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Hot Ticket—USGS Open House in Menlo Park, California

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Thousands of visitors braved unseasonably hot weather to attend the 9th triennial Open House at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) center in Menlo Park, California. The 3-day event began with a preview day on Friday, May 15, for invited VIPs and school groups from around the San Francisco Bay area. More than 1,000 students swarmed over the campus with their teachers and chaperones, eagerly exploring dozens of exhibits set up indoors and out. The campus was open to the general public on Saturday and Sunday (May 16 and 17), when visitors of all ages enjoyed a broad array of offerings, such as live talks in the Presentation Theater, hands-on activities, and the universal favorite: talking with scientists about what they do.

Quenton Smith Visitors get into the action at Dress Like a Marine Geologist exhibit.
Above left: Coastal and Marine Geology Team member Quenton Smith opened the Open House with a beautiful performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Photograph by Mike Diggles, USGS. [larger version]

Above right: Visitors get into the action at "Dress Like a Marine Geologist." [larger version]

Here are some of the displays related to coastal and marine science:

  • Dress Like a Marine Geologist - In this popular activity, organized by Clint Steele and Carolyn Degnan, visitors put on field attire and, through a little computer magic, were photographed in the field setting of their choice. (See the results at USGS Open House 2009 Visiting Marine Geologists.)

    James Jones looks on while USGS scientist Clint Steele sets up a background image from USGS studies in the Grand Canyon visitors dressed like marine geologists
    Above left: Volunteer for Science James Jones (far left) looks on while USGS scientist Clint Steele (seated) sets up a background image from USGS studies in the Grand Canyon for visitors at "Dress Like a Marine Geologist" (photograph by Bill Adams, USGS). [larger version]

    Above right: the result. [larger version]

  • Fly Over the Sea Floor - It looked as if the water had been drained away to expose the bed of Lake Tahoe and the sea floor off Los Angeles and San Diego when Pete Dartnell treated visitors to virtual flights over underwater terrain revealed by USGS bathymetric data. (See examples at Seafloor Mapping.)

  • Mapping California Coast State Waters - Some of the Coastal and Marine Geology Team's most recent work was highlighted in maps of the sea floor off Half Moon Bay, California, showing bathymetry, roughness, sediment distribution, habitat type, and more. Brian Edwards organized this display, which also featured sea-floor images used to "ground-truth" the mapping data, and the large camera sled used to collect them.

  • Under San Francisco Bay - Visitors inspected sediment samples and viewed colorful posters and a computer flythrough of topography beneath the waves of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate. John Chin and Don Woodrow organized this display, which offered numerous handouts, including postcards of sea-floor bathymetry and copies of Shifting Shoals and Shattered Rocks–How Man Has Transformed the Floor of West-Central San Francisco Bay (USGS Circular 1259).

  • Topo Salad Trays - In an activity led by Florence Wong, visitors stacked up clear-plastic trays with a contour line on each to produce three-dimensional models of Monterey Canyon on the central California coast and Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. (See instructions at Topographic Salad-Tray Model.)

  • Microfossils, Volcanic Ash, and Tree Rings—Oh My! - At this multifaceted display—presented by Elmira Wan, Mary McGann, Scott Starratt, David Wahl, John Barron, Holly Olson, and Margaret Keller—visitors used microscopes and magnifiers to view items that help scientists better understand climate change; the timing, magnitude, and environmental impact of volcanic eruptions and other geologic events; and the origin of fine-grained petroleum-source rocks.

  • Mid-Ocean Ridges - Carol Reiss hosted this display, at which visitors imagined what it's like to descend into the deep sea in a submersible, viewed video footage of deep-sea hot springs at a mid-ocean spreading ridge, and inspected samples of minerals precipitated from the hot water and animals that live around the springs.

  • Imaging the Ocean Floor - With assistance from Mike Boyle, Carol Reiss also displayed a sidescan-sonar "fish" used to image the sea floor, plus a computer monitor playing back data collected from various offshore areas.

  • Science Resources for Teachers - Teachers mobbed this unstaffed display (put together by Carol Reiss), which offered free handouts on plate tectonics and other topics based on Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (for grades K-12).

  • A Visual Tour of Tsunamis - featured Eric Geist in the Presentation Theater, demonstrating computer models that show how tsunami waves move away from the area where they were triggered and collide with coastlines both near and far from the source area. (See example: Tsunami wavefield for the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake 1 hour after generation, view to the northwest.)

  • How Clean Is Clean? - Brent Topping and James Kuwabara helped visitors use a salinity meter to guess which water was which (ocean, bay, tap water, bottled water, high-purity lab water).

  • Adventures in Geochemistry - Bob Rosenbauer, Burt Thomas, Nancy Prouty, and others invited visitors to smell samples of oil from different sources and explained how the chemistry of an oil sample not only gives it a distinctive smell but also serves as a "fingerprint" that can be used to determine its source—such as a natural seep or an oil spill.

  • LIDAR (LIght Detection And Ranging) - In an activity organized by Diane Minasian, visitors were scanned with a terrestrial lidar instrument, which uses laser light reflected from surfaces to create high-resolution, three-dimensional images. Lidar data are particularly useful for documenting landscape change, such as hurricane damage and coastal-cliff erosion. (See Land-Based Lidar Mapping—a New Surveying Technique to Shed Light on Rapid Topographic Change.)

    Diane Minasian scan of visitor scans of other visitors
    Above left: Diane Minasian (foreground) scans a visitor with a tripod-mounted lidar (light detection and ranging) instrument. [larger version]

    Above center: The result of the lidar scan. [larger version]

    Above right: More visitors. The scans were taken at low resolution so they could be processed quickly for viewing. [larger version]

  • Using Current Drifters to Track Coral Larvae in Hawai‘i - Susie Cochran, Amy Draut, Josh Logan, Ann Gibbs, Gerry Hatcher, Nancy Prouty, and Tom Reiss put together this exhibit, at which visitors viewed current drifters and their components, learned how drifters were used to track dispersal of coral larvae in Hawaiian waters, and heard about additional USGS studies of Hawai‘i's coral-reef ecosystems. (See West Maui Coastal Circulation Experiment: Understanding the Movement of Sediment, Coral Larvae, and Contaminants Along Coral Reefs, USGS Pacific Coral Reefs Website, and The Coral Reef of South Moloka‘i, Hawai‘i—Portrait of a Sediment-Threatened Fringing Reef.)

  • Instrumented Personal Watercraft for Mapping the Sea Floor - Andrew Stevens and Guy Gelfenbaum invited visitors to climb aboard personal watercraft equipped with echosounders and Global Positioning System (GPS) units. Visitors learned how USGS scientists use such watercraft to map the sea floor near the shore, and viewed photographs of surveying activities and some of the resulting maps. (See Nearshore Mapping.)

  • Sea Otter Research - This large exhibit was organized by Nicole LaRoche, Tim Tinker, Christine Alfano, and others from a cooperative-research unit comprising the USGS Western Ecological Research Center's Santa Cruz Field Office and the Tinker/Estes Lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Visitors stroked sea-otter pelts, touched casts of marine-mammal skulls, learned how microscopic growth layers in cross sections of sea otter teeth are used to determine sea otters' ages, and handled research tools, such as a spotting scope, radio transmitter, and receiver/antenna. (See the USGS Santa Cruz Field Station and the Tinker & Estes Lab.)

  • Submarine Landslides Can Cause Destructive Tsunamis - Led by Holly Ryan and Homa Lee, exhibitors invited visitors to slide objects down a ramp into a tub of water to see what type of landslide triggers "tsunamis." Participants then watched the waves topple structures they had placed on a "coastline" at the far end of the tub. Many of them enjoyed standing where they could be splashed by the cooling water.

  • John Flynn and bald eagle Sequoia
    Above: San Francisco Zoo volunteer John Flynn answers visitors' questions about bald eagle Sequoia. Photograph by Helen Gibbons. [larger version]
    Sequoia—Bald Eagle from the San Francisco Zoo - A live bald eagle, whose damaged tail prevents her from living in the wild, was the star of a display about ecosystem recovery from the impacts of DDT-contaminated sediment off southern California. (See the Nest CAM.) Kathy Hobson of the San Francisco Zoo and Greg Baker of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration kindly organized this exhibit.

  • Jon Boat—Flat-Bottomed Boat Used for Shallow-Water Mapping - This unstaffed display was a hit with children, who enjoyed climbing into the boat and putting on life vests.

  • Live Music - Several musical groups whose members include USGS employees performed for visitors. Particular highlights were two songs composed by the 19th-century geologist and mineralogist J.D. Dana (whose book on mineralogy is still used as a college text) while he was part of the U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838-42 in Antarctica. "The Old Peacock" (named for one of the ships) and "Antarctic Mariner's Song" were performed with the permission of a book collector who recently bought the expedition's unpublished songbook.

A complete list of exhibits, plus photographs of the event and video footage of the opening ceremony, is posted on the Open House Web site.

Christine Alfano Nancy Prouty
Above left: Wildlife biologist Christine Alfano (right) of the USGS Western Ecological Research Center's Santa Cruz Field Station manipulates the cast of a juvenile killer whale skull to show Open House visitors how the jaws work. Photograph by Helen Gibbons. [larger version]

Above right: Above: Nancy Prouty explains to young visitors how corals grow and how scientists count their annual density bands by using X-rays, like the X-rays doctors use to view people's bones. Scientists use coral-skeleton banding to determine coral ages and to better understand past climatic and environmental changes. Photograph by Amy Draut. [larger version]

Some behind-the-scenes players from the Coastal and Marine Geology team helped make the Open House run smoothly: Dave Hogg and Mike Boyle of the Marine Facility provided electrical wiring to exhibits in and near the Volcanoes, Coasts, and Oceans tent; and Carol Reiss and Helen Gibbons served on the Open House Steering Committee. Quenton Smith was front and center when she opened the event with the national anthem at Friday's Opening Ceremony, backed up by fellow band members from the Vintage Music Collective (see a video of the Opening Ceremony). Many additional team members, their names too numerous to list here, helped set up, staff, and tear down Open House displays.

Everyone involved can take pride in the public's enthusiastic response to the Open House. Numerous visitors e-mailed their thanks, such as: "I especially enjoyed having access to the staff and getting to ask any questions we wanted," "What we loved was how friendly all of the scientists were at each poster," and "It was great fun for the whole family!"

Related Sound Waves Stories
Coastal and Marine Exhibits Are Wet and Wild at USGS Open House in Menlo Park, California
July 2006

Related Web Sites
Menlo Park Open House

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cover story:
Submarine Ground Water Discharge Along the West Florida Shelf

Significant Gas Resource Discovered in Gulf of Mexico

Research Assessing Offshore Marine Sand Deposits

Outreach 10th Anniversary of Sound Waves

USGS: Your Resource During Hurricane Season

Internship Programs at USGS Center in St. Petersburg

Open House in Menlo Park

Meetings Annual NGOM Science Meeting

Publications June/July 2009 Publications List

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