Ocean science festival held in Cordova, coming to Valdez

By KARA JOHNSON
Education Director, Prince William Sound Science Center

This past September, on a rainy, windblown Saturday, 215 diehard science enthusiasts braved the elements to attend the Prince William Sound Science Center’s Ocean Science Festival in Cordova. The festival was an opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at ocean research being conducted in Prince William Sound.

Dr. Richard Lee of the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography in Savannah, Georgia gave the keynote presentation about oil spill dispersants. Katrina Hoffman, chief executive officer and president of the science center, shared information about Gulf Watch Alaska, the long-term monitoring program funded by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council to study the effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on the Gulf of Alaska’s ecosystem.

Researchers invited children and adults to explore and investigate their tools of the trade through hands on demonstrations, activities and informative displays.

The Oil Spill Recovery Institute showed off tools for finding oil such as an autonomous underwater vehicle and an oil spill surveillance balloon.

Science center fisheries biologists set up a demonstration to show how scientists use sonar to measure and track fish populations such as herring in Prince William Sound. Oceanographers from the science center were on hand with live plankton and nets used to collect the plankton.

Science center educators demonstrated a mini Remotely Operated Vehicle and gave visitors a chance to drive the vehicle through a set of underwater challenges.

Visitors competed against each other in the H2Olympics and Plankton Races. These activities helped demonstrate water properties such as adhesion, cohesion and density, giving students a better understanding of the challenges that must be overcome when designing ocean science equipment.

Visitors learned about basic water quality monitoring and the science center’s Headwaters to Oceans Monitoring Network program which collects water quality and weather data from all over Prince William Sound.

Staff from the council was on hand to talk about the ShoreZone Coastal Inventory and Mapping Project which documents the biology and geology of Alaska’s coast. ShoreZone coastal mapping data is used for oil spill contingency planning, conservation planning, habitat research, site development evaluation and recreational opportunities.

The Alaska Ocean Observing System demonstrated their system of web-cameras and weather data which streams to the internet from over 3,000 stations throughout Alaska. The system provides up-to-date data such as temperature, wind speed and direction to the public.

The Coast Guard was on-hand to demonstrate navigational aids. The Herring Research and Monitoring Program had information about their research to improve predictions of herring populations.

There were also informational booths from Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Pacific University, Alaska Sea Grant, Cordova Clean Harbors, University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Science, and the US Forest Service.

The science center will be bringing the festival to the Valdez Convention Center on Friday March 8, 2013 from 6pm-8pm.

For more information, please visit the science center on Facebook: www.facebook.com/PWSSC
Funding for the festival is provided in part by the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, Alaska Ocean Observing System, Prince William Sound Science Center and Oil Spill Recovery Institute.