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.
Water 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.
Air 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.
- Six Petri dishes (3 for the control, 3 for the acidic solution you choose to test)
- 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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Duplicate (a) and (b) with water only as controls.
- 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.
Excerpted 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.