Coastal Margin Science and Education

CMOP: The Best Environmental Education Program You’ve (Probably) Never Heard About


Coastal Margin Science and Education in the Era of Collaboratories

by Vanessa L. Green, Nievita Bueno Watts, Karen Wegner, Michael Thompson, Amy F. Johnson, Tawnya D. Peterson and António M. Baptista



I-bluenterdisciplinary science is needed to make big decisions when it comes to complex and fragile ecological environments such as the Columbia River estuary. Effective communication of that science is necessary to engage students and to work across scientists, educators. policy-makers and the general community. For these reasons, the Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction (CMOP) has developed a “coastal margin collaboratory,” which brings together sensor networks, computer models, cyber-infrastructure, people and institutions to better understand the Columbia River coastal margin ecosystem as a whole (Baptista et al. 2008).

CMOP scientists study the Columbia River and transform the openly shared data and tools into a better understanding of current conditions and into the anticipation of future trends from increasing climate and anthropogenic pressures. Many types of users access CMOP data for their own needs and/or collaborate with CMOP on joint scientific and educational efforts. Through the collaboratory, CMOP enables a common understanding among interested groups such as natural resource managers for local, state, federal and tribal agencies, enabling effective discussions and long-range planning.


noaa_animation_800x390_screenshot02Coastal margins, broadly defined as the interface between land and ocean, contain important and highly productive ecosystems. They often mitigate the negative impacts of human activities from local to global scales, for example ‘filtering out’ excess nutrients that enter watersheds from fertilizer applications. Coastal margin environments are naturally variable because of tides, seasons and year-to- year differences in the forcing from rivers, oceans, and the atmosphere. Ecosystems adapt to that natural variability, but are often less well equipped to adjust to major shifts caused by population growth, economic development and global climate change. CMOP seeks to understand how biological and chemical components of the Columbia River interface with and are affected by physical processes, with the ultimate goal of predicting how they might respond to climate change and increased regional development.

A recent study (Frontier Economics Limited 2012) estimates that the world’s ten most populated river basins account today for l0% of the global gross domestic product, and that by 2050 that share will grow Io 25%, which will be more than the combined gross domestic product of the United States, Germany and Japan. This type of growth could be ecologically devastating, locally and globally, should it not be managed in a perspective of long-term sustainability and with the support of sound science. The datasets and predictions provided by the CMOP collaboratory can serve as useful examples that can be “exported” to other similar river and estuary systems worldwide.


virtualcrThe Columbia River watershed extends across seven states in the United States and two provinces in Canada, and contributes about 70% of the freshwater input to the Pacific Ocean between San Francisco and Juan de Fuca (Barnes et al. 1972). Big decisions are needed to determine policy about the hydroelectric dams, protection and regulation of the migratory salmon, and changes in water quality such as ocean-driven estuarine hypoxia and acidification. All of this is set in the context of continued population growth, economic development and climatic change-and amidst a complex regulatory environment that includes the Endangered Species Act, a federal treaty between the U.S government and Native American tribes, and a soon-to-be renegotiated treaty between the U.S. and Canada.

CMOP science has already led to the identification of previously unrecognized environmental issues, from a benign but ecologically relevant seasonal red water bloom in the Columbia River estuary (Hertfort et aI. 2012) to the development of seasonal and severe ocean-driven estuarine hypoxia (Roegner et al. 2011) and potential acidification- and is showing how those apparently distinct processes are tied together. CMOP science is also contributing to an understanding of anthropogenic and climatic changes to estuarine and ocean processes, which affect salmon habitat and life cycle.


Progress towards our scientific goals has opened exciting opportunities to entrain a new and diverse workforce in coastal margin science. CMOP offers an educational pathway that includes a broad range of age-appropriate activities for students and teachers. Our pathway includes short courses; camps; sustained professional development programs for teachers; curricula for high school classes; individualized research experiences through high school, undergraduate and teacher internships; interdisciplinary graduate curricula through Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and affiliated degree programs at partner universities; and lifelong opportunities for scientists and natural resources professionals to incorporate outcomes of CMOP science in their activities and decision-making processes (Figure 2).


From left, Sam Case third-grade teacher Fanny Drews, Newport Intermediate fifth-grade teacher Christie Walker, Taft Elementary fifth-grade teacher Valerie Baker and sixth-grade teachers Beth Parsons and Kara Allen identify microbes that live on marine debris. Photo courtesy of NewsGuard of Lincoln County, Oregon.

Teachers and informal educators engage with CMOP in a variety of ways. Teachers access data through user-friendly modules that can be used to plot time series and explore correlations between estuary variables. As an example, teachers could design an experiment that demonstrates how red water blooms influence dissolved oxygen levels, using CMOP’s models to explore various scenarios. CMOP offers a regularly updated activity archive on the CMOP website (Science Activities and Curriculum URL). Lessons are designed for adaptability between age groups and data are appropriate for math, science, and social science classrooms. These lesson plans align with the essential principles of Ocean Literacy and the Next Generation Science Standards (Ocean Literacy Guide URL) and were generated through an interactive teacher professional development workshop. Teachers can engage in individualized internships of their own, conducting original research within CMOP teams and incorporating their experiences into their classroom curricula.

A three-year collaboration of the Oregon Coast Aquatic and Marine Partnership (OCAMP) consisting of CMOP, the Lincoln County School District, Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon Sea Grant, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife/Oregon Hatchery Research Center, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and the Bureau of Land Management’s Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area aimed to provide teachers with the tools needed to carry out meaningful field experiences and inquiry driven learning while improving ocean literacy during sustained, year-round professional development colloquia as well as summer workshops. A follow-up program, entitled the Oregon Coast Regional STEM Center, extended OCAMP’s partnership to include Tillamook School District, Western Oregon University, and a variety of local businesses and agencies, and seeks to support teachers in their use of problem-based learning to improve student outcomes in STEM disciplines through engagement and the incorporation of 2lst century skills. The latter program is being carried out in a blended model of professional development, with in-person and web-based activities. CMOP can also engage with an entire school community through the CMOP- School Collaboratories (CSC) program. Cohorts of teachers from CSC partner schools can engage with CMOP to develop an integrated curriculum that emphasizes an inter-connected environment (Hugo et al. 2013).


CMOP remote sensorsThe structure of the National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center program (NSF STC) has greatly enabled the development of this educational pathway through the decade-long investment in exploratory yet rigorous, potentially transformative science. lt is this structure that allows CMOP to expose students to a multi-disciplinary approach, engaging scientists from a broad range of relevant fields and from several collaborating universities, as well as practitioners from many state, federal and tribal agencies and from industry. The longevity of the STC investment has also contributed to our ability to effectively engage in sustained efforts to broaden participation among Native American, Alaska Native (Bueno Watts and Smythe 2015) and other groups underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines.

The synergy among anchoring academic partners (OHSU, Oregon State University and University of Washington, in the case of CMOP) is critically important to the success of a STC. Also critical is the engagement of regional stakeholders, which offer a natural, realistic, enriching and often pressing context for our science and education programs. For instance, Native American tribes of the Columbia River have historically been active and effective stewards of the land, water and natural resources in the basin. The Columbia River lnter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) has partnered with CMOP to identify potential threats to salmon and lamprey through investigation of factors that influence habitat quality. This collaboration has effectively engaged several Native American students in the CMOP education pathway and has also educated non-Native students on tribal cultures and natural resource management strategies.

student-datareviewCMOP students are engaged at all levels of the collaboratory. They participate in the development of sensors and models, and take active part in oceanographic cruises that might range from research to mariner-training vessels, autonomous underwater vehicles (Figure 3) and even kayaks (Rathmell et al. 2013). CMOP students, from high school to graduate, conduct research projects that relate to important biological hotspots, attempting holistic descriptions of their underlying physics and biogeochemistry that cover gene-to-climate scales. Students learn, shoulder-to-shoulder with researchers and practitioners, how to characterize, predict and inter-relate processes driving estuarine hypoxia and acidification. plankton blooms, and the biogeochemistry of lateral bays and of estuarine turbidity maxima (ETM)-turbid water regions located at the heads of coastal plain estuaries near the freshwater/saltwater interface. CMOP students also gain an understanding of broad topics that provide context to CMOP research science initiatives, such as global nutrient cycles, climate change, managing natural resources, mitigating natural hazards, and protecting fragile ecosystems.

Within the curriculum or with their mentor teams, students conduct fieldwork in the Columbia River estuary and in the coastal waters of Oregon and Washington using a variety of approaches, ranging from simple cmop2river-front water sampling from a dock to participation in major research campaigns aboard University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) vessels. Students gain hands-on experience within laboratories, using state-of-the-art equipment such as imaging flow cytometers (FlowCAM), an Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), a Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth Sensor (CTD), or a Scanning Electron Microscope. Students also gain exposure to the “Virtual Columbia River,” a data-rich simulation environment that offers multiple representations of circulation and ecological processes, including their variability and change across river-to-shelf scales (Virtual Columbia River URL). The models that form the Virtual Columbia River simulate estuarine conditions, enabling predictions of changing physical properties (tides, currents, salinity and temperature) and biogeochemical cycles (e.g., nitrogen and carbon) important to ecosystem management. Comparisons between field observations and model simulations allow for continued learning and refinement of the process.


Ocean Literacy & OCAMPCurricula available on the CMOP website combine elements of coastal oceanography, environmental microbiology, biogeochemistry, computational sciences, and information technology. Student participants in K-12 activities have continued working with CMOP, ‘graduating” to more sophisticated, longer-term participation as undergraduate interns. Likewise, undergraduate interns have continued their research by matriculating into the CMOP-affiliated M.S./Ph.D. Environmental Science and Engineering degree program offered through the lnstitute of Environmental Health (IEH) at OHSU. IEH graduates have gone on to related careers in academia, private research, and with related federal and state agencies. To date, CMOP has served over 800 K-l2 students, over 70 teachers, over 100 undergraduate students, and has graduated 28 M.S. and Ph.D. students. CMOP students have graduated from the Environmental Science and Engineering Program at Oregon Health & Science University; the Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Program at Oregon State University; the Computer Science program at Portland State University; the Marine Estuarine Environmental Sciences program at the University of Maryland; the Computer Science program at the University of Utah; the Physical Oceanography Program and the Biological Oceanography Program at the University of Washington. Students who have engaged in the CMOP Education “pathway” have become citizen scientists with a nuanced knowledge of coastal-margin science issues, and many have gained expertise and skills that have enabled them to contribute to a growing professional workforce in coastal margin science.

For middle- and high-school students, CMOP offers classes. day-camps and high-school internships in partnership with Saturday Academy, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing hands-on, in-depth learning and problem-solving activities. Past topics have included microbiology, marine biology, oceanography, and ocean technology. The curriculum is designed to enable students to easily identify the importance of coastal-margin related issues to their own academic interests and personal lives.

Undergraduate interns join CMOP mentor teams, which include a “Frontline Mentor” and a “senior Scientist.” The Frontline Mentor-typically a graduate student, staff member or post-doctoral fellow-establishes a project relevant to one or more CMOP research initiative. The Senior Scientist mentor provides guidance and ensures academic caliber. Over the course of the ten-week program, interns gain autonomy within their mentor teams as they gain contextual knowledge and skills. lnterns regularly interact with each other and with other CMOP participants through professional development seminars encompassing scientific themes, career opportunities and scientific ethics. lnterns visit sites along the river from Bonneville Dam to downtown Portland and to the mouth of the Columbia River estuary, to gain a first-hand understanding and appreciation of the complex interactions of biological, chemical, and physical processes. lnterns document their work through a daily lab notebook, a weekly blog (Undergraduate lnternships URL), a final presentation and a synthesizing paper. lntern research projects have been thoroughly incorporated into CMOP research; interns have co-authored CMOP publications in peer-reviewed journals (Publications URL) and have presented at national and international conferences (Presentations URL).


The CMOP Education program seeks to make full use of the resources available to this NSF STC to enable a wide range of teachers, students, and other users to learn more about and contribute to place-based knowledge of coastal margins. The University of Washington’s Office of Educational Assessment regularly evaluates the effectiveness of our program. Evaluations include surveys and focus groups with each participant cohort as well as follow-up surveys for longitudinal data. Data analyses demonstrate that high school and undergraduate participants in CMOP programs have increased interest in STEM education; increased confidence in their ability to engage in STEM research; enhanced relevant technical and professional skills, and, for undergraduate students, clarified research foci both within their degree programs and related to their decision of graduate programs. Eighty-seven percent of undergraduate survey respondents who obtained bachelor degrees went on to matriculate into STEM graduate programs, 4O% in fields related to their internships. All of these graduates agreed or strongly agreed that “Being part of the [CMOP] summer internship strengthened my application to this graduate degree program.”


CMOP is primarily supported by the National Science Foundation, through cooperative agreement OCE-O4246O2. Crant CEO-I034611 extended our CSC program to Native Alaskans.


Baptista, A., Howe, B., Freire, J., Maier, D., & Silva, C. T. (2008).

Scientific exploration in the era of ocean observatories. Computing in Science & Engineering, l0 (3),53-58.

Barnes, C. A., Duxbury, A. C., and Morse, B. (1972). Circulation and selected properties of the Columbia River effluent at sea. ln: The Columbio River Estuory and Adjocent Oceon Woters: Bioenvironmental Studies, edited by A.T. Pruter and D.L. Alverson. Seattle: University of Washington Press, pp. 71-80.

Bueno Watts, N. & Smythe, W F. (2013). It takes a community to raise a scientist:A case for community-inspired research and science education in an Alaska Native community. Current: The Journal of Morine Educotion 2B(3).

Frontier Economics Limited. (2012). Exploring the links between woter ond economic growth: A report prepared for HSBC. London, England: Frontier Economics Limited.

Herfort, 1., Peterson, T. D., Prahl, F. C., McCue, L. A., Needoba, J. A., Crump, B. C., Roegner, C. C., Campbell, V., & Zuber, P. QO12). Red waters of Myrionecto rubrq are biogeochemical hotspots for the Columbia River estuary with impacts on primary/secondary productions and nutrient cycles. Estuories ond Coqsts,35 (3), B7B-891.

Hugo, R., Smythe, W., McAllister, S., Young, B., Maring, B. & Baptista, A. (2013). Lessons learned from a K-’12 geoscience education program in an Alaska Native community. Journal of Sustainability Education,5 (SSN 2-51:7452).

Ocean Literacy Cuide URL http:,/www.coexploration.orgl ocean literacy/documents/Ocea n LitC u ide_LettersizeV2.pdf

Presentations URL http://www.stccmop.orglknowledge_transfer/presentations

Publications URL http://www.stccmop.orglpublications

Rathmell, K., Wilkin, M., Welle, P., Mattson, T., & Baptista, A. (2015). A very smart kayak. Current: The Journal of Marine Education QB)3.

Roegner, C. C., Needoba, J. A., & Baptista, A. (20I). Coastal upwelling supplies oxygen-depleted water to the Columbia River estuary. PLoS ONE, 6 @), e18672.

doi:1O.137 1 /journal.pone.00l 8672

Science Activities and Curriculum URL

Undergraduate lnternships URL

Virtual Columbia River URL


Vanessa L. Green M.S. serves as Director of Student Development and Diversity at the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction. Having earned a M.S. in Higher Education Administration she has focused her career on broadening participation and increasing engagement, persistence and retention among first-generation and underrepresented students in high school, undergraduate and graduate programs. She served as a founding faculty member and Dean of Students at the King George School in Vermont and served as a member of the Board of Trustees at Marlboro College. She currently serves on the Education and Outreach Steering Committee for the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere lnvestigations (C-DEBI).

Nievita Bueno Watts Ph.D. is a geotogist, science educator and Director of Academic Programs at the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction. She conducts research on broadening the participation of underrepresented minorities in the sciences and serves on the Board of Directors of the Geoscience Alliance, a national organization dedicated to building pathways for Native American participation in the geosciences.

Karen Wegner MSW was rhe first Director for K-12 Education for the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction. She brought years of experience as a wildlife biologist and environmental educator to CMOP. Along with education partners Saturday Academy and the SMILE Program she developed K-12 programs initially offered at CMOP. She credits the success of the K-12 program to the fantastic support offered by CMOP researches and students. Karen is now a Palliative Care Social Worker and Program Manager in Montana.

Michael Thompson Ph.D. is the Education and Outreach Coordinator at the NSF Science ahd Technology Center for Coastal Margin and Observation. He has an M.S. in Biochemistry and a PhD in Chemical Education with a focus in Engineering Education. He has been instrumental in the establishment of the EPICS High-school program, development and implementation of teacher training workshops, STEM learning communities for undergraduates, and service-learning experiences for high-school and undergraduate students.

Amy F. Johnson M.S, serves as the Managing Director for the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction. Having earned an M.S. in Management in Science and Technology, she has years of experience managing in science and technology companies and education institutions. Prior to joining CMOP she was the Assistant Dean for Craduate Education at the OCI School of Science & Engineering at the Oregon Health & Science University.

Tawnya D. Peterson Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Institute of Environmental Health at Oregon Health & Science University. She holds a Ph.D. in Biological Oceanography and carries out research that seeks to identify the factors that shape planktonic community diversity and function in aquatic systems. ln addition to scientific research, she is interested in the development and implementation of professional development programs for K-l2 teachers.

Antonio M. Baptista Ph.D. is a professor and director of the lnstitute of Environmental Health, Oregon Health & Science University and the director of the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction. He has 25 years of experience in team science and graduate-level teaching, and uses leading edge coastal-margin science and technology as a catalyst for informed management decisions, workforce development and broadening participation.


All Photos: Courtesy of CMOP staff member Jeff Schilling

Reprinted from Current, the Journal of the National Marine Education Association


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