The Kids and the Cups – Teaching Oceanography Using Styrofoam


Laura Spencer, a graduate student in Dr. Steven DiMarco’s lab, took cups from three classrooms with her on the Gulf Integrated Spill Research Tracer cruise (G03) in the Gulf of Mexico. The cups were lowered in the water on one of the CTD casts. When the CDT was raised, the 5 inch cups shrank to half their original size.

Dr. Steve DiMarco and his graduate student, Laura Spencer, visited two of the classes on 30 April 2013. The cups were returned to the students.

“Why do they shrink?” asked one of the students.

DiMarco used the cup demonstration to explain the property of pressure in the ocean to the students. The pressure on Earth’s surface is approximately 14.7 pounds per square inch. When the cup are lowered 3000 feet into the Gulf, pressure increased approximately Certificate100 times that of Earth’s surface, squeezing all the air out of the cup and reducing it to half its original size.

DiMarco presented a slide show to the students discussing the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Topics included the fate of oil from the spill, effects of the oil spill on the Gulf’ ecosystem and what the Gulf Integrated Spill Research (GISR) consortium hopes to discover from their current research in the Gulf of Mexico. Spencer, who participated in the two GISR tracer cruises (G02 and G03), described what is was like to spend a month at sea doing research. The students were fascinated to learn about life at sea.

DiMarco and Spencer presented the students with certificates for participating as “student oceanographers” in the GISR G03 cruise.