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February 4, 2005

John C. Stennis Space Center
Stennis Space Center, MS 39529-6000
(228) 688-3341


This week, middle school students from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi have been using frogs, oysters, alligators and fish ear bones to see wetlands research in a whole new light.

On the banks of the East Pearl River at NASA's Stennis Space Center (SSC) in Hancock County, Miss., more than 350 fourth- through eighth-graders have participated in a macro invertebrate study – collecting and categorizing invertebrates, examining factors that affect aquatic life – mirroring studies conducted for the JASON expedition by field scientists.

The JASON Project is a multidisciplinary program that aims to spark students' imaginations and enhance classroom experiences by exploring the Earth. It exposes students to scientists who examine the planet's biological and geological development. The project takes its name from Jason of Greek mythology.

It is the brainchild of Robert Ballard, the scientist and oceanographer who discovered the wreck of the RMS Titanic in 1986. Over the past 15 years, the JASON Project has taken more than 5 million teachers and students on field trips all over the world via satellite and the Internet, allowing fourth- through ninth-graders access to scientists, field sites, research methods and technology, letting them literally look over the shoulder of working researchers.

One of the field scientists is NASA physical scientist Dr. Marco Giardino, who works in SSC's New Business Development Office. The JASON Project chose him to be one of six host researchers for its 2004-05 expedition, "Disappearing Wetlands," which kicked off Jan. 31.

As part of the Disappearing Wetlands curriculum, teams of scientists hosted one-hour daily live broadcasts from JASON Expedition Louisiana research sites: Barataria Preserve in Jean LaFitte National Historic Park, and Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium at Cocodrie and Port Fourchon. In the broadcasts, researchers walked students through: removing an ear bone from a fish to determine its age; studying the anatomy of a bivalve; monitoring wild frog populations; and collecting alligator population monitoring data – all part of gauging the wetlands' health.

Students and teachers watched several of the broadcasts from StenniSphere, the visitor center at SSC. They also had the opportunity to do so from their classrooms, over the Internet or on the National Geographic Channel.

Schools participating in SSC's JASON Expedition activities through Feb. 4 included:
• Tchefuncte Middle School, Mandeville, La.;
• K.J. Clark Middle School, Chickasaw, Ala.;
• W.J. Quarles Elementary, Long Beach, Miss.;
• Port Allen Middle School, Port Allen, La.; and
• Brusly Middle School, Brusly, La.

Giardino was chosen for Disappearing Wetlands because of his role in the Coast 2050 program, which is working to restore 20,000 square miles of Louisiana wetlands over the next 50 years. Giardino uses NASA satellite imagery to identify threatened archeological sites and provide data to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for evaluation.

Last year, he taped a Disappearing Wetlands "field notes" segment that aims to help students understand how scientists use satellite remote sensing to monitor changes in wetlands. The segment is part of a curriculum unit illustrating how the interface of science, technology and society can help researchers understand the complex wetlands system. This week, Giardino has helped students conduct their field lab work at the East Pearl River, and has been on hand to answer students' questions and provide materials.

"I'd like to make sure each JASON student understands that their individual effort to save the wetlands can bring about positive change," he said.

The JASON Project chose to tell the Louisiana wetlands story for many reasons. Southern Louisiana is home to 40 percent of the coastal wetlands in the 48 contiguous states. Those wetlands serve as water purifiers and sources of biodiversity, and as buffers from Gulf of Mexico storm surges. They are home to thousands of species of marine life, mammals and birds, and are vital to the local tourism and fishing industries.

"The whole thing is about the wetlands," Giardino said, "so my research – using remote sensing to identify cultural sites – fits right in."

He hopes the culminating week of the curriculum study will enhance awareness of the wetlands' plight. "There seem to be a multitude of marsh rehabilitation efforts ramping up right now. The JASON expedition has created an awareness among students, and that's the first step to ensuring a future for those efforts," he said.

For more information, visit: http://www.jasonproject.org/home.htm

Related Multimedia:
+ http://www.nasa.gov/centers/stennis/news/newsreleases/2004/STS-05-019-cptn1.html


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