The Ocean Alaska Science and Learning Center (OASLC) hosted its 10th annual Teacher’s Workshop this past weekend at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. This year’s workshop was aimed at middle and high school teachers and focused on long-term monitoring of marine wildlife and glaciers in Alaska’s coastal regions. One of the goals of the workshop was to get teachers directly in touch with scientists and field researchers. Twenty teachers were in attendance from communities stretching from Homer to Fairbanks and points in between.
The workshop opened Friday evening with a keynote talk by Alaska SeaLife Center Dive Safety Officer Chip Arnold. He described the SeaLife Center’s Steller sea lion capture program in which he has been a key participant for the last ten years. Teachers were treated to a sneak preview of video from a recent capture trip that will appear on Jeff Corwin’s “Ocean Mysteries” television show.
The first full day of the workshop featured monitoring projects at Kenai Fjords National Park. Natural Resource Program Manager Deb Kurtz shared images and stories that described how researchers monitor the mass balance of glaciers to understand trends in the parks mostly shrinking glaciers. Teachers not only saw detailed aerial photos of glaciers and graphs of snow accumulation data, but also learned interesting tidbits such as how the steam drill used for placing measuring stakes in glaciers can also be used to cook a hot dog in the middle of the Harding Icefield, or how the standard snow probe used for mass balance studies is actually a surplus copper antenna from a World War II-era tank!
Ecologist Laura Phillips discussed the work she oversees to monitor seabird populations along the Kenai Fjords Coastline. She was followed by marine ecologist Heather Coletti, who shared methods and results from the long-term nearshore monitoring program. Alaska SeaLife Center staff demonstrated classroom activities and gave talks on basic marine natural history in between the researcher talks.
The second day of the workshop focused on monitoring projects at the Alaska SeaLife Center and began with a Skype video call to Antarctica to hear from marine mammal expert Dr. Markus Horning. He is an expert at attaching various electronic tracking recording devices to animals, and he and his team have developed a new educational website about their work at http://www.sealtag.org. Dr. Lori Polasek spoke next about her work monitoring walrus in the Bering Sea. The disappearance of sea ice and the increasing frequency of disturbance to walrus that are hauled out on land are major concerns for this species. Finally, teachers got a chance to control the remote cameras that monitor Steller sea lions on the Chiswell Islands and learn about the rich stream of data that this video feed provides from researcher Pam Parker.
One of the teacher commented that the instructors were “most knowledgeable presenters with a true love for their topics.”
Another biology teacher said “I loved learning from the scientists about what they were studying and how they were collecting and analyzing their data.”
The Ocean Alaska Science and Learning Center is one of 19 National Park Service Research Learning Centers and is housed at Kenai Fjords National Park. It is aimed at facilitating research and education in National Parks through partnerships.