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Outreach

Earth Science Day 2008 Delights Visitors to the USGS in Menlo Park, California


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Mary McGann lines up the shells of some one-celled organisms for a student to view through the microscope
Above: Mary McGann (left) lines up the shells of some one-celled organisms for a student to view through the microscope. Photograph by Paul Laustsen. [larger version]
A teacher and her students were viewing an old seismograph set up for display at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) office in Menlo Park, California, when suddenly the instrument's pen began to swing wildly. The teacher turned to a nearby USGS employee, Susan Garcia of the Earthquake Hazards Team, and asked, "Is this an earthquake?" It was! The earthquake waves, too weak to be felt by humans, had just arrived at a sensor in northern California, and the signals transmitted to Menlo Park were being traced on the paper roll of the display seismometer. Such mechanical recorders have largely been replaced by networked computers that begin processing earthquake signals as soon as they arrive. Rushing to a desktop computer, Garcia viewed the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program Web site, where preliminary information had already been posted: a magnitude 6.6 earthquake had struck off the coast of Mexico near the town of Chiapas at approximately 12:41 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time (see "Magnitude 6.6 - Offshore Chiapas, Mexico" for details). The teacher and her students were thrilled. This was just one of many exciting moments during Earth Science Day, held Thursday, October 16, for school groups visiting the Menlo Park campus.

Most of the other learning experiences were less spontaneous but no less engaging. More than 30 displays around campus offered hands-on activities to approximately 1,000 children in grades 2 through 6. Many of the displays had coastal or marine themes: virtual flights over the sea floor in San Francisco Bay created by computer manipulation of bathymetric data (Pete Dartnell and Jamie Conrad), tiny shells of one-celled marine organisms viewed through microscopes (Mary McGann), clear plastic trays marked with contour lines that students stacked to reveal three-dimensional models of an island and a submarine canyon (Florence Wong, Mike Torresan, and Ray Sliter), an imaginary dive in the submersible Alvin to view mineral deposits and exotic animals at hot springs along a midocean spreading ridge (Carol Reiss and Randy Koski), a conductivity meter that students used to determine the sources of various water samples (Jim Kuwabara and Brent Topping), and several displays on tsunamis: video footage of the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (Walter Mooney, Shane Detweiler, Kurt Loeffler, Justine Gesell, and others), a model showing how sudden movement of the sea floor by earthquakes triggers tsunamis (Walter Mooney, Shane Detweiler, Jillian McLaughlin, and others), and a model where students learned about landslide-generated tsunamis by sliding a brick (the "landslide") into a tub of water to trigger a set of waves (the "tsunami") (Eric Geist and Homa Lee).

Record of a magnitude 6.6 earthquake offshore Florence Wong watches as a student assembles a "Topo Salad Tray" model of the topography of Angel Island
Above left: Record of a magnitude 6.6 earthquake offshore Chiapas, Mexico—transmitted from a sensor in northern California—is rolling underneath drum in display seismograph on the USGS campus in Menlo Park, California. A visiting teacher and her students were viewing the seismograph when the earthquake signals began to be recorded. [larger version]

Above right: Florence Wong (center) watches as a student assembles a "Topo Salad Tray" model of the topography of Angel Island (an island in San Francisco Bay). Photograph by Paul Laustsen. [larger version]

The ground around the landslide-generated-tsunami display quickly became soaking wet, as did the children whose particularly large tsunamis splashed out of the tub. Warm weather and plenty of towels helped the visitors dry off quickly so that they could enjoy the rest of the exhibits, which included hands-on rock and mineral displays, a challenging plate-tectonic puzzle, a group simulation of "human seismic waves" that taught children how compressional and shear waves transmit earthquake energy, live insects in a display about the environmental effects of mining activities, a demonstration of how volcanic calderas form, striking images of the eruption of Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano, a model showing how water erodes landscapes, and a scientist-powered "earthquake ride."

Eric Geist demonstrates how marine landslides create tsunamis to a student eager Helena Carmena talks to students about teeth and what they can tell you about their owners
Above left: Eric Geist (left) demonstrates how marine landslides create tsunamis to a student eager to take his turn. Photograph by Paul Laustsen. [larger version]

Above right: Helena Carmena of the California Academy of Sciences talks to students about teeth and what they can tell you about their owners. Photograph by Leslie Gordon. [larger version]

Several outside organizations enriched the day by bringing displays to campus. Employees from the Coyote Point Museum used a live owl, student-constructed paper helicopters, feathers, foam, and a vertical wind tube to get children thinking about what makes something fly, flutter, or float. Exhibitors from the California Academy of Sciences used the skulls of various mammals to help children think about how teeth function and what fossil teeth can tell you about their previous owners. Environmental educators from Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge used a watershed model to help children understand how water moves through our watershed and affects the health of plants and animals in San Francisco Bay.

Dina Venezky gives visiting students some tips on assembling plate-tectonic puzzles Molly Ward teaches visiting students about the importance of balance between freshwater and saltwater (each represented by one hand) in San Francisco Bay wetlands
Above left: Dina Venezky gives visiting students some tips on assembling plate-tectonic puzzles. Photograph by Paul Laustsen. [larger version]

Above right: Molly Ward
, Slow the Flow Program Coordinator at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, teaches visiting students about the importance of balance between freshwater and saltwater (each represented by one hand) in San Francisco Bay wetlands. Photograph by Helen Gibbons. [larger version]

The visitors were quite pleased with the day's offerings, as reflected in written feedback from numerous teachers. Here are a few samples:

  • It was a great success for our kids; they came back enthused and stimulated to learn more…"
  • This was an awesome day. My students and I truly enjoyed ourselves and learned so much…"
  • …Our experience was amazing. The amount of time that was spent to create an exciting and educational experience was beyond belief…[we] were so impressed with the level of detail that went into all the stations."

Earth Science Day was part of the nationwide celebration of Earth Science Week, held this year from October 12 to 18, 2008, with the theme "No Child Left Inside." See Earth Science Week 2008 for more information. For more information about Earth Science Day 2008 at the USGS in Menlo Park, see USGS Menlo Park Science Center Earth Science Day 2008.


Related Sound Waves Stories
Students Enjoy Earth Science Day 2007 at USGS in Menlo Park, California
December 2007
USGS Welcomes Students for Earth Science Week Celebration in Menlo Park, California
November 2006

Related Web Sites
USGS Menlo Park Science Center Earth Science Day 2008
USGS
Earthquake Hazards Program
USGS
Earth Science Week 2008
American Geological Institute
Coyote Point Museum
museum
Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
California Academy of Sciences
scientific and cultural institution

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in this issue:

Fieldwork
cover story:
Tracking Sea Turtles

Research Alaskan Glaciers Retreating

Migratory Birds Carry Avian Influenza

Outreach Earth Science Day in Menlo Park, CA

Awards Shinn Wins SEPM Twenhofel Medal

USGS Collaborator Wins SEPM Shepard Medal

Staff New Chief Scientist for Western Coastal and Marine Geology Team

Publications December 2008 Publications List


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