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Alaska high school students prepare for 2012 ocean science competition


Twenty high schools across the state to vie for top spot, chance at nationals

Seward, Alaska—Most Alaska high school students are busy with the start of the new school year, sports, and reconnecting with friends.

But about 100 Alaska high school students are focused on the following spring.

This select group of teenagers, representing 20 high schools across the state, recently declared their intent to compete in the Alaska Region National Ocean Sciences Bowl. 

The annual three-day ocean science knowledge contest, also called the Alaska Tsunami Ocean Sciences Bowl, is scheduled for March 2-4, 2012, at the Seward High School in Seward, Alaska.

At stake are school prestige, one-year tuition waivers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and UA Southeast, and the chance to represent Alaska against teams from across the country at next April’s U.S. National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB) Finals in Baltimore, Maryland.

“There is some serious depth in this year's Alaska competition,” said Carol Kaynor, who manages the Tsunami Bowl website for Alaska Sea Grant. “There’s one seven-time coach, one six-time coach, two five-time coaches, and seven three-time coaches.”

This year marks the 15th annual Alaska Tsunami Ocean Sciences Bowl. The Alaska competition is composed of two separate events: a research project and a quiz bowl in which students answer rapid-fire questions that test their knowledge of ocean science concepts.

This year’s research theme is on ecosystem-based management of Alaska's commercial fisheries. Teams entered in this phase of the competition must develop a plan for implementing an ecosystem-based approach to management of a local marine fishery in response to changes brought about by pollution, habitat loss, overfishing and other parameters such as climate change.

At the competition, teams will present their research findings to a panel of scientists, who will rank the presentations on thoroughness, balance, clarity, and a host of other criteria. The team's research paper and presentation account for 50 percent of their overall score.

The quiz bowl portion accounts for the other 50 percent of the overall score. In a series of round-robin and double-elimination matches, teams compete against each other and the clock, trying to be the fastest to answer the toss-up questions and compose the best answers to more in-depth Team Challenge questions. 

Prizes are awarded to the teams that place first in the research project and quiz bowl event. The team with the most combined points wins the overall event, and will represent Alaska at the NOSB finals.

For eleven-time NOSB champions Juneau-Douglas High School, keeping their winning dynasty alive would be nice, but longtime coach Ben Carney said he is not about to underestimate his rivals.

“This is a brand-new year, and any team could earn the win,” Carney said. “Juneau students know that numerous teams have been improving over the years and that several strong teams will be returning this year.“

Carney said his school’s secret to success is really no secret at all. “Hard work,” he said.

But for just about every other team, knocking Juneau off its throne would be a bonus. One high school looking to replace Juneau in the top spot is longtime rival Cordova.

“Juneau has consistently presented strong teams over the years,” said Kara Johnson, science education director at the Prince William Sound Science Center and coach of the Cordova High School team. “The Cordova teams are always excited to compete at such a high level, and they are confident they can build on their school’s past success and be formidable contenders in this year's Tsunami Bowl."

Johnson said her two teams have been meeting twice each week, once for lectures and once to work on their research projects. The teams also are taking an introduction to oceanography class which includes guest lecturers discussing their specific areas of expertise, as well as reading relevant articles, and taking quizzes and tests. 

This year marks the first year that a team from Fairbanks has declared its intent to compete. Megan McCarthy, a teacher at Hutchison High School, decided to put together a team after volunteering at the Alaska regional competition in Seward last year.

“Since Fairbanks has never had a competing team we thought that it would be a great goal,” said McCarthy. “Here at Hutch we decided to offer Marine Biology first semester so that we could encourage students to participate in the competition.”

The experience of going to Seward, with its Alaska SeaLife Center and being next to the ocean, would be a huge benefit for Hutch students. They would have the opportunity to meet other students interested in marine science.

While the Tsunami Bowl is likely to stoke competitive fervor among the players, the event is about more than winning, said Phyllis Shoemaker, coordinator of the Tsunami Bowl.

"This is such a great way for students to learn about the ocean, and to learn how to work together toward common goals," said Shoemaker. "These students also benefit from the opportunity to meet their peers from schools across the state."

Love the ocean, but really not into science? The Alaska Tsunami Ocean Sciences Bowl also will host a juried art show. Paintings, drawings, photography, three-dimensional pieces, sculptures, pottery, jewelry, mixed media, fiber, and collage works will be judged. An award will be given for Best of Show, and ribbons will be awarded for first, second, third, and honorable mention in each category.

The National Ocean Sciences Bowl began in 1998 as a way to bring ocean science education to the nation's high schools and to encourage high school graduates to pursue careers in science. This year, more than 2,000 students from 375 high schools nationwide will take part in regional competitions.

Major support for the Alaska Tsunami Ocean Sciences Bowl comes from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, based in Washington, D.C.. Additional support comes from the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, the Alaska Sea Grant College Program, and NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region. Many additional sponsors also provide support.


Alaska communities and schools intending to compete in the 2012 Alaska Tsunami Ocean Sciences Bowl

Fairbanks  (Hutchison High School)      
Juneau-Douglas High School 
Juneau (Thunder Mountain) 
Kenny Lake
Mat-Su Career & Technical High School 
Mountain Village 
Scammon Bay

The Alaska Sea Grant College Program is a statewide marine research, education, communication, and extension service at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Alaska Sea Grant is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in partnership with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. 
The Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program is a statewide university extension and technical assistance program that helps Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy Alaska's marine and coastal resources. 

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