Environmental Science: Acid Rain, Pollution Prevention, & Conservation Practices

What a joy teaching environmental science has been. Thus far, we’ve learned about the changes in environmental policy and how the Boy Scouts of America have contributed to environmental conservation practices. We have also learned about pollination, environmental changes, and threatened and endangered species.

Today, our focus shifts to acid rain, pollution prevention, and conservation practices we can engage in ourselves.

Each Sunday through the month of September, I will post a description of the activities I coordinated and the resources I used to teach the environmental science merit badge. Today’s post is the third in the series.

Pollution Prevention & Conservation Practices @EvaVarga.netWater Pollution – Oil Spill Activity

The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, March 24, 1989, when an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, California, struck Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef in the wee hours of ht morning and spilled over 10 million gallons of crude oil into the sea.

As the Scouts learned in the Environmental Science Timeline game we played the day prior, this disaster resulted in the International Maritime Organization introducing comprehensive marine pollution prevention rules through various conventions. We discussed this tragedy as I shared several photos and strategies that were used to clean up the oil.

We then engaged in an Oil Spill Experiment of our own. One Scout shared with us a video of an incredible new material – a foam material coated with oil-attracted silane molecules – that absorbs oil but not water. It was fascinating and extended our discussion.

Pollution Prevention & Conservation Practices @EvaVargaAir Pollution – Acid Rain Activity

Acid rain is a broad term that includes any form of precipitation (rain, snow, fog, hail, or even dust) with acidic components, such as sulfuric or nitric acid that fall to the ground from the atmosphere in wet or dry forms. With the aid of the visual above, we discussed the pathway by which precipitation becomes acidic.

While we didn’t undertake the lab outlined below due to time constraints, I encouraged each of the Scouts to set up the lab portion of the activity is to demonstrate the effects of acid rain on our environment.

Materials

  • Six Petri dishes (3 for the control, 3 for the acidic solution you choose to test)
  • Pipette
  • Large bell jar or similar item
  • Sulfuric acid or an alternative acidic solution (lactic acid – milk or a citric acid – lemon juice)
  • Two 2-liter soft drink containers
  • Four small pieces of marble or limestone
  • Small growing plant
  • Four small pieces of raw meat (fish or chicken)
  • Two green leaves
  • Small amount of soil

Procedure

Several days in advance, prepare Petri dishes with soil & stone, leaf, and raw meat (two dishes each). One set is to be the control to which distilled water is added. Add a solution of 50% sulfuric acid to the other set. Keep these in a location that is secure so they don’t accidentally get spilled.

Display the Petri dishes and show the class how the acid has affected soil/stone, plant, and animal materials compared to the items in plain water.  Together discuss what effects they think acid rain would have on the various aspects of their local ecosystem.

Set up the following long-term experiment:

  1. Place the potted plant under the bell jar and add a Petri dish or other small vessel of 10% sulfuric acid. Maintain plant normally including acid solution.
  2. Put about one inch of 10-15% sulfuric acid solution into one of the soft drink containers. Suspend a marble or limestone chip above the solution. Cap tightly.
  3. Duplicate (a) and (b) with water only as controls.
  4. Put a piece of raw meat in each of two Petri dishes; immerse one in water and cover, immerse the other in weak acid solution and cover. Note: these pieces of meat will
    deteriorate but the effect of the acid solution will become evident over a period of time.
reduce pollutionExcerpted from a slide show created by the Utah National Parks Council of the BSA

Pollution Prevention & Conservation

Lastly, we brainstormed a number of ways we could help to reduce pollution and conserve our natural resources. We filled the whiteboard with their ideas and discussed several in more depth.

Each Scout was then directed to choose two to put them into practice for the next couple of weeks. I asked that they keep track of their progress and to report back to me what they learned from the experience.


Join us next week for the final post in the series, whereupon I focus on an outdoor biodiversity study and an environmental impact statement.

Environmental Science: How Species Respond to Environmental Changes

Last week I shared with you three activities I shared with the Scouts. A timeline activity to introduce them to the historical events that have helped shape environmental policy in the United States, key terms bingo, and a fortune teller illustrating the metamorphosis of honey bees.

Today, my focus is on how organisms respond to changes in the environment and endangered species. These activities were selected to meet the requirements for #3a and 3e of the environmental science merit badge.

 Each Sunday through the month of September, I will post a description of the activities I coordinated and the resources I used to teach the environmental science merit badge. Today’s post is the second in the series.

Environmental Changes & How Species Respond @EvaVarga.netResponding to Environmental Changes

Ecologists do not only study organisms; they also study how organisms interact with other organisms and how they interact with the nonliving parts of their environments, like chemicals, nutrients, habitats, and so on.

The range and type of interactions that organisms can have with each other and with their environments are large and complex. Some ecologists focus on how individual organisms respond to their environment. Other ecologists are more interested in how organisms of the same species interact with each other in populations.

Still others spend their days examining how whole populations interact with other populations in a community. At the highest level, some ecologists focus on the big picture, studying the interactions between all of the living and nonliving elements in a given area, or ecosystem.

Natural Environmental Changes

Our environment is constantly changing. Natural disasters can cause drastic environmental changes and if severe enough, even mass extinctions. By examining previous natural disasters – earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and volcanoes to name just a few – and their environmental impacts we can learn what to expect in the future.

We opened our lesson with a discussion on the processes of erosion. The Scouts were asked to submit to me photographs of areas where they had observed erosion and to describe what elements contributed to the process. Here are a few of the photos they submitted:

Why Should We Care?

So, why should we care about ecology? For some communities changes to climate are causing longer droughts, more severe floods, and harsher environments. Let’s put it into perspective with just one case study made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel, Cannery Row.

Every year, more than 92 million tons of ocean life (like fish, aquatic plants, and so on) are “harvested” from around the world for human consumption. Billions of people rely on these harvests to sustain life – either for food directly or for their livelihood. A poor understanding of marine ecology can result in disaster.

One of the most well-known of these disasters occurred off of the coast of California in Monterey Bay in the mid-1950s. At the time, this bay was one of the most productive fisheries in the world, particularly sardines. However, before 1960, harvests had plummeted, and, by 1973, the last sardine cannery in Monterey closed its doors forever.

Unfortunately, the fishing industry had not applied common ecological sense in their decisions. Sardines were removed from the bay faster than they could reproduce, resulting in a population crash and the end of an economy.

How Do Caterpillars Respond to Stimuli?

Rainforest CaterpillarsBefore my children were born, I volunteered on an Earthwatch expedition to study Rainforest Caterpillars. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life – particularly when I consider the impact it had on my classroom teaching strategies. While the focus of our study was on Parasitism in Caterpillars, what stands out to me about this experience was the real-time observations we were able to make in the field – recording how the caterpillars responded to mechanical stimuli.

Essentially, we would gently pet them with a small paint brush and then pinch them carefully with a pair of tweezers (enough to get a reaction but not to harm).  We would then record their behavior or reaction to the stimuli.

We did this to get a general idea of how the different species would defend themselves and observed a wide variety of behaviors including thrashing about, rearing up and attempting to bite the attacker (that would be us), as well as and most amusing, kicking frass at us.

If you have caterpillars in your local area, give this a try. How do your local species respond to the same stimuli described above?

How Do Aquatic Organisms Respond to Stimuli?

Materials

  • Living specimen of planktonic aquatic life
  • Droppers
  • Vinegar
  • Caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee
  • Sugar
  • Specimen pipettes
  • Compound micropscope
  • Salt crystals
  • Microscope slides and coverslips
  • Cotton fibers

Procedure

  1. Using a specimen pipette, remove a drop from the collected specimen.
  2. Place culture on the microscope slide and cover. Focus microscope to locate organism.
  3. After first observing normal activity, introduce artificial stimuli so the the response can be observed. Record behavior observations on a chart in a lab notebook.
  4. Prepare a new culture specimen if necessary; repeat steps 1-3.
  5. Carefully place a small salt crystal near some of the swimming organisms. Observe and record their response.
  6. Continue to add each stimuli, observing and recording the behavior each time.
  7. Observe movement. Are new structures visible on the organism? Has movement increased or decreased?

Alternatively, you might consider the Goldfish Lab I shared sometime ago.

Environmental Science Endangered SpeciesEnvironmental Changes & Endangered Species

In addition to the activities and discussion described above, Scouts were expected to write a 100 word (minimum) report an an endangered species of their choice. They were then asked to present what they had learned with the group. In this way, we would have a broader perspective and learn how environmental changes have effected a variety of species.


Join me next week as we explore topics related to pollution and acid rain.

Environmental Science: Timeline, Key Terms, & Pollination

Have I told you how much I love Boy Scouts? My son first joined in February of 2016 and has since earned 21 merit badges – the most recent of which is Environmental Science.

As science – specifically environmental education and stewardship – is my passion, I offered to serve as the merit badge counselor and lead our troop through the merit badge requirements.

My goal was to complete everything in just a few days. We thereby met from 9am to noon for three consecutive days and it turned out to be just the right amount of time.

Over the course of this month, I will share with you the highlights of our exploration. Each Sunday through the month of September, I will post a description of the activities I coordinated and the resources I used to teach the environmental science conservation merit badge.

Timeline of Environmental Policy

There are affiliate links below which means I may receive a commission when products are purchased. See my disclosure policy for more details. 

Timeline of Environmental Science

I devised a game similar to Timeline – one of our favorite family games – to introduce the Scouts to the historical events and initiatives that have shaped environmental policy in the United States.

One of the best things I like about the original game is that cards can be combined with the decks of multiple Timeline games (Discoveries, Music & Cinema, Inventions, Historical Events, etc.)

How to Play

While the original game has 110 cards, my simplified version has just 28. Six boys attended the class so I distributed four cards to each. The remaining four cards I held out, using a couple to demonstrate how to play the game.

Each card depicts an image of a historical event related to environmental science and a short summary text. The year in which that event occurred is shown on the reverse side. Players take turns placing a card from their hand in a row on the table.

After placing the card, the player reveals the date on it. If the card was placed correctly with the date in chronological order with all other cards on the table, the card stays in place. Otherwise, the card is moved to the appropriate place on the timeline.

In the original game, the first player to get rid of all his cards by placing them correctly wins. However, since there are not many cards to begin with, emphasis is on familiarizing oneself with the material not on winning.

Download Your Own Copy

If you are interested in playing the version I created, you can download it here, Environmental Science Timeline. There are two cards on each sheet of paper. You will first need to cut the two cards apart. Then simply fold each card in half to conceal the date and begin play.

Environmental Science Timeline ActivityKey Terms in Environmental Science

To familiarize ourselves with environmental science vocabulary, I used a slide show to first introduce the terms. We then played a game of bingo whereupon I called out the definition and they had to find the matching term.

Creating the bingo cards was quick and easy. I simply entered the terms into the widget at myfreebingocards and followed the prompts.

Download Your Own Copy

If you are interested in playing the version I created, you can download and print your own set for Environmental Science Bingo here.

Environmental SciencePollination

The last topic we covered on the first day was pollination. As the boys are entering 7th and 8th grade, they already had a good understanding of the process of pollination before we began. I thereby didn’t spend much time on reviewing this. Instead, we first watched a video, The Lifecycle of a Queen Honey Bee.

With the information we had learned from the video, I guided the boys through the process of creating a fortune teller to illustrate the life-cycle of the honeybee (complete metamorphosis). As they worked on their illustrations, I read aloud from the Handbook of Nature Study in more depth as well as to share the differences between the queen, the workers, and the drones.


As they departed at the end of day one, the boys exclaimed that the activities I had planned were enjoyable and that the also learned something. I call that a success.

Join me again next week when I share the activities I devised to cover environmental science requirements #3a-f.

In the Path of Totality: The 2017 Eclipse

We had been planning to be in the path of totality for over a year, purchasing tickets to OMSI’s eclipse party at the state fairgrounds in Salem, Oregon in July of 2016. As the date approached, the media was inundated with warnings about traffic congestion, fuel shortages, and other issues related to the eclipse.

path of totality - solar eclipse Preparing for Totality

As we prepared for the event and stressed about logistics – wondering if we should change plans and camp in the Cascades [we would need to pick Geneva up on Friday evening after National Youth Leadership Training – (NYLT)], crash at my brother’s in Eugene, or return home and then drive up to Salem the morning of – we spent time learning more about eclipses.

We had previously seen an annular eclipse and the kids were curious how they differed. Best of all, their interest tied into the requirements necessary to earn the coveted BSA Eclipse patch:

  • Boy Scouts: Draw a diagram of the positions of the moon, earth, and sun to show how the solar eclipse occurs.
  • Venturers: Research Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington’s 1919 experiment and discuss how it confirmed Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

We had recently discovered mysimpleshow and it seemed like the perfect tool for this project. We thereby collaborated (learning how to use the program together) on an explainer video for the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse.

As

As this was our first multimedia presentation with mysimpleshow, we struggled with a few things (I can’t figure out why a few of the images appear in blue hues) but otherwise we LOVE it! We will definitely be using it again – I’ll be posting a complete review in September so check back. :)

Experiencing Totality

After learning more about the location of Geneva’s NYLT camp, we opted to return home Friday evening – we didn’t get home until nearly 1 a.m. She needed the time to decompress after camp however, so it was a wise decision.

We decided to drive up Sunday afternoon and thereby made arrangements to pitch our tent in a friend’s backyard (Thank you, Hannah!). Traffic was not bad on the way up and we arrived rested and excited for the next day.

path of totality - solar eclipse We grabbed a quick breakfast and made our way over the fairgrounds where the vibe was picking up as our morning coffees began to work their magic. We met up with friends who drove down from Portland and the festivities began.

We meandered the vendor booths and enjoyed the speakers in the amphitheater. The best part of the morning was simply catching up with our friends and taking in each moment – Geneva sketching and Jeffrey cubing.

I loved watching the crowd as the moon eclipsed the sun. Taiko drummers beat out a rhythm as totality approached and were silent during the 1 minute 53 seconds of duration. The crowd was awed and everyone mesmerized by the beauty of the natural event.

path of totality - solar eclipse

It was so fun to experience it with a large crowd – to stop even ever so briefly and not worry about politics or personal strife. Though many people began to depart after totality, we opted to stay.

We enjoyed a leisurely lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant as we contemplated which route to take to return home. As I5 south was already congested with traffic (our GPS map showed it red for the entire length of the state), we chose to drive slightly westward and then proceed south on highway 99 through Monmouth and Corvallis. This turned out to be a wise choice. Though traffic was heavier than usual, we encountered congestion for only a short stretch between Corvallis and Monroe.

It has been several days now since the eclipse and we are still in awe. It was really incredible and we are so thankful we had the opportunity to experience a total solar eclipse in totality. The next eclipse visible in the United States will be 2024. We may consider making plans for this one as well.

 

 

Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition

To finish up his Second Class rank requirements for Boy Scouts recently, I was helping my little man find photographs of wildlife that he has observed. As we dug through our photo archives, I was reminded of a fun little Oregon Nature Quiz: Early Summer Edition that I posted several months ago. I had posted it with the intention of making it a quarterly series but sadly, life distracted me and I let it slip my mind.

Oregon Nature Quiz #2: Wildlife Edition

How Well Do You Know Oregon?

Here are five of the photos my son selected to submit to his Scoutmaster. Can you identify the wildlife represented here? Whose Been Here? Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition @EvaVarga.net

Who Am I? Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition @EvaVarga.net

What Happened Here? Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition @EvaVarga.net

I'm Friendly. Or Am I? Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition @EvaVarga.net

My, What Big Teeth You Have. Oregon Nature Quiz: Boy Scout Rank Wildlife Edition @EvaVarga.net

Answers:

1. North American Raccoon tracks along the banks of a river

In the wild, raccoons often dabble for underwater food near the shore-line. They then often pick up the food item with their front paws to examine it and rub the item, sometimes to remove unwanted parts. This gives the appearance of the raccoon “washing” the food.

Originally, raccoon habitats were solely deciduous and mixed forests, but due to their adaptability they have extended their range to mountainous areas, coastal marshes, and even urban areas. Though previously thought to be solitary, there is now evidence that raccoons engage in gender-specific social behavior. Related females often share a common area, while unrelated males live together in groups of up to four animals to maintain their positions against foreign males during the mating season, and other potential invaders.

Intrigued by animal tracks and wildlife signs? Check out these ideas for Exploring Animal Tracks with students.

2. Pacific Tree Frog

Pacific tree frogs are common on the Pacific coast of Oregon and Washington. They occur in shades of greens or browns and can change colors over periods of hours and weeks. They occur in shades of greens or browns and can change colors over periods of hours and weeks. Eggs of the Pacific tree frog may be consumed by the rough-skinned newt and other amphibians.

They are found upland in ponds, streams, lakes and sometimes even further away from water. The Pacific tree frog makes its home in riparian habitat, as well as woodlands, grassland, chaparral, pasture land, and even urban areas including back yard ponds.

3. Black Bear claw marks and Acorn Woodpecker holes on the trunk of an apple tree

In the early fall, when the apples are ripe, it is not uncommon to see claw marks on apple trees, particularly in old pioneer orchards that have been abandoned. Brown and American black bears are generally diurnal, meaning that they are active for the most part during the day, though they may also forage at night.

Most bears have diets of more plant than animal matter and are completely opportunistic omnivores. Knowing when plants are ripe for eating is a learned behavior. Bears may mark territory by rubbing against trees and other objects which may serve to spread their scent. This is usually accompanied by clawing and biting the object.

Interested in learning more about animals and the study of wildlife? Check out these great animal webcams.

4. Golden Mantle Ground Squirrel

Scientists classify the golden-mantled ground squirrel as a true ground squirrel, though it will climb trees to reach seeds. Its genus name Spermophilus is Greek for “seed loving.” Like other ground squirrels, the golden-mantle packs seeds and fruit in its cheek pouches and stores the food in burrows, puts on a thick layer of fat, and hibernates in winter. Golden-mantled ground squirrels eat their stored food in early spring, when seeds and fruit are scarce. In addition to seeds and fruit, the omnivorous ground squirrel eats fungi, insects, bird eggs, small vertebrates, and carrion.

Though the golden-mantled ground squirrel can vocalize, it remains silent most of the time. When alarmed, it chirps and squeals. Though not especially aggressive, it growls when fighting with other ground squirrels. Though tempting, it’s not a good idea to feed these or any other wild animals; it distracts them from searching for natural foods, which they must eat in large quantities to survive. Unlike most other ground squirrels, the golden mantle is a loner. It only spends time with others of its kind as a youngster with its mother and siblings.

5. North American Beaver teeth marks on the trunk of an oak tree

Beaver (Castor Canadensis) are known for building dams, canals, and lodges (homes). Their colonies create one or more dams to provide still, deep water to protect against predators, and to float food and building material. While they don’t generally use trees of the size pictured here in their dams, it is fascinating to watch the process of a beaver dam under construction which play a critical role in the ecology of our streams. Learn more in my post, The Industrious Beaver: Nature’s Engineers.

Rare, Bizarre Creatures from the Deep: An Unexpected Nature Study

I grew up on the Oregon Coast in beautiful Bandon by the Sea. I spent many a day on the shoreline investigating the marine invertebrates under the rock crevices and walking the sandy beaches. My brothers and I longed for the minus tides, providing us the rare opportunity to go spelunking in the sea caves just off shore. These rocky islands are now protected areas for marine bird nesting habitat but back in the 70s, it was our playground.

dune geology tunicates

Dune geology features: foredune and deflation plain

Tracking Marine Debris

In all the years I have spent on the beach, I have found a diverse amount of debris and organisms in varying states of decay. I probably spend an equal amount of time sifting through the wrack on the high tide line as I do in wave zone digging in the sand looking for mole crabs.

I have found marine debris from Japan evidenced by the kanji script. An occasional flip flop or fishing net remnants are not uncommon. While immersing myself in marine biology courses at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology one summer, I even found several squid egg cases that washed ashore after a winter storm, providing my peers and I an opportunity to observe the development up close. Yet, once in a while, I am still surprised at what washes ashore.

tunicates

Walking along the ATV trail across the deflation plain

This past holiday weekend, my family and I enjoyed a leisurely walk on the beach near our home. Our goal was to field test a new marine debris app, a joint initiative between the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative. The tracker app allows you to help make a difference by checking in when you find trash on our coastlines and waterways.*

We drove out to the North Spit and thereafter began our excursion through the deflation plain. We soon discovered, however, that there was too much standing water to stick to the trail that meandered through the wetland area. We thus walked along the ATV road until we reached the small foredune. Just a few feet up and over and we arrived on the sandy beach.

No sooner did we arrive at the shore and we immediately were captivated by the presence of a strange organic material that was strewn across the beach for miles. Upon first glance, it looked like a hard plastic tube resembling a sea cucumber. My first suspicion turned out to be incorrect, however. Upon returning home, I learned that what we had found were actually colonial tunicates. Fascinating!

tunicates rare creatures

Planktonic salps, Pyrosoma atlanticum, strewn across the beach.

What are Tunicates?

This bizarre and rarely-seen creature is called a pyrosome, a species of pelagic colonial tunicates. Their scientific name, Pyrosoma atlanticum, is derived from the Greek words pyro meaning ‘fire’ and soma meaning ‘body’ which refers to the fact that they are known for bright displays of bioluminescence.

Pyrosoma atlanticum are one of the few pyrosomes that make it to the west coast of the U.S. The species found here are less than a foot but can get as long as 24 inches. Largely colorless, they can show up as pink, grayish or purple-green.

tunicates invertebrates

A specimen of the colonial tunicate, Pyrosoma atlanticum 

These massive colonies of cloned creatures are related to a kind of jellyfish called a slap. A tunicate is a marine invertebrate animal, a member of the subphylum Tunicata, which is part of the Chordata, a phylum which includes all animals with dorsal nerve cords and notochords.

Each individual organism is about 1 cm long – less than a third of an inch. They are all connected by tissue and in turn form this colony that looks like a plastic tube. The recent winter storms have caused them to strand on the shores and have been found in all areas of the coast.

Usually found in temperate waters as low as 800 meters. The colony of animals is comprised of thousands of individual zooids and moves through the water column by the means of cilia (an organelle found in eukaryotic cells that project from the much larger cell body).

As they move through the water column, sometimes close to the surface and sometimes as far down as 2600 feet, they filter plankton out of the water for food. As it sucks water in, it then pushes it back out, thereby propelling it through the ocean. It does all this via one opening only, so it moves incredibly slow.

For more images of Pyrosoma, check out Bob Perry’s photographs. Included in his work are a few pseudoconchs (false shells) of the pelagic mollusk Corolla which we similarly found.zoologyIf you are interested in learning more about invertebrates with your students, I encourage you to look into the Amazing Animals curriculum unit I have written to introduce middle level students to zoology. This 10-week unit is full of inquiry-based activities and lesson plans fully outlined for you.

Due to our fascination with these rare creatures, we didn’t spend as much time with the debris tracking app as I had intended. We’ll give it a go another time.