Week 4

Our last week at COSMOS went by so quickly and it is hard to believe that we have spent an entire month together.  Cluster 3 went on two amazing field trips this week, finalized their group presentations, created a scientific poster, and managed to present their findings to their peers and instructors.

On Tuesday Cluster 3 visited The Monterey Bay Aquarium and were treated to a fantastic assortment of exhibits, including attending a penguin feeding and a sea otter feeding.  Our cluster split into six groups and were tasked to research different exhibits within the Aquarium and explore the possible addition of climate change impacts to these ecosystems.  We were collectively surprised that the exhibits seem to paint a much brighter picture for the future of the ocean biome than we have learned over the last four weeks.  Climate change will certainly impact all of the ecosystems and species we saw at the facility.

Our second field trip for the week took us 120 miles north to The Marine Mammal Rescue Center located in The Golden Gate National Recreation Area north of San Francisco.  This is the largest such facility in the world and has the capacity to treat up to 280 marine mammals.  We toured the facility and witnessed a veterinary exam of a harbor seal, watched two endangered Guadalupe Fur Seal pups being fed and learned about the exponential increase in pinniped rescues over the past five years, mostly due to malnutrition.

Cluster three completed their final projects this week and on Friday we presented our PPT's  to forty of our peers and all of Cluster 3 and Cluster 8 instructors.  It is so impressive to see the high caliber of research and expertise that has been done this month.  We are looking forward to the scientific poster presentations to family and friends on Saturday morning, followed by our closing ceremony.  What an incredible month!

Week 3

Our week began with a Discovery Lecture by Dr. Howard Peters entitled, "Chocolate; food of the Gods."  Entering the lecture hall students were given a dozen different chocolate tastes and for the next hour COSMOS delved into the world of chocolate, from production to biochemistry to physiological response.  What an interesting look at one of our favorite topics:  chocolate!

Cluster 3 continues to examine the change in world sea ice and its affect of sea level rise.  We have examined satellite telemetry data and ice coverage maps which give us a detailed look at how Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are rapidly changing.  The class then calculated the sea level rise we can expect over the next century and now understand why scientists are still so uncertain whether we will experience a meter or 3 meter sea level rise by 2100.  What relevant and fascinating science!  Our Tuesday field trip took us to the neighboring state park to hike up four different marine terraces.  Santa Cruz is a famous for the appearance of many layers of marine terraces, flat, smooth benches caused by wave action at the coast.  As sea level rises, different 'benches' are created and as the land rises due to tectonic uplifting, they are preserved in the landscape.  As Cluster 3 huffed and puffed up the trail, we came to an overlook where four marine terraces are apparent, with the vast pacific ocean in the background. 

The second Discovery Lecture of the week, given by UCSC Professor of Anthropology Dr. Allison Gallaway examined the fascinating science of forensic anthropology.  I have to say, this may have been the lecture where almost every student was at the edge of their seats, glued to the screen as pictures of decomposing bodies and vats of human remains and bones are cleaned, categorized, examined, and studied for cause of death.  Really fascinating stuff!

Our second field trip of the week included a marine mammal necropsy (like an autopsy) of three fetal California sea lions that, it turns out, were aborted due to demoic acid ingestion by the mother (red tide).  Students learned how to take body condition measurements and then how to dissect the animal and take organ and tissue samples which allow scientist to determine what killed the animal.  The students were wearily fascinated by this process.  We then climbed on a shuttle and drove 25 miles north to Ano Nuevo State REeserve to hike out to a beach to observe the northern elephant seal rockery.  These amazing creature colonized this area only forty years ago and have come back from the brink of extinction.  Cluster 3 has quite a show with massive 2,500 kg males slamming into each other is mating displays that look like giant sumo wrestlers splashing around the shorelines.  What a show!

Week 2

Cluster 3 had a brilliant second week at COSMOS.  We stared off with a Discovery Lecture monday morning on the Human Genome Project given by Dr. Robert Kuhn.  Many of us weren't aware of the key role that UCSC played in the decoding and assembly of the human genome that culminated in the sequencing of our species' 3.2 billion base pairs.  UCSC host's the Human Genome Browser which allows any user to access and download all or any part of the genome (https://genomics.soe.ucsc.edu/research/browser_overview).  Very cool!

Cluster 3 held a model UN climate change summit on Tuesday where we divided into 6 groups representing different countries of the globe, all with distinct carbon emission values and thus different attitudes towards climate change and what should be done on a global scale to combat this problem.  The exercise was very enlightening and illuminated the difficulty in coming together as a global community to address these problems.  Because the developed world industrialized using fossil fuels, releasing huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, many developing countries feel they have the right to follow suit.  Only after several hours of discussion and negotiation did the students find some common ground.  Alas, not enough; even after three negotiation sessions over four hours we were only able to reduce the global carbon emission levels enough to slow the earths projected warming to 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century!   Not good. What a powerful and sobering excise this was.

Our second Discovery Lecture was a fascinating look Circadian Biology given by Dr. Carrie Partch.  This was a intriguing look at the research being done on the cell's internal clock.  Turns out that ALL biology on the planet, including deep sea organisms and those found in deep cave environments, share a common molecular clock that is controlled, or evolved from, our solar 24 hour day.  This clock dictates the biochemistry within our cells that controls our metabolism, homeostasis, sleep, and allows multicellular organisms to survive.  What interesting work!

Our field trip this week took us to the Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Lab.  Cluster 3 and Cluster 8  combined for the day to complete two separate labs.  The first was an examination and study of marine mammal skull morphology and evolution, looking at over a dozen species' skulls.  We were able to handle the skulls, compare the structure and function of the dentition and morphology, and predict the phylogeny of the various species.  The second half of the day was spent looking at the physiology of marine mammals and their ability to thermo-regulate in various marine environments around the globe.  We were able to touch and examine over 20 different marine mammal pelts, including that of endangered sea otter and polar bear.

Finally, Cluster 3 is making incredible progress on their research projects.  We have completed a detailed outline for our final PPT and scientific posters and have spent over ten hours of cumulative library time researching scientific literature to support our novel hypothesis on either marine mammal adaption or polar science and climate change.  I am very much looking forward to seeing the final projects and presentations.  These students are so very talented and engaged;  I am sure we are in for a treat.  Half way done, so much accomplished, and so much to come:  Go Cluster 3!

Week 1

My goodness what a week!  COSMOS Cluster 3 started out with an incredible assortment of lab activities, lecture, research and a field trip into the heart of Monterey Bay.   Monday started with a brilliant Discovery Lecture by Custer 7 lead Professor Puragra Guha Thakurta about the formation of our universe and the creation of the elements found in the cosmos.  Cluster 3 then began an introduction of climate change and the implications of melting glaciers and sea ice.  We demonstrated the difference on the impact of sea level rise between melting land based ice and sea ice through a lab experiment.  We modeled how scientists quantify ice sheet range using satellite photography.  We studied albedo and investigated how positive feedback loops are accelerating glacial and ice sheet melt and the implications on sea level rise.   

Our second Discovery Lecture was given by Steven Haddock, senior scientist and marine biologist from the Monterey Bay Research Institute regarding biodiversity of the deep sea, bioluminescence and florescence in deep sea organisms.  Cluster 3 then was introduced to their final research project which culminates in a scientific poster and PowerPoint presentation at the end of week four.  Half of Cluster 3 will be researching a topic regarding polar science and sea level rise while the other half will be examining a project dealing with marine mammals.  On Thursday we boarded shuttles and drove south around the bay to the Monterey Wharf to board a vessel to undertake a maine mammal survey.  We traveled out into a foggy bay and came upon two feeding humpback whales, which we followed and witnessed diving and lunging feeding behavior.  We also saw sea otter, sea lions, harbor seals, and a dozen different bird species.  What a day!

Cluster 3 had a wonderful week getting to know each other, our professors, our research projects, and the amazing diversity of science that COSMOS offers everyday.  

More to come during week two!

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