Coastal and marine exhibitors made a splashmany splashes, in factat 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:
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 RocksHow 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.
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 sourcewhether it came from a tanker spill or from a natural seep, for example.
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.
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.
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).
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.)
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USGS Open House in Menlo Park, CA