Comparing Lake and River Water Quality

The weather has been gorgeous lately, and with River Classroom, we latch on to any excuse we can to be outside. Yesterday, our 4th-6th graders from Espanola headed back to the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam to test water quality.

We began on the Rio Chama, where half of our students measured data, while the other half learned “The Good Graph Rules”. These rules will be very important next time we meet, and we’ll be creating graphs on which we can record our water quality data for the rest of the year.

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Testing water quality on the Rio Chama
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Testing water quality on the Rio Chama
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Recording our data
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Taking time out to catch and identify a Sagebrush lizard

After a thorough discussion of the water quality on the Rio Chama, we headed back up to Abiquiu Lake to eat lunch and switch groups. We wanted to compare water quality on both bodies of water.

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Everybody is happy to be outside doing science!
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Confident students measuring dissolved oxygen
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Measuring pH and conductivity with our samples.
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Recording meteorological data
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Everybody has a job and a parameter to measure

We’ve measured water quality before, but this was the first time this year that we took the time to discuss it in detail. Water is a very important resource in New Mexico, and our students understand why it’s something that we should value and protect. We’ll continue monitoring water quality data throughout the year, both in Abiquiu and in Tierra Amarilla. These data will help us understand the Rio Chama watershed so that we can protect and conserve it.

Christy

Introducing our 7th-9th grade Española River Classroom!

For the very first time this year, NMWC is getting to work with GATE students in 7th-9th grades in the Española Public School District! You may recognize a few familiar faces- some of these students are graduates of our 4th-6th grade River Classroom.

We have a very exciting year planned for these young scientists- we’ll be building kayaks and using them to learn about buoyancy, density, and resistance, as well as exploring riparian and lake ecosystems of northern New Mexico. This is a pretty long task list for the year, and we got off to a great start by learning how to paddle on Abiquiu Lake. Once again, our friends with the US Army Corps of Engineers greatly helped us out with loaner life jackets!

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Students carry boats and paddles to the water.

It was the very first time these students have ever been in a canoe or a kayak.

Launching the kayak!
Launching the kayak!
Canoeing in front of Pedernal
Canoeing in front of Pedernal

Everybody got the hang of it pretty quickly, and we went on an adventure down the lakeshore. It got fairly warm, and a few students decided to jump in and cool off.

Cooling off in Abiquiu Lake
Cooling off in Abiquiu Lake
Learning a few tricks of the trade from our expert paddler
Learning a few tricks of the trade from our expert paddler
Paddling around a buoy
Paddling around a buoy

Part of the philosophy of this class is that people must experience and enjoy the outdoors in order to feel a sense of ownership. Besides learning important science skills, these students are learning to enjoy being outdoors. We hope that this will lead to a group of students who work to protect and conserve our vital habitats in northern New Mexico.

Headed out into the open lake!
Headed out into the open lake!

This class is an absolutely fantastic group of kids who are very motivated and learn quickly. We can’t wait to see what the year holds!

Christy

River Classroom Takes to the Lake

Last Wednesday we met with our 4th-6th grade River Classroom from Espanola. We took advantage of the gorgeous, warm weather and headed back up to the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam.

Using our new Kestrel to determine wind speed and temperature
Using our new Kestrel to determine wind speed and temperature

Last time we met, we didn’t have time to rotate through all of the groups, so we caught up and made sure that everybody was on the same page.

Making another watershed
Making another watershed
Learning how to use a GPS
Learning how to use a GPS

We also took our very first water quality readings on the Rio Chama. The river was surprisingly warm, and our numbers (especially for dissolved oxygen) were quite different than they tend to be during the winter. We’ll keep taking these measurements all year to develop a good record of water quality on the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam.

Measuring pH and conductivity
Measuring pH and conductivity
Measuring turbidity
Measuring turbidity
Recording our data
Recording our data

After all of this hard work, we headed up the hill and back to Abiquiu Lake, where our students got a quick introduction to kayaking and canoeing. Fortunately our good friends with the US Army Corps of Engineers at Abiquiu Lake were on hand to help us stay safe in the water by loaning us child-sized life jackets.

Our friends with the US Army Corps of Engineers talk about water safety.
Talking about water safety
Carrying boats down to the water
Carrying boats down to the water
It's not as easy as it looks on the first try!
It’s not as easy as it looks on the first try!

By the end of the day, everybody was doing a fantastic job in the water.

Paddling like a pro!
Paddling like a pro!

Collecting robust scientific data is one very important aspect of River Classroom, but we also strive to make sure that our students learn how to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the northern New Mexico landscape. The future depends on our students!

Christy

Abiquiu Summer Science Camp

Last week was our first Summer Science Camp! We held it at Abiquiu Lake.

As you can see, we had a fantastic group of 10 kids (not all are shown below).

Picking up campers at a local institution.
Picking up campers at a local institution.

Each day students learned a new aspect of science: identifying local plants and animals or learning about density and buoyancy.

Heading off on a hike along the Rio Chama.
Heading off on a hike along the Rio Chama.
Identifying and recording life forms along the Rio Chama.
Identifying and recording life forms along the Rio Chama.
Learning about buoyancy,
Learning about buoyancy.
Weighing objects in a given volume to calculate density.
Weighing objects in a given volume to calculate density.
Using our new-found knowledge of buoyancy to build sailboats.
Using our new-found knowledge of buoyancy to build sailboats.
Taking a closer look at a local resident.
Taking a closer look at a local resident.

We also learned some important skills, like knot tying, how to canoe and kayak, and for one participant, how to swim.

Practicing knots.
Practicing knots.
Learning a new knot.
Learning a new knot.
Boating requires teamwork!
Boating requires teamwork!
Canoeing across Abiquiu Lake.
Canoeing across Abiquiu Lake.
Hooray for Abiquiu Lake!
Hooray for Abiquiu Lake!

We’re very grateful to our partners with the US Army Corps of Engineers at Abiquiu Lake for loaning us life jackets and making it possible for us to reserve a group shelter to keep out of the hot sun during the day and for camping on Thursday night. This camp would not have been possible without life jackets to keep us safe!

Ranger Austin explains why ducks float and children don't (without a life jacket).
Ranger Austin explains why ducks float and children don’t (without a life jacket).

      On Thursday night, a few parents joined us, and we spent the night at Abiquiu Lake.

A camper stands beside his tent.
A camper stands beside his tent.

We roasted hot dogs, cooked s’mores, and watched the stars. We observed the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn with a telescope.

Campers watching the night sky.
Campers watching the night sky.

After our camp out, we cleaned up way more than just our group shelter! We wanted to leave the campground cleaner than we found it.

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Campers with the trash they picked up.

It was a fantastic week, and we’re looking forward to offering this camp on more than one week next year!

Life jackets drying after a long day in the water.
Life jackets drying after a long day in the water.

Christy

Last River Classroom of the Year

Last Wednesday was our last River Classroom of the year. The students have worked very hard this year, and we’ve learned a great deal about energy, our local riparian and lake environments, and how to assess the health of these important ecosystems. After all of this learning, we took a day to enjoy the beauty of northern New Mexico.

We skipped rocks.

Students selecting the perfect rocks for skipping.
Students selecting the perfect rocks for skipping.
What kinds of energy are involved in skipping rocks?
What kinds of energy are involved in skipping rocks?
Who can skip a rock the farthest?
Who can skip a rock the farthest?

Our fantastic bus driver, Mario, won the contest for the most skips.

This one went almost all the way across!
This one went almost all the way across!

A few of the students wanted to swim. We made a deal that if the water was warmer than 65 degrees F, they could swim.

Unfortunately (for them), it was only 59 degrees.

Testing the water temperature.
Testing the water temperature.

Instead of swimming, students had to be content with sitting on the edge of the lake and having a contest to see who could keep their feet in the water the longest.

Toes in the water!
Toes in the water!

Everybody found different ways to explore Abiquiu Lake.

A few students watched waterfowl through a scope.

Watching eared grebes through the scope.
Watching eared grebes through the scope.

A few students explored potholes in the rock, which were full of rain from the night before. We tested the pH of the rainwater and found that it was considerably lower than the lake and river water.

Checking out a pothole in a rock.
Checking out a pothole in a rock.

Most students were content to explore the lake shore and check out the incredible views.

Hopping along the shore.
Hopping along the shore.
Gorgeous skies with cumulus clouds!
Gorgeous skies with cumulus clouds!

The day’s main event was a picnic, complete with hot dogs! Our USACE rangers helped us reserve a group shelter and joined in the fun.

Mario, chef and bus driver extraordinaire.
Mario, chef and bus driver extraordinaire.
Having another hot dog.
Having another hot dog.

Finally, after a group trash pick up, we all went on a hike to work off that big lunch.

Hiking across the new bridge.
Hiking across the new bridge.

It was sad to say goodbye to our students for the summer.

Goodbye for now!
Goodbye for now!

We have a number of exciting events planned for this summer, and then we’ll see our wonderful River Classroom students again in the fall!

Christy

McCurdy Visits the Rio Chama

We’ve tried several times to take our McCurdy High School Earth Sciences class to the Rio Chama to explore the riparian ecosystem, test water quality, and survey benthic macroinvertebrates. Each time the weather has foiled our plans. Finally last Thursday we got our chance!

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McCurdy High School students learning to use kick nets.

We began the day on the Rio Chama, where students put on waders and learned how to safely wade in the river. Students took turns using the kick nets and picking benthic macroinvertebrates off of the kick nets with tweezers. We took samples from the middle of the river and from the river bank.

On the river bank, we found mayflies, midges, leeches, snails, craneflies, and one bristle worm. In the center of the river, we found caddis larva, worms, craneflies, midge pupae, midge larva, and mayflies. The crane flies in the center of the river were much larger, and overall we found a much greater diversity of benthic macroinvertebrates. We suspect this is because the center of the river has had water through the winter, while the banks did not. The river level has risen steadily during April, as seen below in the stream gauge data.

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One of our more interesting finds of the day.

Students also helped calibrate our water quality sensors and test river temperature, pH, turbidity, conductivity, and level of dissolved oxygen.

After all of this data collection, we headed up to Abiquiu Lake to celebrate the students’ hard work with a picnic.

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A few brave students even swam in the cold water!
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Enjoying the views.

Our McCurdy students have done a fantastic job this year. We’ve covered a lot of material, and the students have made great progress in their Earth Science knowledge. We hope to see some of these students in the future at Northern New Mexico College!

Christy

Earth Day at Abiquiu Lake

Last Wednesday was Earth Day, but our celebration with the US Army Corps of Engineers at Abiquiu Lake wasn’t until last Saturday.

We met at the Visitor’s Center at 9 am, where guests got to meet two of NMWC’s most spectacular residents, Grace the Golden Eagle and Electra the Osprey.

Listening to Katherine Eagleson explain the habits of golden eagles.
Listening to Katherine Eagleson explain the habits of golden eagles.
Katherine with Grace, the Golden Eagle.
Katherine with Grace, the Golden Eagle.
Electra the Osprey
Electra the Osprey

After seeing these two, we headed out with the USACE rangers to survey the birds around the east side of Abiquiu Lake.

Water safety is first and foremost!
Water safety is first and foremost!
Braving the wind and chilly temperatures in the name of science.
Braving the wind and chilly temperatures in the name of science.

Below is our final bird list for the day.

Bird List for Earth Day at Abiquiu Lake

4/25/15

  • 1 Great Blue Heron
  • 10 Canada Geese
  • 15 Western Grebes
  • 2 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 5 Pie-Billed Grebes
  • 45 Coots
  • 1 Red-Tailed Hawk
  • 2 Ravens
  • 1 Ruddy Duck (F)
  • 1 Rock Wren
  • 20 Double-Crested Cormorant nests with around 40 Cormorants
  • 3 Goose nests
  • Several Mallards
  • 1 Golden Eagle (not Grace!)
  • 2 Turkey Vultures
  • 1 Osprey (not Electra!)
  • 1 Cooper’s Hawk

Christy