At the end of every Digital WAVE session, we celebrate the students’ accomplishment with students, Museum staff, invited families and friends … and of course, chocolate cake! At our recent Family Event at the end of this year’s spring session, students presented the virtual world projects they’d created, which were designed to illustrate water pathways and the impacts of climate change on south Florida. Throughout the program, students gathered information for their projects through all kinds of fun activities. They went on a field trip to Anne Kolb Nature Center, met in-person with University of Miami scientist Dr. Arthur Mariano, met Dr. Annmarie Eldering of NASA via virtual worlds, conducted their own research, and built model aquifers. They even met virtually with students from Maloka Interactive Science Center in Colombia, who were also working on water and climate related projects, through the Museum’s SCEnaRioS project. The final result was truly impressive, because not only did each group create south Florida environments like the Everglades or downtown Miami, but all of the groups worked together to make these environments fit in one interactive map of south Florida. All of the students received well-deserved certificates of completion, not to mention some yummy cake.
Most everyone was told growing up about how when a tree is cut down, you can look at the tree rings to figure out the tree’s age, and also how much the tree grew each year. Dendrochronology deals with this type of science, which can help us understand environmental conditions in the past – and even tell us whether a Viking ship was built in the year 819 or 820. Dr. Kevin Helmle, who is a research scientist at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) and NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), talked to students participating in the Digital WAVE program about another way to “tell time.” He works in sclerochronology, which means using layers in coral cores, in a similar way as rings in tree trunks. Annual layers of coral growth can be studied to provide information on environmental and climate history over many past centuries. Dr. Helmle brought real coral cores to show, and also showed students x-ray images of interior coral layers (see image below). By looking at the size and density of the layers, scientists like Dr. Helmle can determine things like the water temperature, water chemistry, and exposure to light the coral experienced at that time. Students then looked at the coral x-ray images, identified layers that corresponded to important years in their lives (or in history), and looked at real data for that year to find out what was going on in the oceans at that time. Just like real sclerochronologists!
X-radiographic positive print (left) with annual density bands (dark bands = high density, and light bands = low density) and a photograph of the coral slab (right). Helmle, K. P., and R. E. Dodge (2011), Sclerochronology, in Encyclopedia of Modern Coral Reefs; Structure, Form and Process, edited by D. Hopley, pp. 958-966, Springer Verlag. Doi:10.1007/978-90-481-2639-2_22
There is a saying that goes: if you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito. When it comes to the subject of climate change, it seems unbelievable that we can each make a positive difference on the Earth, but it’s true. This week Dr. Amy Clement came to speak to students in the Digital WAVE program at the Museum. Dr. Clement is a professor of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. She studies the behavior of the Earth’s climate system, and Digital WAVE students are working in virtual worlds designing 3D objects related to climate change, so it was a great fit. Dr. Clement talked with students about things humans can do to help, like conservation, renewable energy, carbon capture, land use planning, and ecosystem management. The image below shows what Florida coastlines would look like with a 1 meter (about 3 feet) sea level rise – all of the red areas would be underwater! It’s clear we need to do what we can to slow or reverse the effects of climate change. We may be tiny compared to the Earth, but so are mosquitoes compared to us.