Category Archives: Blog – teaching

MSP Is Back!

Rainbow over the Elwha! (Photo credit: C. Williams)

The Marine Sedimentary Processes Research Apprenticeship headed back to the Elwha River last week. In this class, students develop their own research questions related to the Elwha dam removal project, collect data, and write a thesis paper all in one quarter! Phew! This year students are focusing on the interactions between sediment transport and biological communities in the coastal area close to the river. We have the opportunity now, 5 years after dam removal, to now examine the system as it approaches a new equilibrium.

We went on two separate research cruises with 4 students each time (for COVID safety) on the School of Oceanography’s R/V Rachel Carson. The first cruise had spectacularly great weather. Students collected benthic grab samples, CTD profiles of the water column, and collected box cores. The second cruise was a bit choppier! We hit some large waves and had to adapt our sampling plan rapidly. But the students still hung in there and collected amazing data. We even managed to sneak in a quick box core despite the weather.

Over the next few weeks we will focus on processing all this data and analyzing the results. Stay tuned to hear more about the class and their results this fall.

Max and Hannah deploying the shipek (they’re smiling under those masks!)

Pod Dam weathering the rough seas with a smile!

Hannah is sad that the shipek failed to collect a sample

Max, Chris, and Hannah (from Pod Baddies) prep instruments for deployment

Alex recovering the Shipek

Science Writing for Diverse Audiences

This quarter, I’m up at Friday Harbor Labs teaching Science Writing for Diverse Audiences. As a class, we are exploring effective ways to read, write, and commicate science – all the way from peer-reviewed articles to op-eds and blog posts.

Friday Harbor is an excellent place to find inspiration to write. This past week, we headed out on the R/V Centennial to explore ecosystems around the island. We dug through sand and shell hash to get our hands on wriggly sand lances. We sifted through dredge material to find slime stars and anemomes. And, we gazed through microscopes to spot a myriad of zooplankton. The students’ enthusiasm clearly demonstrated their curioisity and love of natural science. We practice effectivelly describing our experiences with thoughtfully structured sentences, active verbs, and descriptive adjectives – skills that are needed to write well-received science articles.

Students explore rocks and organisms pulled up from the seabed.

Zooplankton under a microscope were displayed for all of us to see and discuss.

Students practice describing what they see in words.

But, this group of students has self selected to be here, and we’ve discussed that not everyone shares our views of science. Perspective colors how science is performed and perceived. Even within this self-selected classroom, students represent diverse views of science. As individuals, we tend to see science as beautiful and inviting. But, our families and cultures tend to see science more as a means to financial gain, often with devious conotations.

Students describe their own, their family’s, and their identified culture’s perception of science.

So, to add to our list of writing skills, we also practice how to frame our writing to fit our audience’s perspective. Research shows that scientists are often viewed as trustworthy, but cold. So, to present ourselves as authors that are both competent and warm, we practice contructing narrative arcs and adding humor and personality.

The quarter isn’t even half way over, and the students  are already better writers. Their arguments are persuasive, their desciptions are vivid, and their confidence is rising. I expect to see great things from this group. After all, science is often not driven by the best scientists, but instead by the best communicators.

Written by Robin McLachlan

Show and Tell

People in earth science spend a lot of time thinking about the places we study. We work to understand how this mysterious place functions: we read papers, crunch equations, and scroll into satellite imagery. And then, with a van full of gear and a new set of questions, we drive until we find ourselves standing in that very place. It can be a powerful moment, and no one knows the feeling better than seasoned scientists. Chuck and Dave (both seasoned) are teaching a course this term, Rivers and Beaches, focused on giving students that duality. The class begins in a lecture hall, but students are soon out on field trips to the mountains, rivers, and beaches of the beautiful pacific northwest.

Students in this year’s class have now stayed up into the small hours of the night studying geology and oceanography for their midterm exam (today!), but they have also seen and touched these places. Last month, we traveled the length of the Nisqually river from its glacial headwaters to its salty estuary, tracking its transformation from rocky braided channels to gentle downstream meanders. Last week, the students were on a cruise of Puget Sound, testing classroom concepts by lowering CTD rosettes into the water and winching kasten cores out of the Sound’s muddy bed. Textbooks cannot offer the intuition and appreciation for these places and phenomena; building stronger students requires we show them, not simply tell.

It’s too early to tell who in the class will major in a geoscience, but we have one more trip to convince them, amongst the foggy mountains and sandy spits of the Olympic peninsula.

Dave and Chuck on the Nisqually river.

Dave discusses the consequences of a dam along the Nisqually river.

Hustle and bustle as students touch a Shipek sediment sample taken by the R/V Carson.

Observing texture on a 15×180 cm kasten core taken from Puget Sound (core bottom in the foreground).

Marine Sedimentary Processes Apprentices in the field

The Marine Sedimentary Processes Apprenticeship just finished a 5-day, field work marathon at the Elwha River! The MSP is an intensive, research-based class for undergraduate students focused on the evolution of the Elwha River following dam removal. Students take charge of a research question, collect data, and write a scientific paper from their results. They live at the Friday Harbor Labs and only take this class; it is an immersive experience.

This year students are investigating both the beach and the ocean near the mouth of the river. It’s incredible to be able to observe the evolution of this region since the dam removal. We used the brand new RV Carson to sample both the water and the seabed near the river.  After two days on the Carson, we moved on to the beach. We collected sediment from lagoons and sand dunes, and walked tens of miles to track the locations of logs on the beach.

The sun was shining the whole week making long field days fly by. Now it’s time to clean up, sleep, and get ready to process all of the data!

Anna and Hannah collect mud from a van veen with help from Carson crew members Loren and Tim

Liesl decked out in gear for sample collection

Brittney and Liesl collecting sediment cores in a lagoon

Students enjoying a sunny lunch on the beach







Students at the site of the former Elwha Dam

Ocean 492, Autumn 2016

This quarter, Andrea Ogston, Ian Miller, and Emily Eidam are working with nine undergraduate research apprentices at Friday Harbor Labs to study the effects of the Elwha River Restoration and dam removals on coastal sedimentary processes and habitats. This work is part of Ocean 492: Marine Sedimentary Processes Research Apprenticeship, a 15-credit class that provides students across majors and across universities an opportunity to learn hands-on research techniques, data processing tools, and writing skills.


We took advantage of a stormy day to watch waves at the outer Washington coast during the field week


Lauren and Mary work to refurbish light sensor systems on the deck of the R/V Barnes in October

This year’s apprentices are tackling a wide variety of projects ranging from light availability to wave processes to benthic and planktonic abundances. After an action-packed field week in mid-October on the R/V Barnes and a follow-up trip on the R/V Centennial, we have been busy processing samples and crunching numbers in the lab. Final presentations (and maybe a dock jump!) will take place in mid-December.


We visited former Lake Aldwell to wander through the remnants of last century’s forest and the saplings of the last five years’ recovery


Morning exploring at the Skagit Delta

If you’re interested in Ocean 492: Marine Sedimentary Processes, visit the FHL courses page or contact Andrea (see People page).

Sediment Dynamics put in Stone

During Winter Quarter 2015, Chuck taught the Stratigraphy course in Earth & Space Sciences (ESS 455).  Topics covered: lithostratigraphy, biostratigraphy, chronostratigraphy, chemostratigraphy, seismic stratigraphy, sequence stratigraphy, and basin analysis.  That’s a bunch of strat and nicely complements all the modern sedimentary topics covered in our lab group.

2014-2015: Fall Rivers & Beaches class

Last fall Chuck and Dave Montgomery (ESS) taught Ocean/ESS 230, “Rivers and Beaches,” a class which introduces students to the geology of river systems in a complete source-to-sink framework from the headwaters to the marine environment. This is a popular science class for both majors and non-majors, and includes a Nisqually River field trip, Puget Sound field trip (aboard the R/V Thompson), and Olympic Peninsula camping trip depending on whether students take the 3-credit or 5-credit option. This year’s class saw the Nisqually just prior to a winter flood, explored muddy deposits of Puget Sound, and witnessed the type of winds and waves that help shape beaches on the outer coast.

The class learns about grain sizes (boulders!) at the headwaters of the Nisqually, just downstream of the Nisqually Glacier in Mt. Rainier National Park.

The class learns about grain sizes (boulders!) at the headwaters of the Nisqually, just downstream of the Nisqually Glacier in Mt. Rainier National Park.

Dave explains differences in stream morphology between the upper and lower watershed

Dave explains differences in stream morphology between the upper and lower watershed

Students help cast a large CTD "rosette," an instrument and sampling package which collects water and measurements of temperature and salinity as it travels to the bottom of the Sound.

Students help cast a large CTD “rosette,” an instrument and sampling package which collects water and measurements of temperature and salinity as it travels to the bottom of the Sound.

Ocean 546 class, spring quarter

This spring, Chuck taught Continental Margin Sedimentation (Ocean 546) to Oceanography graduate and undergraduate students, and students in the Earth and Space Sciences professional masters program. The class covered key papers on sedimentary environments spanning marshes to carbonate platforms, and included intensive student involvement in class discussions and presentations. Field trips to southwest Washington and the Skagit River delta highlighted the continuum of transport processes from large and medium rivers to the coastal ocean, as well as sediment transport on tidal flats (and also the importance of a good, waterproof tent!). This class comes highly recommended for anyone interested in sediment transport and the coastal environments where we live.

Willapa trip video clip

Ocean 492 class, spring quarter

Ocean 492 class, Spring 2014; field trip to former Lake Mills, Elwha River

Ocean 492 class, Spring 2014; field trip to former Lake Mills, Elwha River

It was a busy spring quarter for the lab. Andrea, Rip, and Ian Miller from WA Sea Grant led the Ocean 492 Marine Sedimentary Processes Apprenticeship at Friday Harbor Labs (FHL). This was Andrea’s fourth time teaching the class, which offers undergraduate students from UW and beyond an experiential learning opportunity focused on the Elwha River restoration. This year, 9 students – Hannah Besso, Isabelle Cisco, Julia Dolan, Atinna Gunawan, Carol Holman, Mollie Holmberg, Kelly Lawrence, Morgan Mackaay, and Sarra Tekola – conducted individual research projects focused on sediments, habitats, and chemical constituents. Students collected data on two cruises (from UW’s R/V Barnes and FHL’s R/V Centennial) and toured the watershed – including the dramatic landscape of now-drained Lake Mills – followed by tireless hours spent processing samples, analyzing results, and writing individual research papers. This course encourages students to undertake scientific investigation both as individuals and as a group, while educating the next generation of scientists about impacts from the nation’s largest-ever dam removal project and second-largest ecosystem restoration project.

Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship at Friday Harbor Labs (Spring 2014)

We are currently accepting applications for a 10-week (March 31 – June 6, 2014), 15-credit, undergraduate research apprenticeship, at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Labs in the San Juan Islands, WA. This research apprenticeship focuses on the impacts of dams on the marine sedimentary system and the impacts of the release of reservoir-trapped sediment into the marine environment during dam deconstruction. Dam removal projects are becoming an attractive means of restoration for depleted fisheries, river ecosystems, and coastlines, but we do not yet understand the full range of effects our “restoration” will have.

With help from mentors, students will design and complete individual research projects using data they collect at the Elwha River delta; as part of a larger, NSF-funded research project. Research work will be complemented by lectures, guest presentations, and weekly field trips to a variety of nearby sedimentary environments. Through this classroom and experiential learning, students learn about the range of sedimentary processes that occur near river mouths, human impacts on coastlines, interactions between biology and sediment, and regional geology. The apprentices to be recruited for this course will have the potential to become informed scientists and managers in charge of decision-making in future restoration projects.

Please direct questions to Dr. Andrea Ogston. Additional details are available here.