Last weekend was the statewide High School Ocean Science competition called the Tsunami Bowl. The competition is an annual event organized by the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and part of the National Ocean Science Bowl. Nineteen teams from around the State travelled to cold and snowy Seward to spend three days at the High School comparing their prowess in ocean sciences.
The competition consists of three parts. First, each team has to write and submit a research paper. The topic this year was the Arctic, and how it is expected to change over the next 50 years. Students were asked to look at ice models and describe the receeding of the ice cap and its likely effects on the ecosystem. Most teams chose one species and took a closer look at how expected changes would affect its livelihood and population numbers. The Kodiak team took a more comprehensive approach and considered not only the ecology, but also the economics, technology, the indigenous people and politics and policies in the context of a change from an icy nomansland to a new ocean with untapped oil and gas resources.
The second part of the competition was a presentation of the research given to an auditorium full of other teams, their coaches, and a panel of judges. All day Friday we heard student team presentations about seals, narwhals, birds, and plankton. We learned a lot about ice algae and their role in the food web of the Arctic but it was also apparent how much is simply unknown about that icy ecosystem. Kodiak was one of the last teams to present on Saturday morning. While the broader approach at the topic had not captured the judges favor in the research paper scoring, the Kodiak students managed to awe them with their presentation, resulting in a first place for that part of the competition.
For the rest of Saturday, all students competed in a Round Robin style quiz bowl. Each team played six rounds against teams from other high schools from around the State. Questions spanned an array of ocean topics from marine policies, engineering, oil spills, chemistry, physics, ocean currents, seamanship, biology and the history of ocean exploration. Every year, I am amazed at what the students know and surprised at what they do not know or can’t think of when the question is asked. As in every such game there is a certain portion of luck involved. Each correctly answered question earns the team a bonus question. Sometimes it seems like you know all the answers for the other teams’ bonus questions but none of the answers for your own bonus questions.
The Kodiak team fought well. Some games were won, some were lost, and several were very tight. One round was lost by a single point. By the end of the day, we teetered between making the championship round and being top of the consolation round. Consolation round it was and on Sunday the team sailed through all of the quiz games with a win and placed at the top of their bracket. This placed them 9th in the State for this years Tsunami Bowl. For those of you who remember last year’s glorious 3rd place I must mention that the scoring has changed and while a team has to submit a paper and presentation to be eligible to win, the overall winner is determined by quiz bowl scores alone (this was done to align the statewide competition with the nationals). In effect, our good presentation had no bearing on the overall placement under the new scoring system.
No matter what the placement, students participating in the Tsunami Bowl take away much more than certificates and prizes. Feedback from former Tsunami Bowl students emphasizes how much they profit from the experience of writing that research paper and giving a scientific presentation to a large and critical audience. Coming together for a weekend with this many people who think about the future of our oceans and seriously considering real world problems and contributing ideas for solutions is a powerful window into what a young person can do with education.
This years’ Tsunami Bowl team consisted of Annie Looman (senior), Devin Shannon-Aguirre (junior), Lance Peterson (junior, Old Harbor), Lars Bodnar (sophomore) and Liz Spivey (freshman). Jane Eisemann and myself coached the team through many hours of studying, paper writing, presentation preparation and two fun weekend retreats at the Chiniak school. We would like to thank the High School and Kodiak College for funding our travel to Seward, and the Old Harbor Native Tribe for supporting team member Lance Peterson. Julie Matweyou at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center organized a practice quiz bowl with several brave scientists playing against the student team.
If you have a High School student with aspirations to become a scientist consider suggesting the Tsunami Bowl team and look for recruitment announcements at the High School at the beginning of the next school year. No effort is too great to spark that enthusiasm for ocean stewardship in bright and upcoming young scientists and the next generation students truly are amazing.