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CFCC's Marine Technology program sends students out to sea, readies them for sustainable energy jobs

The Marine Technology program at Cape Fear Community College has training cruises underway for the summer. The skills they learn could be invaluable for companies scouting locations for off-shore wind power.

The Marine Tech program has a total of 5 training cruises where they send students out to sea aboard the RV Cape Hatteras. Jason Rogers, department chair of the program, led this summer’s first full-capacity cruise since before the pandemic. This summer’s cruise focuses on the use of marine instrumentation used in hydrographic surveying and data analysis.

Sometimes, that means finding shipwrecks, like the Greg Mickey.

“Two big pieces of equipment that we’re using this week are the side-scan sonar and the magnetometer….We were out at frying pan tower and we dragged back and forth over the mickey. When we saw the mickey we saw that the magnetometer lights up, it sends back a really strong signal of ferrous metal because that’s what that ship that’s been sunk was actually made of. So you remember as we were on the boat today, we would send both of those instruments off the back…. that send data real-time back to computers in the computer lab on the vessel," Rogers said.

Another piece of equipment, the side-scan sonar, sends back data referencing acoustic pulses which produce acoustic shadows of objects on the seafloor. Students ran lines back and forth over a shipwreck to produce an image of where that ship is located on the ocean floor. Rogers said the instruments students are learning were being used to search for petroleum but are now being used to survey areas for renewable energy sources.

Those areas have to be able to support significant infrastructure, that can handle the stresses of wind and the ocean.

“Wind farms are now on our backdoor. They’re going to be here, and they’re going to be here quite soon. And we’re getting to a point now with wind farms where bigger is better. It gives companies a much bigger bang for their buck, instead of putting in a lot of small towers they put in fewer large turbines. Well, those turbines have incredible forces on them as they’re capturing wind and spinning. We have to make sure that the sediment, some 120 ft below the surface is of a consistency and type that it can support those enormous turbines," Rogers said.

Rogers hopes companies scouting for these locations will recognize that the training students have had at sea, makes them well-prepared for the job.

"So when companies come to explore the area, we’re here in town…and we’re positioned so well that when you hire one of our graduates, you know they’ve been to sea, you know they know how to operate underway, and they’ve been exposed to much of the same equipment that they’re going to be using at the job," he said.

Back in May, Duke Energy leased shorelines out in Long Bay off the coast of NC. This week students were surveying that area in the same way professional hydrographic surveying companies would before installing wind turbines.