Friday, November 22, 2013

An On-the-water experience for Peninsula College Oceanography students

The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary's R/V Tatoosh lands at Port Angeles harbor to offload a group of students from my Introduction to Oceanography course after a mini research cruise to a site on Port Angeles Harbor

I started teaching an Introduction to Oceanography class at Peninsula College last year, and have taken a keen interest in undergraduate education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). I've even gone so far as to get myself engaged with a nationwide project focused specifically on the question, "How do you go about doing ocean sciences education RIGHT at small community colleges?". Through that group I met Ardi Kveven, who runs the ORCA program at Everett Community College...and a few months back I went to visit her program in action. That experience motivated me to start talking to a variety of people who might help me provide my students with a true oceanographic field experience.

Rick Fletcher, OCNMS (with back to camera) and a student from Peninsula College prepare the Shipek sampler for deployment.

Those conversations yielded quick results: As a result of a very generous contribution of boat time on the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary's R/V Tatoosh I was able to provide my Peninsula College Introduction to Oceanography class with an on-the-water experience. Yesterday, groups of students headed out to sites in Port Angeles Harbor to collect oceanographic data using a variety of tools and measurement techniques.

A group of students collects a water sample from a site near the Port Angeles wastewater outfall.

While the primary goal of this project was educational (in that it was intended to motivate students to pursue STEM fields), my hope is that we may be able to build a program that is able to sample sites in Port Angeles harbor repeatedly in the coming years. As a result sampling sites were set up in areas that may, in the years to come, change due to a variety of different environmental restorations either planned or in process. On Thursday, the class sampled sites that will be associated with the western harbor clean-up effort currently in the planning stages and a shoreline restoration on Ediz Hook, led by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, that is currently underway.

Students process a sample and record data collected on a cruise on Port Angeles harbor.

In this way my hope is that, over time, the data collected by these students may start to contribute to our understanding of what successful environmental restoration in marine ecosystems looks like.

The R/V Tatoosh leaving the dock with a group of Peninsula College students on board

At each site we collected temperature, salinity and oxygen profiles using the OCNMS CTD. A sediment sample was collected using a Shipek grab, and then water samples were collected from the surface, and again at depth using a Niskin bottle. These samples were used to get independent measures of temperature and salinity (for the purposes of checking the data provided by the CTD), and we also measured pH in these samples with a hand-held electronic pH meter. Finally, a Secchi disk was used to estimate water clarity and light penetrations, and a plankton sample was collected.

A student processing the sediment sample from the Shipek grab.

Back at the dock we set up a sort of "lab":

Our lab...

...where, in addition to FREEZING (it was really cold) students tried to focus on sieving the sediment sample in order to collect and sort benthic invertebrates:

Students sieving a sediment sample

Benthic invertebrates from a site in the western harbor

A huge thank you to the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary for making this happen, and particularly Rick Fletcher and Justin Ellis for operating R/V Tatoosh. Brad Stone from Peninsula College put in a huge effort on the boat to keep students on task. Also, Helle Andersen from the Feiro Marine Life Center worked on the dock, in the cold, to help students identify and understand their tiny invertebrates. Finally, numerous faculty at Peninsula College offered equipment, support and advice, but a particular thanks to Jack Ganzhorn, Brian Hague, and Barb Blackie.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Wandering HOBOs

I've said it before, and I will probably say it again: I am a fan of HOBOs. They are cheap and break-proof enough that I can use them with my Introduction to Oceanography Class, but also accurate and reliable enough that we use them routinely now in our efforts to understand the changing biological community around the mouth of the Elwha River. Most of these HOBOs have a pretty boring life - they get zip-tied to some fixed structure for days to months at a time, and sort of sit there doing their thing. In the video below, for example, you can see a few HOBOs attached to a "mooring" built and deployed by my Oceanography class in Port Angeles Harbor.

Occasionally, though, one goes rogue. And that was the case for the HOBO in the photo at top. This HOBO was found on August 7th, 2013 by Olympic Peninsula resident Vance Heydorn while beach-combing on the outside of Ediz Hook. Vance was kind enough to bring it to the Feiro Marine Life Center, which set off a round of serious head-scratching amongst a group of us that use these for research and education purposes. We all assumed that it was one of ours, lost from a mooring or mount somewhere in Port Angeles Harbor or the adjacent Strait of Juan de Fuca. We finally worked out that it definitely wasn't one of ours...which led me to contact the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Lab. It didn't take long to get word from one of their research teams that, indeed, this HOBO had been deployed in the intertidal zone at a site on the west side of San Juan Island on the 11th of July, and had gone missing at some point after that.

Temperature data recorded by the HOBO

Its sort of hard to figure out exactly when this HOBO broke free from its mount on San Juan Island, but based on the temperature record, I would guess that it was sometime between July 27 and 6 August. The 27th is when the big daily spikes in temperature, which are characteristic of the intertidal zone (which undergoes wide temperature swings in the summer as it is alternately exposed to warm air and cold water) go away...and on the other end we know it made it over here by the 7th of August. Either way you slice it, it was a fairly quick journey from the San Juan Islands (a straight line distance of about 45 km).

Map of the journey

The light intensity data recorded by the HOBO doesn't tell us a whole lot more...except that Vance stored it in a fairly dark spot before he brought it back to the Feiro Marine Life Center:

Light intensity data recorded by the HOBO

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tsunamis in the Strait of Juan de Fuca

A photo of probable "tsunami sands" in the Salt Creek salt marsh, Strait of Juan de Fuca. Photo by Sarah Sterling.

Its well known that what are called "far field" tsunamis impact the Strait of Juan de Fuca...heck, one of my early posts to this blog was of a tsunami wave propagating into Port Angeles Harbor after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011. And within the academic and emergency management community it is also well known that we are at risk from very large "near field" tsunamis - one generated near to our coast. In particular a so-called "mega-thrust" earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone could generate a large and potentially catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that could impact much of the Pacific Northwest coast. The Washington Emergency Management Department, for example, is very focused on tsunami outreach and risk reduction throughout the coastal areas of Washington State.

However, since there hasn't been a large earthquake or tsunami in this part of the world since the "historic" period started its hard to really accept that we have a risk, especially in the relatively protected waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Communities on the outer coast of Washington State seem to have embraced their risk, and are taking various steps to reduce that riks, either by building vertical evacuation structures, practicing evacuation drills, or even

Increasingly, though, the traces of tsunamis that have impacted the shoreline of the Strait of Juan de Fuca are being uncovered. Today I learned of Ian Hutchinson, Curt Peterson and Sarah Sterling's latest paper, documenting their discovery of sand layers in the Salt Creek salt marsh, just west of Port Angeles. They detail the evidence that leads them to conclude that these sand layers were almost certainly deposited by tsunamis occurring 1000-2000 years ago (find the paper here, starting on page 12). This is added to some of the original work on the U.S. side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca that shows multiple tsunami sand beds in Discovery Bay, Curt Peterson's recently published work from Neah Bay, and tsunami sand beds documented on Whidbey Island. Taken together, it is clear that numerous sites on the Strait of Juan de Fuca appear to record repeated relatively large tsunamis.

What is at risk? Quite a bit, as documented here, and some communities are taking notice (see Clallam County's tsunami fact sheet and this story about the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe's real evacuation after the Tohoku tsunami). Any time new information like Hutchinson et al, 2013 comes out, though, should be a moment that we reconsider our preparations, and redouble our efforts to plan and prepare.