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Inservice Day for Falmouth Science Teachers at USGS in Woods Hole

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Claudio Palhais finds a geocache with his GPS unit.
Above: Falmouth High School Earth-science teacher Claudio Palhais finds a geocache with his GPS unit. Photograph by Chris Brothers, Falmouth High School.

A collaboration between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)'s Woods Hole Science Center in Woods Hole, Mass.; the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC); and teacher Chris Brothers produced an inservice activity for science-department faculty from Falmouth High School and Lawrence Middle School, two public schools in Falmouth, Mass. The program featured speakers discussing geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning systems (GPS), and remote sensing. During a morning session at WHRC and an afternoon session at the USGS, the teachers received an overview of how these technologies work and how scientists are currently using them in research.

The morning activities began with two overview talks by WHRC geographer Greg Fiske, on GIS, and WHRC environmental geologist Tom Stone, on remote sensing. Greg began with GIS definitions and fundamentals and gave an overview of a typical GIS methodology; then he described what goes into a GIS and what results or products might come from the research. Tom Stone gave a broad overview of remote sensing, describing the different types of satellites and their orbital paths. He then went into the fundamentals of remote sensing, with discussions of the electromagnetic spectrum, black-body radiation, passive versus active (for example, radar) satellite systems, and plant and soil spectral-reflectivity curves. An explanation of the tradeoffs between different temporal, spatial, and spectral resolutions was followed by examples of imagery and classification techniques. Finally, Tom described the links between GIS and remote sensing and told attendees where they could get free remote-sensing software.

The overview talks were followed by specific research examples presented by WHRC scientists Paul Lefebvre, who described his work in Brazilian Amazonia, and Dan Steinberg, who described his work in a forested part of Maryland. Paul's work in Mato Grosso, Brazil, is at an enormous soybean farm on once-forested land that was cleared by fire. About the size of the State of Rhode Island, the farm can easily be seen from space. As part of a large, multi-institutional team, Paul is (1) managing spatial aspects of data collection for a study of fire behavior and its cumulative impacts on forests; (2) plotting GPS coordinates of locations where riparian-zone restoration is underway; and (3) creating a huge GIS that will integrate topography, vegetative cover, land-use practices, property boundaries, and other characteristics of the headwaters area of the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon. One aim of this third project is to help landowners adopt best practices for protecting riparian zones and water quality in the Xingu River, upon which many indigenous people rely. The later talk by Dan Steinberg described his use of lidar (light detection and ranging) data to examine relationships between forest structure and bird-species diversity in Patuxent Research Refuge, Md. Lidar data collected in 2003 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)'s Laser Vegetation Imaging Sensor (LVIS) (see URL https://lvis.gsfc.nasa.gov/) was used to quantify habitat structure; these measurements of habitat structure and heterogeneity were subsequently compared with data on bird-species abundance and richness collected by collaborators in the same area in 1997. Dan's project seeks to determine how well models of forest structure derived from remote sensing can be used to predict how many and what species of birds are living in the forest.

The afternoon session at the USGS began with a presentation by USGS research geologist John Bratton on the use of GPS and GIS in studies of ground-water discharge into Cape Cod estuaries. Bratton showed maps of measurements of radon, a natural tracer of ground-water discharge, in two Falmouth estuaries. The data were collected from a small research vessel and a Sunfish (small sailboat) towed by a kayak and equipped with a GPS navigation system. Results, which could be plotted immediately after returning to shore, showed areas of the estuaries that were receiving more ground-water discharge and probably more nutrient inputs, which can cause environmental decline.

The teachers had a particular interest in learning more about GPS systems because the high school had acquired four handheld Garmin units. USGS scientist VeeAnn Cross gave a brief overview of GPS technology, focusing on accuracy and resolution issues that the teachers might face. Unseasonably warm temperatures in Woods Hole enabled VeeAnn to keep the lecture short, put the GPS units in the hands of the teachers, and send them outside for some practical experience.

The participants were divided into two groups. One group took part in a mini-geocache GPS course that VeeAnn had set up. (Geocaching is a treasure-hunting game in which participants use GPS units to search for containers hidden by other participants; for more information, see URL http://www.geocaching.com/.) This activity gave the teachers some hands-on practice on using their GPS units, with assistance from Dave Foster, Brian Andrews, and Dirk Koopmans (all from the USGS Woods Hole Science Center). What the teachers learned during this exercise was the most immediately transferable to their classrooms.

The second group visited the Geowall display, where the teachers were given a virtual tour of Waquoit Bay estuary, using GIS software, and a flight over Falmouth High School, using the application Google Earth. Waquoit Bay was one of the estuaries that John Bratton had described earlier in the day; the Geowall tour provided a three-dimensional visualization of the estuary and showed sampling sites where Bratton had collected data to identify areas of ground-water discharge. The imagery included remotely sensed color orthophotos that had been rectified by Massachusetts GIS (MassGIS, the state's Office of Geographic and Environmental Information; see URL http://www.mass.gov/mgis/) and draped over an elevation model of Cape Cod.

Evaluations submitted by teachers after the event showed that none of the 22 teachers who attended had previous experience with GIS or remote sensing, although a few had used a GPS unit. In addition, virtually every teacher expressed an interest in learning more about these technologies, especially lessons that they could share with students in the classroom.

Teachers felt that the pace of the day was good and that there was good coordination of the presentations by WHRC and the USGS. Tom Stone and Chris Polloni had coordinated the activities, with suggestions from Chris Brothers. WHRC participants included Greg Fiske, Tom Stone, Paul Lefebvre, Dan Steinberg, and Kathleen Savage; USGS participants included John Bratton, VeeAnn Cross, Dave Foster, Brian Andrews, Dirk Koopmans, Nancy Soderberg, and Chris Polloni.

Chris Brothers stated that "the inservice days when we visit scientists in Woods Hole are always among teachers' favorites because they really enjoy interacting with the scientists and learning about recent developments in science. We are indeed fortunate to have organizations like the U.S. Geological Survey and the Woods Hole Research Center in our district and to have such opportunities available to our teachers."

Related Web Sites
Woods Hole Field Center
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Woods Hole, MA
Google Earth

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in this issue: Fieldwork
cover story:
Monitoring Eruption of Augustine Volcano

Submarine Groundwater Discharge Study

USGS Assists in Search for Airplane Wreckage

Research Methane Hydrate off Southern California Coast

Outreach Open House at FISC St. Petersburg

Falmouth Science Teachers visit USGS Woods Hole

Sea-Floor-Mapping Systems Described on New Web Pages

Awards Wetland Ecologist Named Fulbright Senior Specialist

Multiple Award Winner in USGS Photography Contest

Staff USGS Scientist on Nanjing University Committee

Publications March 2006 Publications List

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