Monday, September 28, 2020

We Took Part in a Water Quality Sampling Blitz

 I think you'll agree that someone who has earned a 5 on the AP Environmental Science exam is now qualified to give service in the area of environmental science.

And if that someone can put another lab into their possibly-not-yet-terribly-robust APES lab notebook at the same time, then all the better!

A couple of weeks ago, the Limnology Department at our local university held a water sampling blitz for our local watershed, and Will and I were two of the lucky citizen scientists who took part. Our job was to drive to several GPS coordinates, figure out a way to access the creek at each location, then fill out a Qualitative Habitat Evaluation field sheet, measure the stream's pH and temperature, and collect water samples for more testing back at the base. 

We brought a lot of bug spray, because the streams were all beautiful, but accessing all of them basically required parking at the side of the road, inevitably anxiously near No Trespassing signs and Trump flags, then climbing down a steep ditch through underbrush and copperhead nests, always to end up somewhere quite magical:

Fortunately, I had an adept scientist at hand. While I got to admire the scenery and take photos, she buckled down and did most of the work:

Fortunately, even when we met a stream bank that was too steep even for my mountain goat lab partner, we still had a way to get our samples:

Seriously, how cool is that? It works because water doesn't change temperature very quickly, so the extra time to take a bucket sample doesn't effect the measurement. 

The bad news is that none of the streams performed particularly well on the Qualitative Habitat Evaluation or the pH tests--

--and considering how many cornfields, yards, and cow pastures we saw on the edges of our streams, I'm not feeling optimistic about the results of the nitrogen or fecal coliform tests that we also measured out the water for back at the base.

Nevertheless, many of the streams managed to look happy enough, and it was magical to tromp through somebody's yard, scramble through the underbrush, slide precariously into a ditch, and then suddenly find ourselves somewhere like this:

Just out of view cars were still driving down whatever country road we'd stopped on, cows were still mooing and corn rustling, suspicious people were still peering out their windows and around their giant Trump flags at our parked car, but at the bottom of every ditch it was just us, the birds, the crawdads, and a little piece of natural wonderland trying its best.

It was the best kind of science, and not a bad way for an eleventh-grader to spend a school day, either.

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