Ocean Research Project Annual Report: Onward & Up in the Arctic & STEM



Nicole Trenholm and Matt Rutherford

We are underway already in 2015!

The beginning of the year is always a time of great unknowns but I can’t help to be excited. Last year I did not know that we would have the opportunity to build the research vessel that we would inevitably sail across the Pacific Ocean. I wonder what will we discover to share, who will step onboard the team, and how best can we support the project in 2015? Matt and I know that in 2014 we could not have crossed the Pacific Ocean nor provided Chesapeake Bay-wide coverage of plastic pollution problems and biodiversity population concerns if it weren’t for you. Our STEM education program has blossomed and this is only the beginning.

While waste of anthropogenic origin is dispersed throughout our watery world and on the rise it is no wonder why countless species are disappearing. You care about the future changes of the oceans and we do too. That

Nicole Trenholm

Nicole Trenholm

is why in 2014, our Ocean Research Project (ORP) team sailed over 7,200 miles for science, education and exploration in order to encourage the sustainability of the oceans. We actively disrupt how marine field data collection is typically done by hoisting our sails we symbolize independence from non-renewable resource limited research.

Awareness of the plastic pollution problem in the oceans has erupted. We thank 86 Old Mill Middle School 5th grade STEM co-bloggers who took on addressing plastic pollution as we sampled the problem across the Pacific. Data from our 2 year plastic pollution study helped verify that, “5.25 trillion pieces of plastic, large and small, weighing 269,000 tons, could be found throughout the world’s oceans, even in the most remote reaches” as stated by colleague Dr. Eriksen of 5 Gyres Institute in the NY Times. Our international colleague Professor Takada of University of Tokyo recently discovered that our Atlantic mid-ocean plastic pollution samples revealed traces of harmful Persistent Organic Pollutants.


The Ocean Research Project uses sailing platforms to fulfill their mission objectives.  They typically use an East Coast based 42 foot schooner, R/V Ault and have built and used vessels of opportunity such as the 29ft W.D. Schock vessel Sakura on the West Coast.

We also recognize carbon’s increasing role in ocean change. Undersail and armed with cutting-edge drones climate change is under scrutiny and Eastern Greenland’s Helheim Glacier is our first stop. This is ground zero for the Arctic’s greatest contribution to sea level rise. This year we are prepared to test how to best monitor the health of the glaciers using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in order to best evaluate the stability of the ice over the Eastern Greenland 3 year period.

Our team consists of both Matt and Nicole, and now University of Texas’s Polar scientist Jamin Greenbaum, and expedition cinematographer Zachary Schields. “You hear about sea-level rise all the time in the news,” Jamin says. “But very few people actually know where that sea level comes from.” Jamin collaborates with UAV developers, Intuitive Machines for February’s first flight while Matt searches for the means to transform the R/V Ault into an Arctic-ready vessel by June.

I am determined to outfit the R/V Ault with the necessary equipment for success. Heavy Seas Brewery stands behind the team while Smithsonian is concocting a simultaneous ocean acidification survey assignment for ORP that could yield a colossal multi-year citizen science program. We need to match our in-kind support of 130k to lay the ground work for the ORP’s most ambitious project to date that is slated to span 3 years.

Starting last Spring we launched our education program and managed to speak to 185 middle school students, provide lessons and problem based activities for Anne Arundel County Public School (AACPS) Middle and High school groups and took on 5 interns. The team shared stories of sea pollution research, tasked the students with field observations, data analysis and coordinated shared Smithsonian Environmental Research Laboratory lab experiences under the supervision of Dr. Ogburn of the Fish and Invertebrate Ecology Lab.

“Your program led to the beginning of a SERC and AACPS STEM partnership beginning with 100’s of STEM students visiting the new green SERC building and being exposed to the variety of environmental research activities on campus”, Ogburn stated. Dr. Ogburn and the ORP recently finished a reconnaissance bio-telemetry survey of the Chesapeake Bay where the ORP listened for tagged marine species and most notably targeted the burgeoning cow-nose ray population in late summer and early fall.

We are thrilled that the students are involved because they are the future and they must adapt to the changing marine environment. Summer Intern Aaron Anthony noted in his blog entry, “This internship in all has given me experience in scientific research and a better understanding of organisms in the Chesapeake Bay. I have also had experience in field work, lab work, and work on the computer as well. I am having a great time working here with everyone.”

Proud to celebrate our 2 years as an active 501c3 entity, Matt shared our vision of the upcoming projects while swapping a few seas stories and sampling a few of Heavy Seas latest beers at an event we held in October hosted at the Heavy Seas Brewery where many of our colleagues and friends, such as Senator Tom Harkin and Governor Martin O’Malley attended.

In early February we will act as keynote speakers for the environmental community at the Alaska Forum in Anchorage on behalf of the marine plastic pollution problem. Later that month, we are excited to root for our Anne Arundel County STEM interns who will present their work and represent the ORP at the 5th Annual Marine and Maritime Career Fair on February 28th. 2015’s educational activity opportunities are endless with lessons slated to be adapted for NOAA’s Science on a Sphere and our goal to transfer real-time field educational multimedia and data from the Arctic to STEM school classrooms.

Roll up your sleeves with the Ocean Research Project in order to encourage the sustainability of the oceans. I want to thank the ORP community including the board, donors, sponsors, partners, interns and volunteers for their ongoing drive and willingness to try.

Interested in sponsoring project critical equipment? Click here to see the equipment needs list.

Help us match our in-kind sponsorship to fulfill our needs to provide science, education and exploratory services. Share this link Click here to help us reach our goal. We accept donations click here or send donations to Ocean Research Project at 1009 Bayridge Avenue Annapolis, MD 21403 #132

Matching Fund Drive

​For reference feel free to visit our website oceanresearchproject.org to learn more about our upcoming projects and educational program.

To learn how Matt’s St. Brendan, his 27 foot sailboat that solo circumnavigated around the Americas and through the Northwest Passage is becoming a mobile STEM education exhibit, click here!


Nicole Trenholm

Program Director

Ocean Research Project 501c3