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Exploring New Ways to Communicate Scientific Results

Published on: 07/25/2011

Online social media tools have revolutionized communications. Facebook, You Tube, and Twitter are now commonplace in the private sector and increasingly being used by the federal government. These social media mechanisms communicate to people who do not use the more traditional communication tools such as newspapers, magazines, television, and radio. At the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, sponsored research scientists use traditional media, while incorporating the new "social media" tools to communicate science and foster outreach to new and established segments of society.

Using Art
Communicating science to the public is a challenging endeavor. The Mote Marine Laboratory and the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, recently collaborated on an outreach project with art students to communicate red tide research information to the general public. For class projects students develop outreach materials about the Florida red tide, using the collegiate provided techniques. The public voted on their projects, consisting of brochures, comic books, children's books, movies, etc. and a panel of experts also judged them. Mote Marine Laboratory recently exhibited some of the most highly rated art work as the 'Art of Red Tide Science.' The 'Best in Show' was a film created by students Rebecca Parham, Brittany Godwin, Christine Kim and Autumn Fritsch. Their old-fashioned film - complete with '50s-style bathing suits - uses humor to help describe how red tide can affect Florida's beaches, sea life, and people. Anyone can view the 7 minute, 15 second film on You Tube. The art-science project was funded in part by NCCOS's Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB) Program, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission - Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

Educational Web Pages & Film
Educational web pages and films are an important mechanism to communicate about scientific results and issues. For instance, an NCCOS-supported project in the Chesapeake Bay under Dr. Michael Kemp (University of Maryland) entitled 'Modeling Hypoxia and Ecological Responses to Climate and Nutrients' has partnered with the National Science Foundation's Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE). A COSEE Coastal Trends Scientist-Educator Team has developed an educational web page and a film on 'dead zones.' This resource, so far, has beenfeatured in High School curricula, piloted in 4 schools and used by 10 teachers. The NCCOS Coastal Hypoxia Research Program (CHRP) and the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystems & Hypoxia Assessment (NGOMEX) supports research and outreach around the Nation and in the Gulf of Mexico.

The NCCOS-sponsoredHawaii Coral Reef Initiative (HCRI)works to instill an understanding and appreciation of Hawaii's islands and nearshore waters in the next generation, an important educational goal. Using activities, songs and experiments designed for teachers and youngsters the Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative has released a new innovative educational outreach tool calledReef Pulse Hawaii. This marine science curriculum introduces students to astronomy, biology, chemistry, navigation, physics, and scientific investigation in six exciting units. Teachers can use this resource to supplement existing science lessons or it can be used as a standalone curriculum. Parents can use the materials at home. HCRI is one of four Coral Reef Institutes sponsored in part by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

Social Media
NOAA is increasingly incorporating new social media tools into its communications (seehttp://www.noaa.gov/socialmedia/ ). NCCOS sponsored scientists also use social media to communicate important results from their projects.

See the above discussion on the 'Art of Red Tide Science' for an example of NCCOS-associated You Tube video.

CSCOR-sponsored research scientists and programs are increasingly using Facebook.

  • The ECOHAB project "Ecophysiology and Toxicity ofHeterosigma akashiwoin Puget Sound: A Living Laboratory Ecosystem Approach" in the Pacific Northwest (Vera Trainer, William Cochlan, Charles Trick, Mark Wells et al.) is one of the first NCCOS-sponsored projects to use both Facebook and Twitter (see below)http://www.facebook.com/HeterosigmaHABLab
  • The CSCOR-funded National Office for Harmful Algal Blooms at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has established a Facebook page athttp://www.facebook.com/pages/Harmful-Algae/210160985681846?sk=wall

Other Tools
Virtual Worlds
An NCCOS sponsored scientist, Dr. Sonya Dyhrman of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), created a novel harmful algal bloom (HAB) feature in the online world of Whyville, popular with millions of teen and pre-teen children. At the virtual Plankton Lab called the 'Whyville Oceanographic Institute,' kids can simulate the work of real HAB scientists and managers through their computers. They can observe a bloom (a.k.a. red tide), take water samples, and analyze these samples back at the lab to figure out why the virtual Whyville Ocean is turning red.This fun activity promotes individual learning and encourages kids to mobilize fellow Whyville 'citizens' to help reduce nutrient pollution and prevent toxic blooms. WHOI, the National Science Foundation, and the CSCOR Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms (MERHAB) Program provided support in partnership with Whyville's creators, Numedeon, Inc.

NCCOS and NCCOS-sponsored scientists collaborate with NOAA and public broadcasting corporations to produce podcasts. Here are some NOAA podcasts highlighting NCCOS research.

Making Waves: Dead Zone and Red Tide News -Episode 77, June 23, 2011.

Major Flooding on the Mississippi River Predicted to Cause Largest Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone Ever Recorded. The Gulf of Mexico's hypoxic zone is predicted to be the largest ever recorded due to extreme flooding of the Mississippi River this spring, according to an annual forecast by a team of NOAA-supported scientists from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, Louisiana State University and the University of Michigan.Study Sheds Light On Red Tide Toxin. NOAA-supported researchers at Texas A&M University have determined why red tide algae in the Gulf of Mexico make toxin, a development that could prove beneficial to both human and marine life.

Northwest Public Radio: Harmful Algal Blooms Bad News for Salmon, June 6, 1011 (article no longer online).

Oregon Public Broadcasting: Tiny Algae Bloom By The Billions To Threaten Northwest Salmon, June 6, 2011 (article no longer online). Currently in the Pacific Northwest coastal waters are filled with both salmon and algae. Sometimes massive blooms of algae show up in the region making shellfish unsafe to eat and clogging the gills of salmon.

Making Waves: Harmful Algal Bloom Discovery; U.S. Caribbean News -Episode 72, March 3, 2011. Researchers Link Algae to Harmful Estrogen-Like Compound. You may have heard stories in the news over the years about researchers discovering evidence that links manmade substances (e.g. hormones, pesticides) in our waterways to health and reproductive problems in animals. While scientists have always thought that these kinds of damaging compounds only came from manmade sources, new NOAA-funded research shows that this may not be the case.

Making Waves: Hypoxia in U.S. Coastal Waters -Episode 60, September 16, 2010.
Earlier this month, a new interagency report was delivered to Congress that warns of the growing threat of low oxygen "dead zones" in coastal waters around the U.S. This condition is known as hypoxia - where oxygen levels drop so low that creatures in the water are stressed or killed. In this episode, we hear from two of the scientists behind the report: Dr. Libby Jewett from NOAA and Herb Buxton from the US Geological Survey. They help us learn more about the extent of this problem, its causes, and how this trend might be reversed.

Diving Deeper Shorts: Dead Zone -Episode 1, July 29, 2010
For the launch of Diving Deeper Shorts, we revisit our interview on dead zone and hypoxia with Dr. Rob Magnien from NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

Making Waves: New England Red Tide Outlook -Episode 46, March 3, 2010. 2010 New England Red Tide Forecast. Last week, scientists from the NOAA-funded Gulf of Maine Toxicity project issued an outlook for a significant regional bloom of a toxic alga that causes 'red tides' in the spring and summer of this year, potentially threatening the New England shellfish industry.

Making Waves: Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone Size Measured and NOAA Funding Helps Manage New England Red Tide - Episode 32, August 5, 2009. The size of the 2009 dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is slightly smaller than expected this year, but it's still going to be severe and NOAA provides emergency funding to support sampling, mapping, and forecasting of a massive red tide in New England.

Diving Deeper: Dead Zone - July 1, 2009. Learn about dead zones in this interview with Dr. Rob Magnien from the Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research. The discussion highlights what a dead zone is, where it exists, and what we can do to help.

Making Waves Episode 19: New Study Links Sea Foam to Unexplained Seabird Deaths and Strandings -Episode 19, March 6, 2009. In 2007, hundreds of birds were found stranded or dead in California's Monterey Bay, coated with an unknown yellow-green substance that was eating away at the protective covering on their feathers. A new study partly funded by NOAA reveals what happened. We talk with one of the researchers involved in the effort.

Making Waves Episode 4 -November 21, 2008. This week, the head of the NOS traveled to Florida for the first-ever Coastal Cities Summit hosted by the International Ocean Institute. We also take a look at the devastating harmful algal bloom in New England.

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