BIOS Scientists Support BUEI Climate Camp

Over two days in mid-August, BIOS supported the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute’s (BUEI’s) inaugural Earth Reporters Camp. The week-long program focused on providing students aged 11 to 14 with the skills required to investigate and report on environmental topics. After a lesson at BUEI in science communication from BIOS science writer Ali Hochberg, Earth Reporters visited BIOS to hear how local research is helping to shed light on global climate change. Marine ecologist Samantha de Putron described an ongoing project aimed at understanding how corals respond and adapt to rising temperature stress caused by climate change.

Over two days in mid-August, a team of BIOS scientists, along with the Institute’s science writer, supported the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute’s (BUEI’s) inaugural “Earth Reporters: Climate Change” summer camp. Designed for students aged 11 to 14, the week-long camp aimed to provide participants with the skills required to investigate environmental issues, then report on their findings using a variety of journalistic techniques, including photography, storytelling, and videography.

“In late May, I was asked to be a mentor for BUEI’s Young Reporters for the Environment pilot program, the Earth Reporters summer camp, and was excited for the opportunity to share my love of communicating science,” said Ali Hochberg, BIOS science writer and research technician. “Having the students visit BIOS added an extra dimension to the experience, as they were able to practice their journalism skills and learn first-hand about some of the climate science taking place locally.”

On Tuesday, August 16, Hochberg visited BUEI and gave a presentation to 11 young Earth Reporters. Her talk focused on the importance of real-world science communication, such as the difference between global warming and climate change, and provided students with tips for interviewing scientists. Among her suggestions were conversation prompts such as: “Who inspired you to become a scientist?” and “How does your research relate to Bermuda?”

The visit ended with Hochberg conducting mock interviews with BUEI camp instructors Julie Steele, director of education, and Kaiya Richards, Earth Reporters instructor, who each portrayed global leaders with varying knowledge of climate science and policy measures.

“When exploring the idea of having mentors for the participants, Ali and her job position fit perfectly,” Richards said. “She’s great with young people and I enjoyed her willingness to participate in the impromptu interview activity.”

The following day, the Earth Reporters Camp traveled to BIOS and spent the morning interacting with faculty and research staff whose ongoing scientific investigations help shed light on the impacts of climate change on the ocean.

Oceanographer Ruth Curry introduced the Earth Reporters to one of BIOS’s gliders, an autonomous underwater vehicle that gathers data as it dives deep and climbs to the surface of the ocean in a sweeping sawtooth pattern. Each of BIOS’s three gliders can dive to depths of over 3,000 feet (1,000 meters) while collecting measurements, such as dissolved oxygen and temperature, that help scientists understand how the ocean is responding to a changing climate.

Up-Close With Climate Science

Marine ecologist Samantha de Putron met the students at the Institute’s mesocosm facility. The mesocosm is a series of outdoor experimental aquaria that use fresh seawater and natural sunlight, and provide scientists with the ability to control environmental variables such as light levels, pH, temperature, and water flow.

Together with BIOS marine ecologist Yvonne Sawall, reef ecologist Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, and ecophysiologist Hollie Putnam at the University of Rhode Island, de Putron is studying how corals respond to thermal stress events, also called marine heat waves. Holding up samples of living coral, de Putron explained that, with some species, it appears that “what doesn’t kill them makes them stronger,” in that they are more resistant to thermal stress, and have more resilient offspring, once they’ve experienced a heat wave. As one part of a three-year investigation, she and her team will be looking to see the corals’ response to temperature stress, as well as the genetic mechanisms that create their resilience.The ability to show student groups our corals that are currently set up in various experimental designs is a powerful tool to sharpen public awareness about global change and the importance of maintaining a healthy marine environment,” de Putron said.

Next, the Earth Reporters met with oceanographer Ruth Curry, manager of the Mid-Atlantic Glider Initiative and Collaboration (MAGIC) Laboratory, BIOS’s underwater glider program. Curry brought a special guest with her: Anna, one of the three gliders, or underwater autonomous vehicles, that collect oceanographic data in support of a variety of research investigations. One such investigation is the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS), a long-term ocean observation program that, over more than 30 years, has demonstrated how the ocean is responding to a changing global climate.

As she pointed to different parts of the bright yellow, 5-foot (1.5 meter) long, torpedo-shaped vehicle, Curry explained how scientists communicate with gliders, how data are collected, and what allows the vehicles to “fly” underwater.

“Robotic vehicles and sensors are revolutionizing our ability to measure the ocean at much higher resolution and less expense compared to using ships and people,” Curry said. “It is really exciting to introduce students to this technology and get them thinking about applying it to monitor and understand changes in the ocean and climate system.”

Earth Reporters also learned about a long-term research program at Devil’s Hole, Bermuda, led by microbial ecologist Rachel Parsons. For over 14 years she has been studying the seasonal oxygen minimum zone in Devil’s Hole and the bacteria that thrive in the oxygen-depleted waters. With a changing global climate, the potential exists for an increase in oxygen minimum zones globally, particularly in regions that are important for commercially important fisheries or that represent key coastal ecosystems. As an added bonus, Parsons invited the Earth Reporters into the Microbial Ecology Laboratory for a hands-on demonstration, taking advantage of a recent shipment of dry ice to explain storage techniques for microbial samples, as well as chemical transformation processes.

Having heard about biological and physical oceanography, the Earth Reporters met with microbial ecologist Rachel Parsons, who introduced some concepts in chemical oceanography. Parsons, who manages the Microbial Ecology Laboratory at BIOS, is involved in a number of research projects, including one that studies the seasonal oxygen minimum zone in Devil’s Hole, located at the southern part of Harrington Sound in Bermuda.

As Parsons explained, the water column at Devil’s Hole separates into two distinct parts every summer: an upper layer with warmer, less salty water and a deeper layer with colder, more salty water. As a result of the differences in density, these two layers don’t mix. While phytoplankton produce oxygen in the upper layer through photosynthesis, the darker, deeper layer lacks an oxygen source and becomes oxygen-limited (or anoxic) through a process called eutrophication. Scientists like Parsons are particularly interested in the bacteria that thrive in anoxic waters due to their potential importance as the warming of the ocean’s surface waters creates more numerous and frequent oxygen minimum zones.

The final stop of the day was a visit to the Microbial Ecology Laboratory, where they learned that studying microbes requires using cold storage methods, such as liquid nitrogen and dry ice, the solid form of carbon dioxide. These methods freeze samples at temperatures lower than -4o Fahrenheit (-20o Celsius). The group was fortunate to visit BIOS after a shipment of dry ice was delivered, which allowed Parsons to lead a hands-on demonstration of sublimation, or the transition of a substance from solid to gas without passing through a liquid phase. They also got to stop in the Microscopy Facility to see examples of the bacteria from Devil’s Hole viewed under one of the Facility’s high-powered microscopes.

“Students can learn more when they are able to see the organisms and the differences between the surface community compared to the deep anoxic community,” Parsons said. “The Microscopy Facility is perfect for this, as images from the microscope are displayed on a large screen. They were an engaging group with lots of interesting and thoughtful questions.”

Planting a Powerful Seed

Back at BUEI, the students worked on creating public service announcements based on what they learned during the Earth Reporters camp, as well as their time at BIOS, which Steele hopes to be able to share.

“They all took away such positive impressions about the science that is being done in Bermuda,” she said. “The students also learned so much about the importance of communicating clearly and engaging an audience with their writing and media.”

Nalani Minors, 11, a student at Bermuda High School, agreed. “It was truly inspiring to learn that people in Bermuda are doing something about the climate crisis, and the technology at BIOS is very futuristic,” she said. “The scientists there are very good at informing the young public about their work and how we can help.”

“The visit to BIOS provided a golden opportunity for the participants to use the theory we discussed, turn it into skills and visually experience working in the profession,” Richards said. “Ali and the BIOS scientists provided an engaging and informative experience without neglecting information, which is what the Young Reporters for the Environment Earth Reporters pilot program was designed for.”