Students explore atmospheric, marine science at camp

Sun to Sea Science Camp includes field trips around Juneau

Posted: Monday, July 27, 2009

Eleven middle schoolers tested their speed and maneuverability in a Juneau pool Friday - but it wasn't a swimming competition.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The kids wrapped up two weeks of atmospheric and marine science exploration through a new science camp at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lab in Auke Bay with a contest involving remote-operated vehicles, or ROVs, they had built themselves.

In Sun to Sea Science Camp, students in grades six to eight learned about wind, weather, waves, marine life and the interconnectedness of life systems from Floyd Dryden Middle School science teacher Kathleen Galau - as well as experts from NOAA's Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute, the local office of the National Weather Service and two scientists from the U.S. Navy's Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, R.I.

Juneau's Luke Sewell, 12, who said he'll likely take the camp again, will be one of five kids to take a SeaPerch ROV home.

"It was just the thrill of making your own little thing and wiring it, then seeing it work and everything," he said of the SeaPerches, which they worked on for about two hours each day.

Campers completed their ROVs Monday afternoon and tested them Thursday in a large swimming pool at the NOAA Auke Bay lab. They even held a SeaPerch contest Friday, competing in maneuverability and speed.

Galau, who has taught science for the past 10 years, said the students particularly enjoyed using the ROVs.

"We put cameras on them so they could look at the bottom," she said. "We attached other things such as a pH meter and dissolved oxygen, so they can use the SeaPerch to actually do science documentation and observation."

Galau said the kids were pleased with the camp.

"We had one girl who was sick and just was dragging herself in here anyway, because she was having so much fun," Galau said. "I'm really happy the kids seem to be enjoying it. And we're doing science, so it's the best of all worlds."

Camp instruction focused on watersheds and ecosystems; geocaching and GIS mapping; monitoring water, climate, air and water pressure, wind and circulation; and sound collection and analysis.

Although the majority of the camp was held at NOAA's Auke Bay Laboratory, students took field trips to the Mount Roberts Tramway, Aurora Harbor, Auke Lake, Twin Lakes and Sunshine Cove.

This week, students watched humpback whales feeding and breaching near South Shelter Island, and captured their vocalizations with the help of Navy scientists and their hydrophones.

"They could hear the whale vocalizations under water, which is pretty cool," said Mary Hakala, education coordinator of the Juneau Economic Development Council, which sponsored the camp through its SpringBoard program and federal grant money for fostering interest in science, technology, engineering and math. "You don't get to always have that technology around, and it's at our back door, but we don't usually have access to it."

On Friday, students were using sounds collected from the outing in their camp wrap-up movie, Galau said.

On Wednesday, students dug for clams and seined from the beach at Auk Nu Cove, then followed up with testing in the lab for toxins that cause paralytic shellfish poison.

"It's exciting because it's a launch of a NOAA partnership," Hakala said. "NOAA is heavily invested in the science camp, and it's going really well. What I've been hearing from parents is all really good feedback, and what I've seen is a lot of interest and smiling students."

All 11 participants have Juneau connections, with one camper from Minnesota, one from New Mexico and one from the United Kingdom.

Amber Blossom, 13, of Clovis, N.M., said she mostly enjoyed learning how to wire the SeaPerch - as well as the recreational lunchtime fishing.

Sewell, the 12-year-old who gets to take one of the ROVs home, even caught a 30-pound king salmon while fishing in a stream near the NOAA lab.

"But I didn't land it," Sewell said. "It broke my line just as it got on to the shore."

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at or 523-2272.

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