What happens to objects exposed to extreme pressure? In December, 72 of Mr. Donato’s STEAM students from St. Dominic Elementary conducted an experiment to answer this question. The WaterFront Center and SEA (Sea Education Association) of Woods Hole, MA partnered to provide students an opportunity to conduct an experiment in the North Atlantic Ocean at a depth of over 1600 meters. The experiment connected the classrooms at St. Dominic Elementary School in Oyster Bay, NY to the Corwith Cramer, a 134’ Brigantine Sailing School Vessel (SSV) in the North Atlantic Ocean, 2444.1 nautical miles east of Woods Hole. The experiment materials went with the ship to Cork, Ireland before being shipped back to the WaterFront Center.
The experiment began when each student decorated a styrofoam cup with colored markers and recorded measurements of the cup’s dimensions. Students made predictions about what would happen to the cups when exposed to the conditions present deep beneath the ocean’s surface. The cups were packaged and handed off to Brittany Mauer, a former WFC Naturalist and Deckhand/Scientist for SEA. Brittany brought the cups to Woods Hole, MA to be carried across the Atlantic Ocean on the SSV Corwith Cramer. The following letter was sent back to WFC along with the cups detailing the experiment under way. Mr. Donato, It is my pleasure to send you and your students back these shrunken cups that were part of our Styrocast/CTD deployment on the morning of 24 June 2015. We were in the Eastern Atlantic Basin of the North Atlantic Ocean, on our voyage from Woods Hole, MA to Cork, Ireland. It was our 22nd day at sea. On our journey we had enjoyed the company of hundreds of dolphins as well as many fin whales, pilot whales and their calves, sea turtles, mola molas, a swordfish, and many seabirds such as shearwaters, fulmars, gannets, and petrals. On the morning of the 24th at 10:45am we deployed our CTD (which measures conductivity, temperature, and pressure, giving us temperature, salinity, and depth) in 4750 meters of water. We put out 2008 meters of wire, on which your cups and the CTS were attached. The CTD and cups went down to 1664 meters below the surface @ 050°4.7’N, 016°51.2’W. We had travelled 2444.1 nautical miles from Woods Hole, MA at that point. The whole deployment took about 2 ½ hours. Before and during the deployment, a pod of pilot whales and calves were playing in the waves. Many of them were spy hopping. They seemed to be just as curious about us as we were about them. Normally, we send the CTD down with a lead weight (called the ‘pig’) shackled to the bottom of its cage. This time around we had 30 of our own styrocups plus all of yours (72) and due to the buoyancy of all the cups the CTD was actually too buoyant to deploy. There was slack in the wire as we were trying to lower it down. Alas, after a few frantic moments of thinking of things to make the CTD + Styrocast sink, we got a second lead weight that was stowed in the science hold and attached both to the CTD. And down they went into the deep abyss. Brittany Mauer SEA Deckhand/Scientist (and former WFC Naturalist) The cups will be given back to students to compare their original measurements and descriptions to the actual results. Having been to a depth of 1664 meters below sea-level, the cups were exposed to a hydrostatic pressure of about 2454 PSI (imagine having a Fiat 500 resting on your big toe). The average ambient air pressure at sea-level is about 14.7 PSI. The cups experienced 167 times more pressure than they experience at sea-level. What do you think would happen to you if you were exposed to that much pressure?