USGS Promotes Ocean Research and Education at 12th Annual Open House in St. Petersburg, Florida
Focusing on the theme, "Liquid Earth: Our Fluid Planet," the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center held its 12th annual Open House on November 5 and 6, 2010, in St. Petersburg, Florida. The theme promoted science and education to improve understanding of watersheds, coastal areas, and global ocean systems.
Letters from several community leaders lauded the event for providing a platform to educate the public about ocean research. U.S. Senator Bill Nelson sent Center Director Jack Kindinger a letter expressing his appreciation for the annual USGS Open House, writing: "By focusing on the science behind the interconnectedness of our watersheds, coasts and oceans, you are promoting the responsible management of our natural resources for today's and tomorrow's generations. Events such as yours are critical to the understanding and preservation of our oceans, and I applaud your mission to promote ocean research and education."
Nikki Capehart, Deputy District Director for Congresswoman Kathy Castor, toured the facility with Kindinger, as did Pinellas County Commissioner Nancy Bostock. Bostock remarked in a letter that "the event was a great way to showcase your important work and important role in our community."
Other community leaders who attended the event included R.B. Johnson, Mayor of Indian Rocks Beach; Peter Betzer, President and CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership; and Stephen Andrasik, Academic Chair of Physical Science at St. Petersburg College.
Together with many partner organizations, the USGS presented examples of how science and technology contribute to our understanding of watersheds, coasts, and oceans. The Open House highlighted issues affecting coastal communities and demonstrated how scientific tools are developed and used to sustainably manage interconnected coastal and ocean resources.
Exhibits illuminated physical, geological, and biological aspects of ocean science, showing how waves work and how scientists drill into sediment or use acoustic technology to map remote undersea regions. From wave tanks to video footage of deep-marine coral ecosystems, exhibit offerings included visualizations, hands-on demonstrations, and scaled models to translate complex topics into entertaining and engaging presentations.
Awards were given to the most creative, visual, and hands-on interactive displays in three categories pertaining to ocean, coastal, or watershed resources. These were (1) Best Biological Exhibit, (2) Best Geological Exhibit, and (3) Best Data and Technology Exhibit. Displays were judged on how well they encouraged inquiry while illustrating how and why scientists investigate our oceans, coasts, and watersheds. Winners received a custom-made plaque and $1,000 to be used toward travel expenses to a scientific meeting of their choice.
The Best Biological Exhibit was "Catch Climate Fever," hosted by Katie Merriweather, Jessica Spear, and Kathryn Richwine. The exhibitors designed interactive hands-on activities to illustrate how scientists collect and analyze a variety of information to reconstruct past climate history, as well as to forecast the future. These activities included a stratigraphy exercise, a pollen-grain matching game, and larger-than-life models of pollen and foraminifera (microscopic marine protozoans commonly referred to as "forams") that you could hold in your hands. Spear and Richwine even dressed up as forams to show visitors what a foram is, where it lives, and what it eats. The "Catch Climate Fever" exhibit demonstrated that as we study biological clues and gain understanding of forams, we gain greater understanding of larger Earth climate systems.Paul Knorr, who literally breathed life into the concepts behind understanding ocean chemistry, presented the "Best Geological Exhibit." In his display, titled "pH, CO2, Our Oceans and You," Knorr used a gas analyzer to demonstrate how humans generate carbon dioxide (CO2) through breathing or respiring. Knorr asked visitors to breathe into the instrument so they could observe the concentration of CO2 in their breath. He showed how CO2 can alter the pH of seawater and discussed how USGS scientists are monitoring changes in ocean chemistry associated with increasing atmospheric CO2 levels. He went on to demonstrate how molluscs and other marine calcifiers—organisms that require a specific range of chemical conditions in seawater to successfully build their shells—may be susceptible to changes in ocean chemistry related to buildup of CO2 in our atmosphere.
The "Best Data and Technology Exhibit" was a demonstration of 2-D and 3-D Earth-viewing applications called GeoMappApp and Virtual Ocean, developed by the National Science Foundation and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. These tools are publicly available online and work on both Windows and Apple computers. Shawn Dadisman, Jennifer Miselis, and Arnell Forde took visitors around the world to view such Earth-science phenomena as hurricane tracks dating back to 1851, earthquake activity along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a fly-through of the geology of the Grand Canyon, and satellite images of the globe in summer and winter. The dark conference room was lighted by colorful geologic maps and geomorphic features projected onto Earth's round surface, allowing the viewer to turn the globe and zoom in to get a real "Planet Earth" perspective. Visitors could take away instructions on how to use these resources at home. To access these tools, go to http://www.geomapapp.org/ and http://www.virtualocean.org/.
Partner organizations hosted complementary and engaging booths promoting ocean science and education. Chris Simoniello and Chad Lembke with the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (http://gcoos.tamu.edu/) showed how science and technology played a major role in monitoring and understanding impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. They had a remotely operated submersible vehicle on display and used a hands-on activity to demonstrate how surfactants work to break up oil in seawater.
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary display featured the "Marine Debris" game, in which participants match up types of marine debris (common household items) with the length of time these items take to decompose (as much as hundreds of years). Marine debris is a pressing and complex problem affecting our oceans. Because marine debris is directly related to human activity, public education about the topic is a critical component of programs aimed at eliminating trash from our oceans.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium shared information about how a prosthetic tail was designed and built for "Winter," an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin who lost her tail after it was injured in a crab trap (http://www.seewinter.com/). The young students learned about how Winter was trained to use the prosthetic device and are looking forward to the upcoming movie that shares the story (http://www.tampabay.com/features/movies/winter-the-dolphins-life-story-headed-for-the-silver-screen/1110108). The movie is expected to be in theaters in the fall of 2011.
Visitors also had a chance to get up close and personal with a live alligator and crocodile provided by Gatorama and a pine snake and gopher tortoise provided jointly by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Friends of the Tampa Bay Wildlife Refuges.
The two days of the Open House were "Earth Science Day for Fourth Graders" (November 5), attended by nearly 900 students and their teachers, and a Public Day (November 6), attended by approximately 400 visitors, including formal and informal educators, youth activity groups such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, academics, environmental professionals, science and resource enthusiasts, and the general public.
Students play an important role in the annual event, both by attending and by contributing. On "Earth Science Day for Fourth Graders," nearly 50 high-school students served as tour guides or assisted scientists in presenting their information to the 4th graders. Students from Seminole High School's National Honor Society and Lakewood High School's Academy of Marine Science and Environmental Technology program volunteered at the event. This partnership introduces students to new areas of study and career possibilities that they did not know about before attending the Open House. Another participating program is Oceanography Camp for Girls, a course unique to Pinellas County designed to give 8th-grade girls hands-on experience in the field of marine science. Each year, alumni from this program return to participate in the Open House, sharing with visitors how their experiences in the program continue to influence their college educations and career choices; the program is run by the University of South Florida College of Marine Science and receives USGS support. Every student who visited "Earth Science Day for Fourth Graders" received a goody bag full of information about scientific resources, including hands-on activity pages, reference materials, and Web links to in-depth resources online.
The Open House provides unique opportunities for the USGS to discover engaging ways of sharing our science with our community partners and the public. You can learn more about this year's Open House, as well as previous events, at http://coastal.er.usgs.gov/openhouse/.
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12th Annual Open House in St. Petersburg, Florida