Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fall Sampling a Success!

Oct 15

The 2012 SMORE Team hit the road early on the 28th of September to conduct the first sampling of the season.  Students had practiced their individual tests over several class times in preparation. There were a variety of tests and techniques used for assessing the water quality. 

 Besides the chemical testing, students made visual observations of the 3 sites. This provided great information that they used later for analyzing their data.

                                                           Surveying the environment
Learning scientific procedures alongside science content gives the students the opportunity to make real-life applications to their learning.

The sites we sampled were the same as last year – important for monitoring change. Last year, Texas was in a historic drought. This year, we’ve had more rain. The question posed was “how will this change what we find?”
                                                                      Soil testing
SMORE Georgia and SMORE Alaska also conducted their sampling this past month. We’ re in the process of exchanging data to compare this year’s sampling. Students will also compare their data to last year’s. 
High Island, Bolivar Peninsula

Dr. Tish Yager (University of Georgia), our mentor scientist and partner in SMORE, joined us in a teleconference this past week. This first call was a get-to-know-you. We tried hard to get the Georgia classroom connected with us, but technology failed us. We hope to schedule another call with both Georgia and Alaska students.

 Dr. Tish Yager

Like last year, we plan to sample again in the winter (Jan-Feb) and spring (Apr-May). In between, we hope to produce some new podcasts and videos about our work, and share any ocean science news.  So check back periodically to follow our progress! 

For now, follow the link below to see a short Vimeo video about our first sampling put together by a SMORE parent!

 Even parents are put to work!!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Its a New Year of SMORE!

Texas SMORE with teacher Lollie Garay

SMORE is back for another year of discovery and challenge. The new school year brings new classrooms of students and new teachers together. Teacher Matt Conforti and his students from Barrow High School join SMORE AK. Coincidentally, his 9th grade students were last years 8th graders working with teacher Deb Greene. Sadly, Deb is unable to work with us this year, but will continue as a mentor to Matt. We look forward to working with Matt and his students in the Arctic!

Georgia Teacher Joy McCook is back with new classrooms of high school students and at this writing has already completed her fall sampling!  Read about it soon in her blog. Joy has also recruited fifth grade teacher Becky Busby from Frank Long Elementary to work with her students and Joy's in a local sampling collaboration. We are excited to have them  and look forward to reading more about them!

And of course, Texas is back with a new group of middle school students to carry on the work. Actually, we have five students who worked alongside the 8th graders last year doing the freshwater sampling  on the upper watershed. This year they'll work the Trinity Bay area all the way down to the Bolivar Peninsula. We are preparing for our first sampling to be done on Oct. 5.

For anyone reading this blog for the first time, there's history on how SMORE (Students Monitoring Ocean Response to Eutrophication) began in the archived blogs for 2011. Just scroll all the way down to the first one! 

I hope you'll continue to check in and read the blogs posted by our teams in Alaska, Texas  and Georgia  ( links are on the right hand side of this blog page). I've also provided links to webpages for the research scientists working with us on this ocean science project: Dr. Tish Yager, University of Georgia at Athens, and Dr. Marc Frischer, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

Back soon with a report on our first sampling !!!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The End of the First Year!

May 2012

The SMORE Texas team completed their final fieldwork on April 27.  Illness whittled down our team numbers, but not the resolve and enthusiasm!
We were still able to complete most of the tests. Winds were the biggest challenge this go-round. Gusts of 30-35mph made simple tasks harder.

             Tyler fights the wind to hold onto data sheets.

  One of the surprises this spring was the elevated water levels at all three sites. If you remember, we had horrible drought conditions in Texas when we began our project.
By April, we had had significant rainfalls and the boys commented on how the water levels had changed the sampling sites. (Unfortunately, rain-outs prevented Grade 7 from going back to Lake Houston to see what happened there.)

   Upper  Trinity Bay waters were almost up to the bank, covering the
  sandy "beach" area we stood on last fall!

 As I watched my students work during this last sampling, I was proud of the progress they’d made since the first time we ventured out with new tools and tests to perform.  I could sense the confidence in them this last time out as they took care to gather samples, measure and collect data.
    We used the car as a wind shield- 
       the blowing sand was rough!

       Gathering final samples for Dr. Yager's lab analysis.

Back in the lab the following Monday, they began the process of putting together their data and offering their ideas about the results. We were on a tight schedule to get everything finished before Alaska and Georgia teams ended school for the semester.  Sadly, we were unable to confer as a group one last time. We were able to share our final data, but scheduling a live teleconference became impossible with HS finals/graduation and differing end -of -school dates. Added to that, several of my eighth graders were part of a robotics competition team that was headed out to California the week before school ended!

Before we left for the summer, all team members (students & teachers) in all three schools took part in evaluating how SMORE worked for us.
The overwhelming feeling was that SMORE was a great success! We all learned so much about ocean science and each other; enjoyed new experiences and learned new skills; and gained new respect about our global ocean.

SMORE is over for this first team that spans Alaska, Georgia and Texas-as most students have graduated to or from high school.
Lessons learned will help to shape and strengthen SMORE 2012-13 – we WILL be back!
            Brown pelicans wave their goodbyes as we leave Bolivar Peninsula.

Signing off for the summer,

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


On Jan 27 we went to do our second sampling. We had many different tools that we haven’t used before like this underwater rover.

Meet our rover!

It was a rover we built 2 years ago to use on our past water sampling fieldwork. Two students were operating it. They attached a flip camera on it in a secure underwater case and lowered it into the water.


There are three motors on the rover. It can go up /down, forward, and turn. However it was not a smooth ride in the water because there was too much wave action pushing the robot upward. As a result of the turbulent waters,  the battery holder clamp  broke off, and we were not able to continue.  It was fun while it lasted though! and no, we didn't get any video...

There were also many different animals we didn’t see on the last trip . We saw red breasted blackbirds and a lot of baby ducklings at site 1. We also found many   animal prints. Some belonged to raccoons others are yet to be identified. Brown pelicans were spotted there too, which is unusual because they’re usually found farther down on the coast.

Sadly, we also saw some dead organisms in all of the sites At site one there was a dead pelican we found by the water’s edge. We have no idea what killed it or by what means but we told the a forest ranger who happened by immediately. We did not touch or move the pelican!

At the second and third site, we had seen jellyfish washed up on the shore. At the second site, many very small clear (about the size of a quarter) jellyfish were washed up between the docks. The third site had only one much larger white jellyfish. It had looked like its tentacles were severed and its head was bashed open. These occurrences were a surprise since we didn’t see anything like this the last time we tested. 
This jelly was about 10" long without the tentacles.

We think the recent rains we finally got has brought the animal life back to the bay. Water level seemed higher than the first time (remember we’ve been in an awful drought in Texas since January 2011!) We’ve had some good rains since late Nov, but we have a ways to go before we are out of the drought. Around this same time, we've had a Red Tide all along the Gulf Coast. Since we don't have as much fresh water running into the bay and gulf, salinity levels are higher- just what toxic algae like Karenia Brevis like!!

Not surprising, we didn’t see any people, this time out, well except for us. There was no sign of fishermen or tourists except for a couple of people beachcombing..

Now, about the sampling.
 The first time we did the tests we were all nervous because we had never done the testing before, but the second time around we all agreed we were more confident about doing the tests.

Portable lab at Bolivar Peninsula

The water level at the first site was much higher than the last time we went. In September the water level was so low that we were actually able to walk on the ground where the water SHOULD be!
The first site was at the Anahuac Trinity River recreation area. The water was muddy and it was brown (high turbidity!). 
See how brown the water is here??? (rover is trying to go down!)

At the second site at Smith Point the water was green. The third site on the Bolivar Peninsula at the beach had a lot of foam but the color seemed a darker brown than in the fall (more runoff?). At all three sites it was very windy. The temperature was not very low, but the wind made it colder. Again we had clear skies.  
Renee had a face full of hair thanks to the wind!

 We had a visitor with us on this trip. Angela Larson from Alaska! She spent a day in our classroom and then went with us to the Bay. She was actually here with a program called PolarTREC doing a case study on Mrs. Lollie. Remember she was in the Arctic, the Amazon Plume, and Antarctica with our scientist Dr. Yager. So Mrs. Larsen came to find out what kind of things Mrs. Lollie was doing and teaching us about that came from her voyages! I hope she got a good grade!

Angela Larsen is on the left in the pink jacket.

After all SMORE students had sampled, we held another teleconference with Alaska and Georgia to compare our data.  This is always really cool talking to each other and sharing fun stuff along with the science! Check out the video in the video section of this blog!

We only have one more sampling to do! Can we really be almost done? Time has gone by too fast.
Overall, this winter fieldwork was a very pleasurable experience for all of us. We learned more, tested correctly and had fun. Everyone agreed that we thought we did a much better job this time!

Hope to see you again soon!!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Palindrome Day 11-11-11

Palindrome Day!!

The SMORE Team celebrated 11/11/11 with a service project on Follet’s Island at San Luis Pass across from Galveston Island. This area was hard hit by Hurricane Ike, and also suffers from the impact of human recreational activity.

Sponsored by the Artist boat and the American Wetland Foundation, this dune restoration project was a great learning opportunity for our group! We enjoyed a gorgeous fall day at the beach as we learned about the different types of plants that help to restore the dunes. 

A student describes the day:
“Friday November 11th we were at Follet Islands in the Brazoria County area in Galveston, Texas. The area was great, and the beach was right there with the water being nice and cold. No clouds were out and the sun was bright with a cool breeze going by. The dunes were not too far from the beach and there was a little pond in the area. The pond had crabs in it; we saw a blue a crab and a little ghost crab. You couldn’t have asked for a better day for restoring dunes.
A blue crab chills in the pond!

Whoa...careful there!
BUT, before we started we paused at exactly 11:11 am on 11-11-11 to take a picture!
Can you read the sign? It says 11-11-11

 Then our interpreter began to explain what we were going to do. She taught us about sand dune plants. There were three different kinds we had to plant. One was the Panica a medium sized plant that has thick stems. Another was the Personia a small plant that has a waxy texture and thick stems. Lastly was the Spartina a long and tall plant with thin and slightly sticky stems. 

There was also a certain way for you to plant them. First you have to dig a hole with the shovel. Then you put some vitamins in the hole and put the plant in. Lastly you put ash (like fertilizer) around it and then cover it up with sand and pat the sand around the plant.
Getting our instructions

After the instructions on how to plant, we were divided up into teams of 3 and given the boundaries of the areas we were going to plant in. 

Then we got to work! Different teams came up with different systems to work with. Some took turns digging, planting, etc. while others did the same task assembly line style!

Mrs. Lollie worked too!

There were few dunes left after Hurricane Ike. Natural and anthropogenic sources only helped erode the dunes even more. This project helped plant different species of grass- type plants to anchor dunes. We learned that this was not the only project they have done. As it turns, out one year they used old Christmas trees that didn’t have a stump. These dunes are a physical barrier, between the water and the land but they are also habitats for a lot of coastal animals. These are important nesting grounds for many species including Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles and many other creatures.
Can you see the christmas tree?
Personally, I believe that the field trip (work) was a lot better than just reading about dune restoration. Instead we got the full experience on what it is about.  I had the best time learning about the plants and the dunes. The dunes are made from wind erosion and moving water. The vegetation is important because they keep the dunes from eroding and provide a habitat for organisms. The plants are sometimes destroyed during hurricanes like Ike. Helping the Artist Boat team plant more grass and vegetation will help restore some of the dunes- but there's still more to do!"

Thinking about the ocean!