spend ascending from any given depth, or risk getting the bends. Soon, they'll devise a research experiment of their own and try it out underwater, but today they will practice taking quadrates—as opposed to line or video transects—to estimate the density of sea stars. They'll carry with them an underwater camera to help record their data.

As quickly as they can, the half dozen students are donning wet suits, or in some cases dry suits, which are warmer in New England's chilly waters. When they've finished suiting up, air tanks and masks in place, instructor Liz Kintzing '78 will lead them across the rocks and into the water. Twelve dives under varying conditions are required, including deep water and night dives. "Part of it is learning how to do research underwater, and part of it is just getting comfortable," says Jake Lange '02, an environment and resource economics major with a minor in marine biology.

The diving program supports UNH's marine science research, and the scuba diving classes are among the most popular courses on campus, despite the hefty lab fee and the need to buy a lot of equipment. In the basic course, some students are just interested in learning a new skill, but advanced students are usually planning on putting their expertise to use. Senior Stephanie Boisits, a marine biology major, already knows she wants a marine career that involves diving. "I love it," she says. "This is what I want to do."

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