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‘Curiosity and enthusiasm’

Ocean mapping student recognized with self-directed learning award

Student Life

By Jennifer Batten

A student with a passion for ocean technology and science has been awarded the 2019 Memorial University Award for Outstanding Self-directed Learning.

Dr. Donna Hardy Cox presents Michaela Barnes with her award.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

The award was presented to Michaela Barnes, a student in the Marine Institute’s joint diploma of technology/bachelor of technology in ocean mapping program during Memorial’s Teaching and Learning Conference on the St. John’s campus recently.

Ms. Barnes’ self-directed learning journey started as she pondered the answer to a seemingly simple question: Which is deeper – Gander Lake or Grand Lake?

Her quest for an answer to this question set Ms. Barnes on a self-directed learning journey that affirmed her love of the water, her enthusiasm for ocean technology and the scientific curiosity she developed as a child.

Friends and adventures

It all started the summer following her first year of studies at the Marine Institute.

A friend presented Ms. Barnes with data he collected at Grand Lake that put into question the popular belief that Gander Lake, at 287 meters, was the deepest lake in Newfoundland. Curious, the pair researched the history of Grand Lake and, from the documents of an early 1900s mining operation on Glover Island in Grand Lake, they found a recorded depth of 420 meters.

“It was not a requirement of her academic program, but she was keen.” — Dr. Hardy Cox

So, the goal was set. Ms. Barnes and her friend gathered a team of investigators to conduct a survey of Grand Lake and to prove, without a doubt, that Grand Lake was indeed the deepest lake in the province.

The team proceeded to conduct several surveys of Grand Lake that settled the question about the deepest lake once and for all — as well as reveal some surprises.

“It was ultimately Michaela’s curiosity and enthusiasm for ocean mapping that prompted her to undertake this project,” said Dr. Donna Hardy Cox, associate vice-president (students), during the award presentation. “It was not a requirement of her academic program, but she was keen to take advantage of the opportunity to get on the water and gain practical mapping experience.”

Pen vs. paintbrush

Ms. Barnes spent a significant time conducting archival research on Grand Lake, designing and conducting the surveys, analyzing the data and travelling to and from Grand Lake on Newfoundland’s West Coast. Everything was conducted in her spare time on weekends and holidays.

Michaela Barnes Self-directed Learning Award Recipient 2019
Michaela Barnes during a presentation she gave about her mapping work at the awards ceremony.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Before the first survey was conducted, Ms. Barnes also took the initiative to become a licensed pleasure craft operator so that she could drive the 16-foot aluminum boat that would be their survey vessel.

Though multibeam echosounders are commonly used in deep water surveying today, the team had access to only a single beam echosounder. Ms. Barnes likened this to painting with a pen versus a wide paintbrush.

Nevertheless, once the team examined the landscape of Grand Lake and identified the area likely to be of greatest depth, she took on the task of planning the survey lines for maximum coverage.

Cold weather during the fall and winter forced the team to suspend their surveys until spring; Ms. Barnes and her teammates took this time to conduct more research on Grand Lake.

Tangible and intangible skills

Knowing that they would return to the lake in the spring and with a new plan based on exciting information from their research, Ms. Barnes sought advice and resources from Paul Brett, head of the School of Ocean Technology.

He offered the team a combination single beam and side scan sonar, which captures high-resolution images of the seafloor, but warned that he believed the side scan sonar to be broken.

“I had no idea just how many skills, both tangible and intangible, I would gain.” — Michaela Barnes

So, while learning about side scan in class, Ms. Barnes, in her spare time, did some trouble shooting with and testing of an actual side scan sonar. She discovered the problem was with the instrument’s settings and was able to restore it to working condition.

The team eventually returned to the lake twice to conduct surveys that Ms. Barnes designed to focus on coastline of 12 meters in depth or shallower. She noted that creating the survey plans was one of the most valuable aspects of the undertaking, as it forced her to consider and bring together all aspects of the survey. It also helped her learn how to work collaboratively with team members.

“I set out with a goal to improve my knowledge and gain experience in surveying, but I had no idea just how many skills, both tangible and intangible, I would gain,” she said during a presentation she gave about her experience during the awards ceremony.

Personal and professional growth

Ms. Barnes and her team presented their findings at the School of Ocean Technology and to the public at the Johnson GEO Centre. In addition, Ms. Barnes was the lead author of an article on their findings, Sunken History of Grand Lake, published in a 2017 edition of the Journal of Ocean Technology.

For her curiosity and enthusiasm, her initiative, and her persistence and hard work, not to mention the gains in her own personal and professional growth and her contribution to our understanding of the history of Grand Lake, Ms. Barnes was recognized with the 2019 Memorial University Award for Outstanding Self-directed Learning.

The Memorial University Award for Outstanding Self-directed Learning celebrates undergraduate students with the qualities and skills that enable them to manage their own learning and successfully undertake self-directed learning projects during their formal studies.


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