Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 11, 2013

NMC student picked from thousands for research trip

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Too bad Chris Horvath won’t be asked to write an essay on what he did for summer vacation. It would make for a fascinating read.

Horvath plans to mingle with about 55 world-class scientists and crew on a research vessel plying the Atlantic ocean to help figure out how Iceland was formed eons ago.

“This will help discover the processes that formed the earth as we know it,” he said.

Horvath, 30, is a Northwestern Michigan College student selected from thousands of applicants to serve as one of two paid interns on the R/V Marcus G. Langset, a 235-foot research vessel that launches in late July.

Horvath was picked, in part, for his underwater mapping skills that he picked up in courses offered by NMC’s Great Lakes Water Studies Institute.

“It speaks volumes for the program here,” he said. “Very few colleges offer it.”

The relatively new program taught Horvath how to use sonar — or echo technology — to gauge the depth and characteristics of a lake or ocean bottom.

Horvath first applied those skills last summer as an intern when he and fellow fresh water studies students took the “Northwestern” research vessel onto Platte Bay to map out Lake Michigan’s bottom. The intensive two-week mapping project was intended to help Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore unlock the cause of aviation botulism. The project identified lake bed depressions, an indicator of decaying algae thought to create oxygen dead zones that fuel germination of the deadly botulism bacteria.

In Iceland, the principal investigator, Richard Hey, seeks to change the scientific community’s view of how the island of Iceland was formed from the underwater mid-Atlantic ridge, the world’s tallest mountain range, Horvath said.

The collision of the American and and Eurasian tectonic plates created a fractured mountain ridge, he said.

“We know that Iceland grew out of that fracture, but we want to learn exactly how that happened underwater,” he said. “Learning what formed Iceland will give us telltale signs of what will happen in the future.”

In addition to mapping, Horvath will help take core samples from the ocean bottom and read seismic data to determine how the tectonic plates are shifting and realigning.

Horvath said mapping an ocean bottom takes attention to detail, since salinity, temperature and pressure can distort the data, he said.

“There’s an interplay of data in real time, and you have to make sure is accurate,” he said.

After Horvath returns, he plans to finish his associate’s degree in fresh water studies. His dream is to work for a sonar company that will pay for the rest of his college education.

“He’s not going to be a technician, but a researcher or scientist,” said Hans Van Sumeren, the program’s executive director. “His ability to fix things and calculate data will make him a better scientist. Some scientists don’t know how to use this equipment, and always have to bring someone along who does.”

To read Horvath’s blog, Google “NMC explorer.” Also, visit the Great Lakes Water Studies Institute Facebook page.