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.

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