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Students plot their way with GPS
Kofa High School students are learning high technology is more than bells and whistles that may lead to a professional career and could save a life in an emergency.
Wes Martin, Kofa teacher, told his freshman biology class that a global positioning device is a vital tool they can rely upon if they pursue a science career. Most wildlife sciences need a GPS unit for locating nesting grounds and cataloging species location, he noted.
"Vegetation changes from year to year so you never know where to pinpoint what you're looking for. And floods can change landscape dramatically, so a GPS can relocate a habitat you had already mapped in prior seasons."
GPS units have become must-have tools for today's biologist, argues Martin. Assisting his class were representatives of federal and state agencies he invited to give students the benefit of their expertise.
Helping out were Joseph Barnett of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Amber Williams, intern; Stuart Williams, volunteer with the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge; Jeffrey Martin, manager of Rubio's restaurant, who uses GPS to keep track of delivery trucks and locate Chilean salmon and lobster for their menu items; and Suzanna Henry with the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.
Henry and the others took students around the Kofa campus to demonstrate the precision of a Garmin GPS receiver.
GPS is a technology advanced by the U.S. military and was recently adapted for civilian use, Henry said. GPS must rely upon 27 orbiting satellites and uses what is called "trilateral geometry" that must make contact with four of those satellites to find a "way point" or an object's coordinates to locate it.
Henry began by explaining the Earth is divided into coordinates of latitude and longitude and noting that Yuma is at 30 degrees north and 120 degrees west. Once she demonstrated how to work the GPS, students were asked to locate due north and then more precise objects around the Kofa campus.
One of the primary purposes of GPS is to serve a user's personal safety, Henry explained. In its most practical application, GPS can help a person locate where their vehicle is parked when out in the wilderness. It can also serve as a tool to guide a medevac helicopter to exact coordinates to rescue an injured person.
Yet despite the capabilities of GPS, it is not a do-all tool, Henry cautioned. Even those with a GPS unit should always have a compass and a map as a backup, she stressed. But most of all, anyone in the wilderness needs to rely upon common sense.
Martha Lepe, 14, Kofa freshman, said the instruction was "pretty awesome." She added that she learned things she never thought she could use. Now Martha thinks she might like to have her own GPS device, she said.
"My mom drives a bus for for District 1, so she uses a GPS to see if the tires are aired up, to make it safer to drive. So I know how useful it can be."
Martin added he hoped learning GPS skills would prompt students to commit to a science career. When he walked around Wednesday, he heard students using GPS jargon, such as way points. And he could see excitement in their faces, he said.
"But the true measure of success comes tomorrow when our team returns to test the kids to hunt for objects. And to add a little incentive, we'll bury a few treats for them to locate."