JDHS wins state ocean sciences bowl for the third year in a row

Posted: Friday, March 04, 2005

Juneau-Douglas High School students have won the Alaska region of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl for the third year in a row and the sixth time in past eight years.

Team Steller was composed of Ashley Kelly, Bekah Menze, Devon Kibby, Emily Peyton and Kelsey Potdevin, and was coached by oceanography teacher Clay Good.

"I said, 'Wow, this is almost a sport' because I was so psyched up," Potdevin said, describing her reaction at the time to the competition.

Like the 10 other teams, the JDHS students were asked to study the effects of climate change on their local marine ecosystems. They also had to recommend policy changes to alleviate the problems.

Participants must write a paper, make and defend a PowerPoint presentation to university scientists, and compete in a two-day "Jeopardy!"-style quiz. The event was held Feb. 18-20 in Seward.

In Juneau, the effects of the warming of the Earth's atmosphere are seen in higher sea-surface temperatures, melting snowpacks in the mountains, and increased precipitation, Menze said.

The Mendenhall Glacier has receded and thinned in the past century, Peyton added.

The reduction in snow, for example, means there's less of it to melt in the summer and contribute to the flow of salmon streams during spawning. The warmer climate helps tree-killing spruce bark beetles flourish.

The team suggested heavily taxing the use of fossil fuels, harvesting beetle-killed trees, hydroelectric generation of energy and serious consideration of nuclear-powered energy.

The JDHS students placed fifth in their paper and presentation, but made up for that by winning the quiz, where topics range from plate tectonics to sharks.

"Pretty much you just need to know everything possible about the ocean and dig it out of your brain on a trivia question," Kelly said.

"I read the (oceanography) textbook and kept a binder with me," Peyton said. "I took notes. I read thoroughly to understand the concepts."

The Juneau students knew they had reclaimed first place after the first day of quiz.

"We had to sleep on that overnight," Peyton said.

The JDHS students narrowly defeated Skyview High School from Soldotna for the overall title. They were awarded one-year tuition waivers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Team Steller will compete April 23-25 against 24 other regional champions in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl in Biloxi, Miss.

In September, the students began their work, which included talking to local scientists such as Bruce Wing at the National Marine Fisheries Service. Good gave them tips on whom to contact.

One reason Juneau does well in the contest, Good said, was "we're awash in resources in this town - so many scientists in government and academic agencies. Everyone's very helpful and very generous."

The students said they enjoy the competition and working for something other than a grade in class.

"I just enjoy the ocean completely," said Menze, who plans to be a marine biologist. "To be able to dig more deeply - it was really fun."

"I like to do some nerd activity every year," Potdevin said, and the other students agreed - yes, it's a nerd thing to do.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.

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