Tropical Storm Threatened to Stop Science Festival…But Didn’t Stop Us from Celebrating Science!

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USGS participated in the the St. Petersburg Science Festival, an annual event held in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, that invites local schools and the science-interested public to come explore topics in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM).

This article is part of the October-December 2019 issue of the Sound Waves newsletter.

The St. Petersburg Science Festival is an annual event held in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, that invites local schools and the science-interested public to come explore topics in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM). The first day of the festival is completely dedicated to local school children, with over 40 exhibits to visit with guided, hands-on learning opportunities to inspire an excitement for science and STEAM fields! The exhibits are designed by scientific and technological agencies and institutions–both local and from afar.

The 9th annual Science Festival was scheduled to take place October 18 and 19, 2019. During the “Sneak Peak School Day” on Friday, students from around the Tampa Bay area came to explore the exhibits and learn about science, engineering, and technology through exciting hands-on activities. The School Day hosted over 1500 students who were able to enjoy and learn from the fun and informative exhibits put together by scientific, academic, and technological institutions in order to learn about innovative ideas and explore potential future careers.

jet ski exhibit at St. Petersburg Science Festival

USGS scientist explains how jet skis (personal watercrafts, or PWC’s) are used to collect valuable data for coastal change projects. (Public domain.)

Lauren Toth at St. Petersburg Science Festival

USGS scientist Lauren Toth discusses current research being done by the USGS St. Petersburg Coastal & Marine Science Center during the School Day of the St. Petersburg Science Festival.

(Public domain.)

The exhibits included the USGS Pavilion, a group of exhibits that showcased the diversity of science we conduct within the bureau. The pavilion represented three different Mission Areas and Centers: The St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center, the Water and Aquatic Resources Center, and the Caribbean-Florida Water Science Center. One school day activity led by the Coastal Change Hazards group used a wave tank to show the mechanisms of coastal erosion from waves and storm surge. Sand was piled into areas in the tank to model barrier islands and coastlines, water filled the rest of the tank, and a fan was used to simulate wind and model its effects on water movement and coastal erosion. This exhibit showed students how these processes can be escalated in the event of a hurricane or tropical storm event. Another exhibit about groundwater and aquifers in West-Central Florida was used to teach students about the various materials that comprise the Florida aquifer. USGS Scientists discussed the thicknesses of each layered unit in Pinellas county, right beneath the students’ feet! They learned that the surficial aquifer is about 35 feet thick, the intermediate confining unit is about 100 feet thick, and the upper permeable zone is about 140 feet thick. USGS scientists then showed how water interacts with each of these different materials and how the layering of these units works to protect the aquifer from surface contaminants.

USGS scientist at Science Festival

USGS scientist shows students how wind and waves affect coastal erosion of barrier islands at the St. Petersburg Science Festival. (Public domain.)

Unfortunately, the second day (the public “family day”) of the St. Petersburg Science Festival was cancelled due to the Tropical Storm Nestor. Also cancelled was the festival’s partner event: MarineQuest, the annual open house of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. These two events have taken place simultaneously for almost a decade, with MarineQuest extending back almost 30 years. This weekend was the very first time the event has been cancelled. Extreme weather situations are not unfamiliar to us here at the St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center. In fact, we actually forecast and model potential coastal changes due to hurricanes and tropical storms right here within our Center!

Although this year’s event couldn’t go on as planned, the Festival’s Steering Committee found a way to allow Festival fans to enjoy science despite the gloomy impending weather. Meaghan Faletti, Information Specialist for the USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center, contributed to the creation of a “Virtual Science Festival.” This virtual festival took the form of an online story map where the public can still learn about and enjoy the lessons taught by the exhibitors at the festival, without having to attend in person. The story map includes videos and photos of each exhibit that allow the user to immerse themselves in the festival in any order they choose. Check out the story map here: https://arcg.is/0TPmzu.

The USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center has participated in the Science Festival since its creation and continues to support the event as an official sponsor and through participation in the festival’s steering committee. USGS scientists who participate in the event help to inspire younger generations to take an interest in science, technology, and engineering to support future advancements in these fields. We look forward to seeing you there next year!