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On November 30 and December 1, 2005, more than 800 fourth-grade students explored the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) St. Petersburg Science Center in St. Petersburg, Fla. The carefully choreographed event, which was the 7th annual USGS Open House hosted at the St. Petersburg center, led groups of 10 students and their teachers through 25 exhibits focused on the theme "Geoscientists Explore Our Earth." This was the theme selected for Earth Science Week, an annual event sponsored by the American Geological Institute.
In keeping with the USGS' mission, the Open House highlighted the science behind understanding hazards, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, and floods; assessing the quantity and quality of our water supplies; and using multidisciplinary methods to understand complex natural-science phenomena. During their visit, the students learned about many ways USGS geoscientists explore our Earth.
The issues of scale and how time and distance affect observations were demonstrated by displays about how scientists look at the world from both far away and closeup. Mapping large areas by plane was highlighted in the exhibit "Bird's Eye View: Using Laser Lidar to Map Coral Reefs," while microscopic inspection was the hands-on activity at the exhibits "Sands of the World" and "Microfossils and Ocean Temperatures." Mapping and remote-sensing technologies were highlighted in several exhibits, including "GIS-What in the World?," "3-D Visualization: GEOWALL," and "Deep Dive Exploration: Pulley Ridge-the Deep Reef."
The exhibit "Tsunami-Making Waves" made a big splash with students. A specially designed wave tank created a scale model of a tsunami coming ashore along a typical coastline on the Pacific Ocean. This model demonstrated the powerful effect these waves can have and how scientists can learn from these events. "Watching Hurricanes" and "VolcanoesMount St. Helens" were other hazard exhibits that highlighted the strength of Earth processes and how scientists measure and learn from them.
Measuring both the quantity and quality of water resources was clearly illustrated with several hands-on demonstrations. "Where Does Your Water Come From and What Kind of Water Is It?" gave students an opportunity to measure the properties of several water samples that appeared to be the same. Through their examinations, the students found out that how water looks doesn't tell you all you need to know about what's in it. "Water Under Our Feet, Florida's Ground Water" used a visual ground-water display model to simulate ground-water movement and contamination. Students learned how ground water can be affected by land-surface activities. Another visually interactive display, "USGS Water Data: Real-Time, On-Line," gave students a chance to practice using the USGS National Water Information System. Access to online data gave them the tools to keep track of water resources in locations of personal interest.
The living resources that interact with the nonliving world were highlighted both on an individual scale and within the context of larger ecosystems. Representative fish populations associated with mangrove communities were living examples in the "In-Seine Fish" exhibit. "Turtle Mysteries" unraveled some myths about the elusive diamondback terrapin, while "The Difference Between Alligators and Crocodiles" showcased a live specimen of each reptile so that students could see firsthand how to tell them apart. How scientists study living resources was a hands-on activity entitled "Measuring Muddy Mangroves," in which students readily learned how measurements are made and incorporated into scientific investigations.
As students explored the USGS office, they learned how USGS geoscientists explore the world all around us. They learned that scientists are beginning to integrate all kinds of information to develop a better understanding of how large ecosystems (such as the Everglades) function. With a better understanding of these large Earth systems, humans can implement ways to restore damaged areas, conquer invasions of unwanted and threatening species, unravel the implications of climate change, and assess the vulnerability of large metropolitan areas to natural hazards. Most importantly, students learned that gaining a better understanding of the Earth not only takes scientific expertise but can be interesting and fun too.
in this issue:
Open House at FISC St. Petersburg
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