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Outreach

Coastal and Marine Exhibits Are Wet and Wild at USGS Open House in Menlo Park, California


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bald eagle Sequoia and San Francisco Zoo volunteers Linda Mickey and John Flynn
Above: Two of the Open House's most popular exhibits came together when bald eagle Sequoia and San Francisco Zoo volunteers Linda Mickey (left) and John Flynn visited the set of "Dress Like a Marine Geologist." (Sequoia was not interested in wearing a life vest or hard hat....) [larger version]

Coastal and marine exhibitors made a splash—many splashes, in fact—at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)'s 8th triennial Open House in Menlo Park, Calif., June 2-4, 2006. During the 3-day event, an estimated 10,000 people visited the USGS campus, where they could choose from more than 130 displays and hands-on activities.

A large tent pitched over a parking lot was an excellent venue for some water-based exhibits. Carissa Carter set up a flume to show how water flowing over a sand bed forms ripples and cross-beds. Kurt Rosenberger installed a current meter in a tank to demonstrate real-time measurements of current velocities and to explain how such measurements enabled scientists to detect turbidity flows tumbling down Monterey Submarine Canyon. Homa Lee told visitors how undersea landslides trigger damaging tsunamis and invited them to simulate a landslide-induced tsunami by sliding a brick into a tub of water.

The tsunami simulation won the dubious distinction of being the wettest exhibit, as kids placed plastic models of buildings on a surface about half an inch above the water (the "coast"), then washed the buildings away with a "tsunami" produced by sliding a brick into the tub. Inevitably, some water splashed out of the tank, perilously close to unwary visitors, but as far as is known, the only one who got wet without intending to was Western Coastal and Marine Geology Team chief scientist and noted good sport Sam Johnson.

Additional coastal and marine exhibits in and near the tent included:

  • A lidar (light detection and ranging) display in which Diane Minasian used a high-precision laser instrument to scan visitors, then showed them the results on a computer screen: thousands of dots defining the shapes of the visitors, props set up within the booth, and even trees and bushes in the scanner's line of "sight" beyond the tent's open door.

  • A sea-otter display organized by Alisha Kage that included pelts of sea otters and other marine mammals (to let visitors feel why the otter's fur was particularly prized), a microscope activity showing how tooth layers are used like tree rings to determine a sea otter's age, samples of what sea otters eat, and plastic casts of marine-mammal skulls.

  • A display on the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami by Guy Gelfenbaum, who showed a detailed computer model of tsunami inundation and sediment transport, as well as photographs of tsunami damage in Sumatra (see 26 December 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami: Initial Findings from Sumatra). Guy explained how he and other scientists measured the 2004 tsunami's effects and are studying sand deposits to help develop an understanding of past tsunamis in Sumatra and other regions.

  • Tsunami animations by Eric Geist, who let visitors pick a historical tsunami and observe its propagation through the ocean. He also showed how tsunamis might affect U.S. coasts if triggered by earthquakes off the Pacific Northwest or in the Caribbean region.

  • A live bald eagle, named Sequoia, in a display about ongoing impacts of DDT contamination in the southern California marine environment, hosted by Greg Baker and Milena Viljoen of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). For the first time in more than 50 years, bald eagles have successfully hatched eggs in the Channel Islands. A live Webcam gave visitors a view of one of the chicks and occasional glimpses of a parent bringing it food. Visitors were captivated by the majestic look of Sequoia, who lives at the San Francisco Zoo (a damaged tail prevents her from living in the wild) and frequently appears at public events. Accompanying her at the Open House were Kathy Hobson, coordinator of the zoo's Avian Conservation Center, and zoo volunteers Linda Mickey and John Flynn.

  • A representative of NOAA's National Weather Service, Shawn Weagle, who showed visitors how to make a "tornado in a bottle," explained how the National Weather Service gathers and analyzes weather data, and answered numerous questions about forecasting and other topics.

  • A "Rock Give-Away" headed by Terry Bruns, who offered visitors samples of basalt dredged from the Juan de Fuca Ridge at a water depth of 2,000 m (6,500 ft), plus handouts explaining the rocks' origin and warnings about their glassy edges.

  • A display of "Topo Salad Trays" organized by Laura Torresan. These ever-popular clear plastic trays have a contour line drawn on each tray and are stacked together to reveal a three-dimensional view of a landform—in this case Angel Island (in San Francisco Bay) and Monterey Canyon.

Li Erikson shows visitors how flowing water produces ripples and cross-beds Homa Lee discusses landslide-induced tsunamis as a young visitor prepares to trigger a miniature tsunami
Above left: Li Erikson (right) shows visitors how flowing water produces ripples and cross-beds. [larger version]

Above right: Homa Lee discusses landslide-induced tsunamis as a young visitor prepares to trigger a miniature tsunami. [larger version]

More coastal and marine geology exhibits could be viewed in Building 1: Clint Steele, Carolyn Degnan, Alex Ma, and a host of volunteers helped visitors "Dress Like a Marine Geologist" in life vests, hard hats, and other gear, after which they were videotaped and superimposed on a seagoing scene (view the pictures online). Carol Reiss invited visitors to cross a gangplank into a life-size model of a shipboard lab, where they saw a sidescan-sonar "fish" used to image the sea floor, views of data collected by the instrument, and other examples of equipment and data typical of marine-research cruises. Pete Dartnell let visitors take virtual flights over the sea floor in coastal areas where the team has collected detailed bathymetric data (for example, off San Diego). A group organized by Florence Wong provided a wealth of information about the floor of San Francisco Bay, showing visitors exciting new views of the sea floor inside and outside the Golden Gate, explaining how the bay floor has been changed by human activities (see Shifting Shoals and Shattered Rocks—How Man Has Transformed the Floor of West-Central San Francisco Bay), and discussing ongoing work to restore tidal wetlands around the bay. Ray Sliter and Holly Ryan took visitors on a guided tour of the San Andreas fault, showing them the fault's trace in topographic data viewed from above the land and in seismic-reflection data viewed from beneath the sea floor. David Finlayson invited visitors to view "Puget Sound in 3D" and explained how lidar technology has recently allowed mappers to "see" the ground beneath the Pacific Northwest's dense vegetation, revealing such details as grooves, or striations, that show which direction glaciers moved as they flowed over the land.

Lidar scan of Open House visitors, with bicycle three boys eagerly waiting to see themselves in a lidar scan taken by Diane Minasian with the assistance of Brad Carkin
Above left: Lidar scan of Open House visitors, with bicycle. [larger version]

Above right: These boys are eager to see themselves in a lidar scan taken by Diane Minasian (operating computer) with the assistance of Brad Carkin (behind boy in blue shirt). [larger version]

Across campus in Building 15, Bob Rosenbauer, Fran Hostettler, and others guided visitors through "Adventures in Geochemistry," inviting them to smell samples of oil from different sources and explaining how the chemistry of an oil sample not only gives it a distinctive smell but also serves as a "fingerprint" that can be used to determine its source—whether it came from a tanker spill or from a natural seep, for example.

Guy Gelfenbaum and Open House visitor young visitor creates currents while Andrew Stevens adjusts a monitor displaying real-time velocity measurements
Above left: Guy Gelfenbaum discusses the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami with an Open House visitor. [larger version]

Above right: Young visitor creates currents while Andrew Stevens (background) adjusts a monitor displaying real-time velocity measurements. [larger version]

Building 15 also contained numerous displays about the water, sediment, and life of San Francisco Bay. Mary McGann asked visitors to guess how many invasive foraminifers (one-celled animals) live in a square foot of San Francisco Bay mud (about a million), and let them look at the tiny invaders (Trochammina hadai) through a microscope. Jan Thompson and colleagues invited visitors to view and touch some "Critters from the Bay." An exhibit by Jim Kuwabara, Brent Topping, and Cyndi Azevedo had visitors use a conductivity meter to determine the salinity of unlabeled water samples (the saltier the water, the higher its conductivity) then match the samples to descriptions on a poster. An exhibit headed by Tara Schraga introduced visitors to phytoplankton, microscopic algae that constitute the largest part of the biomass in San Francisco Bay.

Visitors play a guessing game young preschoolers view a stuffed sea otter with exhibitor Alisha Kage
Above left: Visitors play a guessing game to learn what sea otters eat. [larger version]

Above right: Young preschoolers view a stuffed sea otter with exhibitor Alisha Kage. One girl asked how the animal had died (from disease) and concluded that she would become a sea-otter doctor when she grew up. [larger version]

Just outside Building 15, Byron Richards, Francis Parchaso, and Scott Conard set up an exhibit on "Research Vessels on San Francisco Bay," which noted the 80th birthday of the Polaris, a 96-ft boat used for USGS research on San Francisco Bay, and displayed the Frontier, a 25-ft Boston whaler used in water too shallow for the Polaris, plus instruments and gear used by the scientists. Next to the Frontier, exhibitors led by Cindy Brown showed visitors how active clams are by offering food to two species in "clam farms" (like ant farms but with sediment and water). The clams cooperated nicely, with Macoma balthica (estuarine clams from south San Francisco Bay) extending their siphons up into the water and Corbicula fluminea (freshwater clams from the Sacramento River) coming up to the sediment surface for food and then burying themselves when it got too warm. Cindy's crew also invited visitors to stick their hands into tubs of San Francisco Bay floor sediment to feel how grain sizes change with distance from the mouth of the Sacramento River.

Terry Bruns and Jane Reid give visitors samples of basalt from the Juan de Fuca Ridge Mary McGann and visitors
Above left: (Right to left) Terry Bruns and Jane Reid give visitors samples of basalt from the Juan de Fuca Ridge off Oregon and Washington. [larger version]

Above right: Mary McGann (right) asks visitors to guess how many foraminifers live in a square foot of San Francisco Bay mud. (The answer is "1 million.") [larger version]

Open House contributions by the Western Coastal and Marine Geology team were not only scientific but also logistical and musical: Before the event, electronics technicians Larry Kooker and Mike Boyle ran electrical outlets to displays in the Volcanoes, Coasts, and Oceans tent. Sue Hunt set up paired recycle bins and trash bins all over campus and monitored them throughout the event with the help of Catherine Cesnik, a Department of the Interior employee. On the first day of Open House, Friday, June 2, Quenton Smith-Costello and friends kicked off the opening ceremony with an inspiring performance of the national anthem. On all three days, current and former team members Florence Wong, Stephanie Ross, Helen Gibbons, Gretchen Luepke (retired), Alan Cooper (retired), and Guy Cochrane performed with the old-time-music group Duckweed (see URL http://openhouse.wr.usgs.gov/entertainment.html).

Kurt Rosenberger talks to visitors Mike and Laura Torresan
Above left: Kurt Rosenberger (right) talks to visitors about turbidity flows in Monterey Submarine Canyon. [larger version]

Above right: Mike and Laura Torresan show visitors how to make three-dimensional models out of clear plastic trays ("Topo Salad Trays"). [larger version]

The weather was sunny and warm throughout the weekend (luckily for those who got soaked by the tsunami simulation!), the mood was festive, and numerous compliments from visitors marked this as another highly successful Open House for the Menlo Park campus. Thanks to all who contributed, not just those named here but also the many other employees and volunteers, including some spouses and children, who prepared the campus, staffed exhibits, and provided invaluable support. (To learn more, please visit the USGS Western Region Open House 2006 Web site.)

Visitors inspect the cast of a killer-whale skull. Dancers enjoy music at the Open House.
Above left: Visitors inspect the cast of a killer-whale skull. [larger version]

Above right:
Dancers enjoy music at the Open House. Photograph by Mike Diggles. [larger version]


Related Sound Waves Stories
Good Time Had by All at USGS Open House in Menlo Park, CA
July 2003

Related Web Sites
USGS Western Region Open House 2006 Web site
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Shifting Shoals and Shattered Rocks—How Man Has Transformed the Floor of West-Central San Francisco Bay - USGS Circular 1259
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Sea Floor Mapping in the Pacific
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

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Research
cover story:
Scientists Study Sources of Nitrogen in Hood Canal

Biologists Count Parasites to Assess Health of Marsh

Researcher Studies Effects of African Dust on Human and Coral Health

Water Temperature Restricts Distribution of Coho Salmon in Redwood Creek

Outreach USGS Open House in Menlo Park, CA

Scientists and Educators Support "Watershed Watchers" Program

George Crekos' 30-Year Career Celebrated

Geography Students Speak Out at Science Symposium

Meetings Council of Science Editors Annual Meeting

Awards USGS Scientists Receive Coral Reef Task Force Award

National Wetlands Research Center Staff Win Awards for Publications

Staff Visiting Scientist Shares Expertise in Coastal-Evolution Modeling

Publications July 2006 Publications List


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