USGS Contributes to Success of St. Petersburg Science Festival in Florida
For the second year in a row, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists and staff played an integral role in the annual St. Petersburg Science Festival in St. Petersburg, Florida. This year's expanded program included more than 100 science activities and shows, as well as a handful of food trucks and other concessions. The event took place at the waterfront campus of the University of South Florida (USF) St. Petersburg on Saturday, October 27, 2012. The free festival was held in conjunction with MarineQuest, the annual open house for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)'s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. USF St. Petersburg officials estimated attendance this year at more than 12,000—better than double that of the inaugural festival held in 2011 (see article in Sound Waves, August 2011, USGS is Valuable Partner in First St. Petersburg, Florida, Science Festival).
As awareness of the essential role of science in everyday life continues to grow, events celebrating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are attracting thousands to similar festivals throughout the Nation. These festivals celebrate the breadth of science disciplines, their impact on society, and how genuinely compelling and fun they can be. The St. Petersburg Science Festival set out to stoke curiosity about science in learners of all ages by way of hands-on activities showcasing the astonishing array of ways that science affects everyday life. Exhibitors came from a broad range of scientific and artistic disciplines and represented government agencies, academia, nonprofits, and businesses.
USGS scientists and staff played a key part in carrying out the festival mission by sharing science in an array of compelling exhibits and by participating in the planning process. Theresa Burress (Cherokee Nation Technology Solutions [CNTS] contractor to USGS) acted as Festival Co-Chair and Program Chair; Kate Bradshaw (CNTS communications contractor to USGS) served on the Marketing Committee.
Among the biggest hits was the exhibit "Surf's Up!", in which USGS oceanographer Kara Doran and Kate Bradshaw helped visitors generate waves to show the different ways in which major storms can drastically alter the beach profile. This exhibit included a long wave tank with a sandy beach. Doran said, "Visitors generated large and small waves and watched how the beach profile changed in response to the wave impact. Experiments like this one help the community understand how waves are generated and how they travel through the ocean. Visitors gained an understanding of how storms shape our beaches and how rip currents form."
The demonstration also aimed to help communities understand the impacts that storms of varying magnitudes can have on coastal landscapes that are generally taken for granted. The festival took place as Hurricane Sandy approached the Eastern Seaboard and as the USGS Hurricanes and Extreme Storms team worked on predictions about how the coast would change as a result of the storm (see USGS Scientists Predict, Measure Sandy's Impacts on the Coastal Landscape, Sound Waves, November/December 2012, ).
Another big draw was an exhibit in which U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist Todd Mecklenborg teamed up with USGS research ecologist Tom Smith, CNTS contractor Heather Schreppel, and USGS student employee Kira Barrera to give attendees a rare chance to hold a baby alligator, caiman, or crocodile. They also taught visitors how to distinguish these related reptiles.
Information specialist Rachel Pawlitz of the USGS Ecological Science Center in Gainesville, Florida, intrigued visitors with "Where in The Wild? Tagging and Tracking Animals." This exhibit showcased how scientists monitor both native and nonnative animal species.
At the exhibit "Catch Climate Fever," USGS research geologist Lisa Osterman and geologists Caitlin Reynolds and Katie Richwine showed visitors how to look at shells of tiny organisms called foraminifera through a microscope. Because the chemistry of the protozoans' shells records the temperature of the waters in which they live, the Gulf of Mexico Climate and Environmental History project uses their fossil shells collected in seafloor sediment to create records of climate variability over the past 10,000 years.
"Diggin' the Past: The History Beneath Our Feet" provided a closeup look at tools that are essential to geologic field studies of marshes and wetlands. USGS scientists Julie Bernier, Noreen Buster, and Kyle Kelso gave lively descriptions of how and why they use sediment cores and vibracore rigs in their fieldwork. USGS watercraft safety program manager Gary Hill showed off a USGS airboat, which is used to help geologists collect cores in hard-to-reach marshes and wetlands.
Dick Poore, Director of the St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center, said, "USGS scientists engaged thousands of festival visitors in interactive science activities that demonstrated the coastal science and marine geology that are the cornerstone of our program and that are vital to our community and region."
The all-day event kicked off at Harbor Walk Circle with a grand procession and performance by the Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church Drum Line. Festival Co-Chairs Theresa Burress (CNTS contractor to USGS) and E. Howard Rutherford (Pier Aquarium President and CEO) gave the opening address, and St. Petersburg City Council Member Karl Nurse read a proclamation from Mayor Bill Foster acknowledging the impact the festival has on the community. Nurse also spoke about the essential role that science plays in all aspects of life.
The entertainment roster included lively science shows by Aldebaran Robotics and Mad Science, a "Birds of Prey" demonstration, an "Under the Sea" puppet show, and musical performances by science rapper Funky49 and electronic percussionist Jono Magro. Technical presentations on "Seafood Sustainability" and NASA's "Mars Rover Curiosity" were also a hit with festival visitors.
Other exhibits included Aldebaran Robotics' humanoid robot "NAO"; the Pier Aquarium's "Corals on Acid" exhibit, which demonstrated the process of ocean acidification through live experiments and a display of coral-reef fragments (an exhibit for which USGS research ecologist Ilsa Kuffner served as an advisor); and Boyd Hill Nature Preserve's "Wild Florida!", which showed the diverse wildlife living in the Tampa Bay area by bringing live animals for children to touch or observe.
The USF St. Petersburg campus is an ideal venue for such an event. Situated on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront, the campus is one of 14 marine science-focused institutions that together constitute the St. Petersburg Ocean Team. These include the USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center, the USF College of Marine Science, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service Southeast Regional Office, the FWC, and others. The proximity of these science organizations has fostered a collaborative approach to marine science in the Tampa Bay area.
This collaborative approach to science was reflected in the planning and implementation of the festival, whose participants and sponsors included the USF College of Marine Science, USF St. Petersburg, Eckerd College, St. Petersburg College, Draper Laboratory, Progress Energy, Paramount Power, AAA The Auto Club Group, Bayfront Health System, the USGS, NOAA, the FWC, The Pier Aquarium, Secrets of the Sea Marine Exploration Center and Aquarium, the City of St. Petersburg, the Science Festival Alliance, yourmembership.com, and media sponsors WEDU, BayNews 9, and WMNF 88.5 FM Community Radio.
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