Dimond HS wins Tsunami Bowl with ocean acidification research paper

Dimond’s National Ocean Science Bowl Team clockwise from upper left: Morgan Fromm, Averyl Cobb, Emily Taylor and Lawton Skaling.

Ocean acidification was the buzz at this year’s National Ocean Science Bowl. Alaska’s regional competition is called the Tsunami Bowl, and high school students from across the state compete with a QuizBowl and a research project. This year’s “Best Research Project” went to the team from Dimond High who focused on ocean acidification.  The Alaska OA Network caught up with the team before the competition in March.

Q: We heard you chose ocean acidification as your research topic for the National Ocean Science Bowl. What led you to choose this topic?

Our decision-making process basically consists of whatever will interest us. This year we wanted to talk about something newer in ocean science. In the past we’ve written about receding sea ice and microplastics, and we’ve thought about doing a report on ocean acidification almost every year, but shied away from it because it never perfectly fit the prompt. This year, however, the prompt was basically made for us to talk about ocean acidification. This was our research question: How have anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions influenced Arctic and/or subarctic oceanic processes?

Q: Tell us about the research you did, and how it fits into the NOSB competition.

Usually we start off our research by using NOAA websites or other websites from scientific organizations. These are usually easier to understand and help the entire team get the basic concepts, and sometimes they cite really helpful research reports that we can use later. This year, we were able to interview Claudine Hauri, an assistant research professor at UAF, before writing our paper. This gave us really good insight into some of the historical data we should look at and certain topics to dig into. Talking to a professional before writing the paper was one of the most insightful parts of the research process. Then we use Google Scholar to look up specific reports on each of our individual sections; a lot of the research we did this year had to do with chemical/biological processes, methods of sampling, economic consequences, and modeling. A couple examples of the reports we read were the hindcast model in Hauri et al., 2020, the risk assessment for the fisheries sector in Mathis et al., 2015, and websites from the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network or NOAA.

The NOSB competition is literally all of ocean science, and we’re not exaggerating! So all of the background information we learned while researching is going to tie into the competition, simply because of how all-encompassing NOSB is. This year the focus is the polar seas, specifically the Arctic and sub-arctic. Ocean acidification is much less studied in the far north compared to other areas, so it was interesting to look at for this year’s topic.

Did you first learn about ocean acidification in class or elsewhere? What curriculum or techniques helped you understand the concepts?

Most of our team first learned about OA through AP Environmental Science. The best website we’ve found is from the Smithsonian Ocean Portal and the NOAA ocean website are very intuitive and easy to understand (before reading professional research reports). In the end, writing out an entire report really helps you understand each aspect of the topic, although, the three years of high school science education kind of helps in it of itself.

If you could educate Alaskans about one thing regarding ocean acidification, what would it be and why?

We actually wrote a little bit about the perceptions of Alaskan on OA in our report! It seems like a good portion of Alaskans know that OA exists and that we should be at least mildly concerned about it. However, we think people should really be educated on how Alaska’s waters are disproportionately affected compared to the lower 48, and how detrimental OA can be for a big portion of our economy and jobs: fisheries. OA isn’t just a problem for people looking to preserve nature, it’s a problem for everyone who relies on Alaska’s seas whether that’s for income or diet. We also don’t think people realize how rural communities are disproportionately affected by ocean acidification and how this can truly impact their subsistence lifestyles in the future.

Tell us about a memorable moment preparing for the Tsunami Bowl.

There’s too many memorable moments from NOSB to choose from! Something we will all remember is the marathon paper-writing that happens at the end of the semester. Normally, papers are due right after finals, so a lot of the nit-picking and final touches on the paper are put off to the last minute. We kid you not, our entire team spends the Friday after finals at school when the only other people there are the janitors and sometimes some other teachers. One year, the janitor kept checking on us because he wanted to leave. There’s sometimes crying and we always order pizza. It’s a combination of stress and adrenaline, and spending 12 hours with your team just makes it fun somehow!  Honestly every aspect of NOSB is memorable. Driving down to Seward for two hours (for those of us who live in Anchorage) allows us to really get to know our coaches and teammates. It’s also very eye-opening and fun to meet kids from all over the state, go to the big dinner at the Alaska Sealife Center, attend the field trips, participate in speed mentoring and get advice from professionals, and last year, we had a NSOB dance (which my team affectionately refers to as the nerd dance).

This photo from 2020 shows Tsunami Bowl teams from around the state at the usual in-person competition in Seward. This year’s competition was held virtually due to Covid.

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