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Students Test the Waters of Science

Oceanography Campers08/20/13 Portland, Ore.

Campers spent the day collecting data aboard the Training Vessel Forerunner in the Columbia River estuary near Astoria.A group of high school students eagerly gathered on the deck of a ship near Astoria last week, but instead of going for a pleasure cruise, they were collecting water samples and taking scientific readings from the Columbia River estuary.

The 12 young scientists were part of a weeklong camp offered by the multi-institutional Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction (CMOP) hosted at Oregon Health & Science University. The camp is designed to motivate students into a career of science or engineering by learning what it was like to be marine scientist.

“Students who attended this camp came in with a limited knowledge of what it means to integrate a systems approach in understanding the ocean and the estuary,” said Dr. Michael Thompson, K-12 coordinator and teacher. “We wanted them to learn about the vast impact the ocean and estuary has on our everyday lives.”

The first part of the week was spent getting hands-on experience with CMOP’s state-of-the-art observation network called SATURN, Science and Technology University Research Network.  Students studied the fundamentals of computer forecasting and prediction models using the Virtual Columbia River and Data Explorer.

The students took a break from the computer models to collect water samples from a nearby pond. They took the samples back to a lab at Oregon Health & Science University where they extracted the DNA and RNA to identify the microorganisms present.

Then on Thursday campers traveled to Astoria and boarded the Training Vessel Forerunner. The students were joined by CMOP field team members Michael Wilkin and Jo Goodman to help them collect samples in the estuary with a plankton net and Niskin Bottle. They also took salinity and temperature readings from a CTD instrument. Later the students gathered at Clatsop Community College’s Marine and Environmental Research and Training Station to plot the data collected and examine the specimens in the water samples.

“The camp helped students understand and use real systems science to study the environment in a way they may have not seen before,” Thompson said. “It really opened their eyes to the world of oceanography and estuary science."

Written by Jeff Schilling