Thursday, April 18, 2013

Day 1: Hangin' out in kayaks, talkin' ocean chemistry--gotta love Saturdays.

I am grateful for all organizations that strive to improve their communities but there are some that stand out above the rest. The difference, at least in concept, is simple: they see the big picture.

Outdoor Outreach is one of those organizations. I had the privilege of volunteering with them last weekend on their kayak tour through the La Jolla Kelp Forest and caves (AKA the Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve). From their website, their stated mission is to “empower at-risk and underprivileged youth to make positive lasting changes in their lives through comprehensive outdoor programming.” But they don’t stop there. They don’t pretend that this concisely stated goal is so important that they can just ignore the other details. Details like eating a healthy lunch during the outings, not just ordering fast food; bringing reusable water bottles, not adding more plastic to the oceans; talking about science on a Saturday morning, not just splashing each other and trying to flip each other’s kayaks (although there was still plenty of that…).

Learning the differences between and sea lions & seals and
pelicans, gulls, & cormorants.
Cormorants can hold their breath down to 170 feet to go fishing!
Photo credit: Jason Ward Studios, 2013.
Outdoor Outreach is a group with a vision for the big picture. I was quite lucky to have had the chance to kayak with OO in the local kelp forest, just south of Scripps Pier. Not only did I have a blast paddling around, but it was really fun to talk to the kids and other volunteers, everyone stoked to be spending their weekend on the beach and ocean. I thought I was volunteering to teach, but I learned a lot! People often assume that all oceanographers know about everything that lives in the ocean. We don’t. Well, at least, I know I don’t. I learned about the different types of kelp that reside in La Jolla (giant, elkhorn, & feather), sat above the Rose Canyon Fault, and discovered that only sea lions bark, not seals. To a chemist, learning this biology and geology was pretty cool, especially since it’s right in my “backyard.”

Outdoor Outreach's Adventure Clubbers answering questions about ocean acidification, pollution, and conservation.
Photo credit: Jason Ward Studios, 2013.
I had a couple opportunities to talk about chemical changes in the ocean as a result of human pollution, notably ocean acidification (OA). OA is the result of human-produced carbon dioxide dissolving into seawater, decreasing the ocean’s pH. Many creatures have a harder time surviving in these lower pH waters and many of them are either creatures we like to eat (like oysters) or form the bottom of the food chain for other critical (and tasty) species. We played a quick game where kids had to figure out whether certain common activities contributed more to pollution or conservation, and to what degree (for example, eating fast food produces much more pollution than eating fresh, local fruits and veggies and biking to work or school instead of driving an SUV counts toward conservation).

At the end of the day, though, I learned far more from the experience than I could ever hope to teach. Thanks again to Outdoor Outreach for doing such an amazing job and letting me play a small part. I can’t wait to get back out there!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

SUP, Science

Many people think that scientists are just geeks who like staring at beakers in the lab. We’re not. At least we're not just that... We’re (grown-up?) kids who love exploring. We like surfing, rock climbing, hiking, biking, running, sailing, diving, paddling, and, most importantly, learning about the world around us.

SUP, Science is all about the adventure. SUP, Science is an engaging oceanographic research program designed to take advantage of two very powerful things: (1) the nascent developments of fast-response chemical sensors and (2) the pure enticement of playing in the waves. We are strapping chemical sensors (to measure pH, oxygen, temperature, and salinity, to be specific) to Stand Up Paddleboards and paddling through the local surf zone and near shore waters. Paddleboards are ideal for near shore measurements because they are extremely mobile while barely disrupting the natural dynamics of the water—critical for accurate recordings of our environment. Equally importantly, SUPs are accessible by people of essentially all ages. This means that our scientific discoveries won’t be hidden in the lab; they’ll be on the water’s surface where all can see and even participate. Ocean chemistry is changing at a rate that hasn’t been "experienced" for over 20 million years. We have at our fingertips a unique opportunity to begin recording these changes in a tangible way. 

As a graduate student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, an avid waterman, and engaged environmental volunteer, I see an immense opportunity to bring my interests together to match the world’s need for a better understanding of our role in global change.

Model of the SurfpHOx: a pH, oxygen, temperature, and
salinity sensor developed by the Martz Lab
@ Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Coinciding exactly with Ocean Hour, April 13, 2013, we will kick off SUP, Science with a paddle through the La Jolla Kelp Forest and a brief lesson on changing ocean chemistry. As part of my volunteer experience with Outdoor Outreach, students will learn how to clean up their waste, not just by picking up garbage, but also by discovering how their daily decisions are connected to the ocean. Fresh, local, organic food choices produce significantly less pollution, much of which would end up in the ocean. Going for a bike ride is good for our bodies and minds and produces less pollution than playing video games. As Mother Ocean’s founder and Quiksilver Waterman Justin Riney writes, “every person on this planet, regardless of location, is affected by the ocean in some way; likewise, the ocean is equally affected by our actions as individuals and collectively as a society.” 

Justin captures the essence of SUP, Science’s message: we have a powerful opportunity to change our planet for the better. It starts with awareness. It continues through experience. Get outside!

Acknowledgements: The birth of SUP, Science comes as a result of generous support from Timothy Ray's family and the Scripps Foundation for Science & the Environment. Thank you!