Published on February 4th, 2010

Students ready for super bowl of sea


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Quick: What's a protein skimmer used for?

Not sure?

How about this: Why do upwelling currents often result in phytoplankton blooms?

Still stumped?

Here's an easier one: What percentage of the earth's surface is oceans?

If you don't know the answers to the above questions, don't worry: They're supposed to be difficult.

But not to a bunch of high school students who have been cramming months of marine science study for this weekend's upcoming Alaska Regional Tsunami Bowl in Seward.

Hosted by the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, the competition is a regional version of the National Ocean Science Bowl.

This year, up to 23 teams are expected to compete at the fast-paced Jeopardy-style quiz fest, with a few written questions thrown in to keep everyone on their toes.

"We gear the questions toward an undergraduate university course, which makes it really challenging for a lot of these students because they don't even have a marine science class in school and they just fit it in with their regular classes," said Tsunami Bowl coordinator Phyllis Shoemaker.

Questions cover specific fields of marine science such as biology, physics, chemistry, geography, geology, technology, social science and marine policy.

"Scientists tend to specialize so they're not knowledgeable in all of these areas, yet we're expecting these students to be just that," Shoemaker said.

Students usually pick one subject to concentrate on, thus giving the team a broader scope.

"Most teams treat it like a basketball team would and have practice once or twice a week during the school year," Shoemaker said.

The Alaska team to watch is Juneau-Douglas, which has been a Tsunami Bowl powerhouse for the past couple of years.

"They have a good reputation," she said. "They're going to be tough to beat."

Last year, the Juneau-Douglas teams swept the competition for the third year in a row.

In-depth research

The Tsunami Bowl is divided into two segments: The quiz and the research project, which is worth half of the competition's points and demands months of preparation. This year's topic is: Problems facing Alaska coastal communities as a direct result of a retreating and thinning Arctic ice cap.

According to Seward team coach Adrienne Moretti, the project is the most difficult aspect for many students, since it entails an oral presentation.

First time team member Eileen Audette's, who's portion of the paper focused on bowhead whale and the walruses of Point Hope, agreed.

"I think the scariest part of the competition will be standing up and giving my part of the presentation in front of all those people: ahhhh!," she said.

The team has been writing and researching their paper since September, and Moretti believes it's offered a good opportunity for students to work towards goals in a given amount of time.

"The kids are excited to learn and study," she said. "There were times writing the paper where no one wanted to do it, where they got a little discouraged, but they kept going and got it done."

The second half of the Tsunami Bowl resembles a Jeopardy game, with two teams facing off against one another, and whoever buzzes in first gets to answer the question. If they guess right, they get a shot at a bonus question, where they can collaborate with teammates for 20 seconds. If they answer wrong, the question goes to the opposing team.

Each round consists of two six-minute halves, with a team challenge question thrown in the middle.

The competition follows a preliminary round robin format and winning teams will have gone through approximately 10 rounds.

All questions are the same at all regional competitions held on the same day across the country, said Shoemaker.

According to the National Ocean Sciences Bowl's Web site, questions are geared toward AP and introductory college levels.

"There are some that the average high schooler would know if they had taken marine science," Moretti said. "But yesterday we were going over some that even I didn't know so yes, there are some challenging questions."

The Seward team has been practicing with flash cards and sample questions from the National Ocean Sciences Bowl's Web site.

"My biggest challenge throughout this year has been trying to remember all the random facts and terms," Audette said. "Studying is basically the same as studying for anything else except way more in-depth than like studying for a math test or something."

Seward team captain Nathaniel Feemster said that while he's participated in many sports, none have been as challenging as the National Ocean Sciences Bowl due to the amount of self-motivation and the enourmous amount of information.

"Trying to study for it is like trying to catch a base ball in a game after being hit by the batter, but the field is the size of Resurection bay and you're blindfolded," he said. 

Winners of the Tsunami Bowl advance to the national competition April 23-25 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Cinthia Ritchie can be reached at, or by phone at


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