Students at The Northwest School study ocean acidification

Northwest School science teacher Herb Bergamini (at far left) and his students visit an ocean research vessel at the University of Washington. At far right is UW research scientist Giora Proskurowski.

Northwest School science teacher Herb Bergamini (at far left) and his students look at water samples on a research vessel with Giora Proskurowski, research scientist at the University of Washington.

Part of our mission at The Northwest School — a 6th- through 12th-grade independent school in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood — is to teach students how to be informed and active global citizens. That’s why we teach ocean acidification to our middle school and upper school (high school) students. They have to know what’s concerning scientists right now, so they can make a positive change.

Our teacher Herb Bergamini has his 8th grade Earth Science students investigate what he calls “The Big 5″ — top ecological threats to the Earth’s atmosphere, and thus, its oceans: 1) ocean acidification, 2) acid rain, 3) global climate change, 4) ice cap/glacial melting/sea level rise, and 5) increased atmospheric carbon level. Students analyze and research the issue, and present in front of the class. And they must come up with solutions.

Here’s a PowerPoint presentation from a previous school year about ocean acidification by students Cecilia, Willa, Kevin and Max:

Their solutions:

Juniors at NWS encounter ocean acidification in teacher Emma Wolf-Saxon’s Chemistry class, where they focus on the chemistry of the process: Carbon dioxide from human pollution is absorbed by the ocean and reduces the amount of calcium carbonate available for building and strengthening the shells and skeletons of many marine organisms. This in turn affects the complex ocean food chain. From student Lucy’s written analysis of a February New Yorker article called “The Darkening Sea”:

“Since the industrial revolution, the ocean’s pH level has changed from 8.2 to 8.1, which means 30% more acidity. By 2100, 150% increase is predicted. It’s happening and happening fast.”

We are a school some might say is obsessed with the environment. Cleaning up after ourselves is built into the NWS program: All students are required to clean the whole school three days a week, as a way to learn teamwork and to dismantle the idea of “throwing it away” (as in trash). Through their actions they learn that there is no “away” where we throw things. And just like there is no alternate universe where our waste goes, our carbon dioxide output doesn’t go away, either. It is absorbed by our oceans. It stays with us. By teaching about the complexities of ocean acidification, Northwest School students will have the background to understand the problem so they can be part of the solution.

As the 2013-14 school year progresses, we look forward to having our students study The Seattle Times’ ocean acidification articles in class, and hosting Craig Welch as a guest speaker.

Cecilia Tung is chair of The Northwest School’s science department.

Editor’s note: If you are a teacher and are interested in sharing your class’s studies on ocean acidification, please contact The Seattle Times’ Bob Payne at

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