The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

Seward NOSB team proposes tidal turbines


Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

2014 Alaska Region Ocean Science Bowl Seward team members Roma Hamner, Alex Estes, Coach Shoshannah Brasher, Ali Katsma and Joevahnta Weddington.

Two hundred students from across Alaska with fresh new ideas demonstrated a youthful passion for understanding and saving ocean habitats as they participated in the 17th annual Alaska Tsunami National Ocean Sciences Bowl Friday through Sunday at Seward High School.

The annual academic competition's purpose is to promote interest in higher education or careers in the marine sciences. Scholarships are awarded to the most promising teams and individuals by the University of Alaska Southeast and Icicle Seafoods.

Some participants came from large city high schools that offer advanced placement science and marine science classes, while others came from small remote villages with multi-grade classes such as Scammon Bay School, and Kotlik School which has only 60 students in high school. They offer the most basic science courses taught by generalist teachers and Kotlik's team, Atomic Sea Ice even included middle school students.

Seward High School's team, Team Fatheads, a young rookie team consisting of three sophomores and a freshman, falls in between those extremes. Marine science is offered about every other year at the high school but none of the team members had taken it. Joevahnta Weddington, the team's captain, and Ali Katsma are on the Debate Drama and Forensics team, however, which helped hone their research and public speaking skills. Other team members were Alex Estes and Roma Hamner, the lone freshman. Their coach was Shoshannah Brasher, a SHS science and math teacher.

Team Fatheads presented an innovative contemporary research topic, "Harnessing Tidal Power as Alternative Energy in Alaska." They proposed that Seward (and other prime coastal areas of Alaska) invest in alternative energy such as tidal turbines, which are a cleaner, less ozone-depleting form of energy. Their use would help reduce Seward's dependence on polluting, costly fossil fuels and would help slow the ocean acidification process, which although good for jellyfish as Kodiak's team pointed out, can slowly destroy important shellfish species on up the food chain.

Team members showed images of the various kinds of tidal powered turbines currently in use, and those under research and construction. The turbines can be attached to the ocean floor, to floating buoys or to other stable objects. They create energy by the blades being rotated by the energy of the ever changing tides.

As usual, other areas such as France, Asia and even Scotland are leading the way in innovating this alternative energy technology.

One such project for example, consists of a series of underwater turbines soon to be located off the coast of Orkney, Scotland in stages. The first phase of the project can power 500 homes, Katsma said. Each tidal turbine stands about 73 feet tall and has 59-foot rotors, resembling AVTEC's demonstration wind turbine.

Seward as a whole spends about $2.5 million per year on energy. The five-megawatt tidal turbine that the team proposed, could power much of downtown Seward and begin saving the city $6 million over a five-year period, the students said.

Seward would be an ideal location for a tidal turbine, they said. It has a stable ocean floor. The water is very deep, and it can be situated out of the way of human and marine mammal passage. The structure would not be visible by land, its production levels would be very predictable and it would not produce CO2 emissions or oil spills like the Exxon Valdez, Roma Hamner said. The cons, although few, include possible disturbances to the sedimentation and ocean habitat, and interference with marine life if they collided with the rotors. The placement of tidal turbines should be extensively researched, with the involvement of any concerned parties, Weddington said.

Although idealists, these students also are keenly aware of the state and local government's tendency to resist innovation and spending money to pilot new alternative energy projects. Weddington doesn't believe they will embrace or pilot the new technology until it proves itself elsewhere, such as in Scotland and New York, but he hopes that someone seriously starts researching their use.

Estes hopes their team's project will begin that education process. The new technology could power all of downtown Seward, as it will one day power much of Scotland, Katsma said. Jeff Estes, Alex's father who works for Seward Electric Department and advised the team, agreed. But, he said, it would only happen if there was the political will to do so.

Seward High School shone bright in the juried NOSB Ocean Connection Art Show. Veronica Wildes' risqué acrylic painting of a mermaid "Enevitable Time" took Best of Show. Dustin Newman's "Cultures of the Sea" took second place and Diane German's "Fishing" took third. Brandon Moore and Erin Lane's art work received honorable mentions.

Alex Ashford took first place in the 3-D artwork category with "What we could lose to the Ocean." Hannalyn Olsen's "Octopus and Starfish," and Tia Miranda's "Eagle Fishing" both took third place in the same category, and Erin Lane, Sasha Hamner and Ashford's work also received honorable mentions.

Juneau-Douglas High School's team, Caballers, placed first overall in the competition. Its second team, The Third Whale placed second. Kodiak High School's team, The Elusive Jellyfish took third place. Team Caballers will compete in the national NOSB competition in May.


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