Tillamook Students: Problem Solvers

Guest Contributor:  Annie Thorp

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” T.S. Eliot

I have always thought that as an educator, I learned as much from my students as I taught them. A group of Tillamook students and their instructor recently had an opportunity to put what they had been taught into action. Their belief in what they had been taught combined with their enthusiasm for the project, resulted in achieving an invaluable success in the pursuit of research and exploration. Their findings and results were a huge help to their instructor and a very important project.

Photo credit:  Tillamook Estuaries Partnership

Photo credit: Tillamook Estuaries Partnership

Clair Thomas, an educator and researcher with Tillamook School District, is involved in numerous research projects, some involving water quality monitoring, habitat restoration, and estuary/wetlands management among others. He is also a Professional Development lead partner in the Oregon Coast STEM Hub, and his students have been learning about streams, salmon recovery, as well robotics and their numerous uses in aquatic environments.

East Beaver Creek

East Beaver Creek

One of their projects is to provide data for the BLM, the local watershed council, and the Oregon Department of Forestry, by measuring water temperatures in East Beaver Creek (near Tillamook) to determine if the water flow and temperature might be conducive for juvenile salmon migration. If the water flow is too fast, the juvenile salmon cannot swim up stream. The students have been experimenting with stream flow mitigation by placing large logs and boulders in strategic locations to slow the water flow and create areas of slower water called eddies. However, if water temperatures are too high, then oxygen levels may be too low for salmon, so monitoring the temperatures in the stream and pools is essential to provide necessary data for all the stakeholders involved.

HOBO data logger

HOBO data logger

They placed five instruments called HOBO data loggers in several places in the stream to measure the water temperatures. These instruments are checked periodically and the data are recorded. The HOBOs are secured to metal rebar to weight and anchor them to the streambed.

Usually, checking the data recorded is accomplished with a diver or person with a snorkel, but this past December, after heavy rains and water temperature of 8 degrees Centigrade, this normal method used to locate the HOBOs proved to be very difficult. The water visibility was poor due to recent heavy rains, and turbulence made it impossible to see the instruments and even when Clair went diving for them, he could neither see nor feel them, and the current made it difficult to maintain his position. The cold water also made his fingers so cold, they were numb, making feeling anything even more challenging. He managed to locate and retrieve only two of the instruments he needed.

Example of a student-built ROV

Example of a student-built ROV

Fortunately, his enterprising and clever students suggested that they use one of the ROVs they had designed and built in their robotics club. They proposed deploying the ROV in one of the eddies, as they had learned that this was an area where water flow would be minimal, hence increasing the odds of success at floating and maneuvering the device. Clair was skeptical at first, but his students reminded him that he had taught them about eddies, and they were confident they could use the ROV, that was equipped with camera, lights, and a grabber, to locate and retrieve the instruments.

They tethered the ROV on four sides with lines, deployed it in an eddy, and the search went wonderfully well. Within five minutes, they found the three missing loggers. The ROV picked up two of them, and the other could be seen wedged in a crack between two rocks, but after seeing its location, their ever-intrepid instructor, Clair Thomas, was able to retrieve it manually, after donning his wet suit again.

Clair is understandably proud of his student crew. Their collaboration and inspired use of the ROV technology they had designed and built, combined with thoughtful application of what they had learned, is a wonderful example of student success in a “real world” application. Kudos, to student team, Bryton Dorland, creator and builder of the ROV they used, Dylan Lundy, and Sabrina Polman. Another teacher, Nathan Sandberg, assisted Clair in his original diving search when the first two were located. Congratulations to students and staff for your remarkable teamwork.


Annie Thorp is a volunteer at HMSC and enjoys working on a variety of projects there. She is a retired community college adult educator, and a lifelong learner with a love of the ocean, ships, and all things aquatic. She was a Teacher at Sea, and a volunteer several times, along with her husband, on university research vessels. While at sea, they coauthored a blog called Buoy Tales, to help educate the public about the research being done by the scientists onboard. Her passion for marine sciences outreach and education, along with her involvement in HMSC education programs, inspired her to become a volunteer blogger with the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *