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Styrofoam and Pressure #shrunkencupoff


On-board educators and crew on the R/V Atlantis joined in with students from all over the world decorating styrofoam to take on their current research cruise. Lots of amazing marker drawings were created on the styrofoam. This phenomenon isn’t just something our research cruise has done. Oceanographic researchers have been sending styrofoam cups, heads, or other shapes overboard and down to the depths of the ocean for many years. You may have wondered what the purpose is for doing this, well the point is to show what happens to the styrofoam when it succumbs to tons of water pressure.


Angeline and Gabrielle showing their decorated cups.
Educator Crew and Chief Scientist with SloMo – before heading to the bottom of the ocean.
Crew decorating cups.








Two bags were attached to the bottom of the CTD and sent overboard.












As the cup descends, the air is squeezed out of the styrofoam and the cup shrinks. The deeper it goes, the smaller it gets. Styrofoam cups are made of plastic (polystyrene) beads with lots of air pockets. As the styrofoam descends into the depths of the ocean, more and more water is above the styrofoam, increasing the weight (pressure) on it (roughly 14 pounds per square inch for every 10 meters depth). Our deepest site was over 3,800 meters (~12,400 feet) so that’s over 5,200 pounds of pressure! Two mesh bags of styrofoam were secured to the bottom of the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) rosette before being deployed to the ocean floor. When they returned, they were a fraction of their original size and much more dense since most of the air has been squeezed out.


Heads and cups after returning from their 3,800 meter journey to the bottom of the ocean and back.
Cups after returning from the depths of the ocean.











Heads and cups before going deep into the ocean.
Head after going 3,800 meters deep into the ocean. Cup for scale.












Location : 40 degree 15.177' N, 67 degrees 26.041' W
Cruise Day #: 7
Water Depth: 1,600 meters 
Weather Conditions : cloudy, rain off and on, humid, warm
Wave and Sea Conditions: rocky with some swells over 12 feet