April 9, 2006

Leaving the Mountains

I awoke to a beautiful morning in the Big Sky State and sadly said goodbye to my wife and son. The morning light was giving justice to the state's name. Puffy white clouds were contrasting the azure skies with a hint of orange on the horizon. I was on my way to meet a ship in Charleston, SC to participate in a 3-week experience as an ARMADA Teacher at Sea. My name is Joe Catron and I am a high school science teacher at Billings West High School in Billings, MT. I will be traveling aboard a 274ft. research vessel called the Ron H. Brown. This ship is the one of the newest in the NOAA research vessel fleet. Aboard the ship will be a team of scientists from around the globe. Scientists from fourteen countries will be represented including, China, Argentina, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, France, Norway, Mexico, Japan, Spain, Argentina, India, England, and the USA. The focus of the research is to collect plankton just east of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge from South Carolina to Puerto Rico. Efforts will be made to collect abyssal zone (deep water) zooplankton. The title of the project is CMarZ, which stands for Census of Marine Zooplankton. This scientific endeavor is focused on determining what organisms live in the pelagic ocean column around the planet.

I felt a little unease as the plane flew over the mountains I view as home. Their white capped peaks shone brilliantly. The plane flew over the Absorakees, Wasatch, and Rocky Mountain Ranges. From the plane the contrasting north and south slopes were apparent. The south slopes were bright white and angular from rapid erosion. A faster pace from snow run off has carved these slopes. The northern slopes were covered charcoal gray by arboreal forest acting as solar black bodies. The snow still blanketed deep under the branches as it awaits a slower pace into winter. The slow melt will feed perennial springs. As I look out the window I think about the peak my friend and I ran over last summer and I realize that the spring thaw will be well on its way when I return. The bears now sleeping with restless cubs will be out foraging. The mountains will soon come to life with vibrant wild flowers. I have never been to sea. The mountains have been the backdrops of my life. I wonder what new things I will learn as I experience a foreign landscape. The expanse of the great Atlantic Ocean lies ahead in stark contrast to the blue and white peaks of Montana.

Yellowstone National Park