Testing Water Quality on the Rio Chama

Testing water quality is critical for knowing if the waterway is suitable for organisms to thrive; so this week, our class analyzed the water quality on the Rio Chama through multiple sampling techniques.

Before we began testing water quality, though, we had a surprise for the students …

When I’m not teaching River Classroom, I also work in the ICU at NMWC, so I brought along a juvenile male Cooper’s Hawk to release back into the wild. I explained the natural history and ecology of Cooper’s Hawks to the students and then it was time to set him free!

Once the excitement settled down, we split the students into 2 groups. The first group collected benthic macroinvertebrates using a 1m x 1m square net with 2 students holding it on each side. Then two other students go 2m upstream from the net and kick up macroinvertebrates from the substrate, while slowly walking towards the net. This mode of collection is a version of the kick-sampling method.

img_0162
Kick-sampling in the Rio Chama for benthic macroinvertebrates
img_1987
Finished sampling and now getting ready to start picking off the benthics

Students then removed all the macroinvertebrates from the net using forceps and put them into a collection jar with isopropyl alcohol for the teachers to count and ID at a later time. Each sampling site was given a separate collection jar and GPS coordinates were taken at the sites as well.

img_1976
Picking off all the benthics from the net using forceps and patience 🙂
img_1999
Checking out and trying to identify the various benthics collected from the kick-sample

The second group learned all the different components of testing water quality through a fun activity of making foldables! We explained each component (e.g. pH, conductivity, etc.), what units they are measured in, and gave a brief explanation/example.

Once that task was complete, the students collected several samples of water from the river so we could test the various components using Vernier water quality probes.

img_1963
Miss Christy explaining how to safely and properly use the water quality testing probes
img_1967
Testing a river sample and reading the measurement
img_0178
All watching over the monitor and reading the values for a water quality test
img_1971
Ranger Austin Kuhlman came to talk with us about the importance of testing water quality

The students switched groups after lunch so everyone got a chance to participate in both activities.

This was our first ‘real’ river sampling session, so students familiarized themselves with the numerous water quality testing techniques. The class will be conducting at least two more river samplings this year, so stay tuned for what happens next!

Testing Water Quality in Tierra Amarilla

Chemistry is an important basis for learning about water quality, and now that our students in Tierra Amarilla are familiar with the basics, we decided to add water quality testing to our scientific agenda.

NMWC uses Vernier water quality probes and has a Project Quality Assurance Project Plan (PQAPP) in place with New Mexico Environment Department’s Surface Water Quality Bureau so that our data can be submitted to the state for monitoring purposes.

img_9538
A student tests the pH of the water
img_9574
Testing the level of nitrates in the water
img_9541
Testing the level of dissolved oxygen in the water as the data recorder waits for a number to record

img_9571

While half of the class was testing water quality, the other half donned their waders and set off into the Rio Chama to survey benthic macroinvertebrates.

img_9564

After collecting benthic macroinvertebrates, students brought their sample back to shore. We selected a few specimens to examine up close and saved the rest for counting.

img_9556

img_9557

Students use a dichotomous key to identify these invertebrates.

img_9544

We had a very productive day of data collection, and we ended by asking these young scientists to summarize our results. We’ll continue to monitor this location as seasons change to gain a better idea of how healthy this river is during different parts of the year.

Exploring Cañones Creek

This week for River Classroom, we took the students to Cañones Creek, a tributary of the Rio Chama, to discuss the differences between a creek and river. This was the students’ first time at the creek, and they had a blast!

20140102_083321
Wading through Canones Creek

Before we began exploring, we talked about how a creek and river differ in terms of water characteristics, plant life, and animal activity. We also introduced a new term… invasive species.

20140102_082748
Looking over the NM Invasive Plant Species handout

As a class, we defined what an invasive species is as well as the impact it has on the environment it was introduced to and the ecosystem as a whole. Students were then given the task to try to find at least one of the eight invasive plant species that were on their handouts.

Next, the students were asked to find signs of animal life along the creek. Within minutes, the class found a cow skeleton. They also discovered an abandoned beaver den, raccoon and muskrat tracks, and a dead tree with numerous woodpecker holes. Before starting to look for benthic macroinvertebrates, the students recorded their observations of the creek itself as well as their findings in their science notebooks.

In previous classes, the students received a brief tutorial about benthic macroinvertebrates and their role in indicating water quality. So this time we went a little more in depth and discussed the various benthic species and in which types of water each would be found. To look for benthics, students examined the bottoms of rocks in a riffle above a deep pool in the creek. The most abundant species they found were caddisfly larvae, followed by midges. Once the students were done collecting benthics, we discussed what their findings tell us about the creek’s water quality; it was concluded the water was only fairly clean because there was a low diversity of benthic macroinvertebrates. The class was then asked, “Why do you think the water quality is only fairly clean?,” to which they responded, “Maybe because there’s a lot of cows using this creek since we found a skeleton and lots of poop.” BINGO!

20140102_083153
Exploring Canones Creek

Since the students had so much fun exploring Cañones Creek, it didn’t leave us very much time to collect data from the Rio Chama. To make the most of our time, the class divided into 3 groups with each group being responsible for one of the three tasks: find 1 invasive species from the handout, find 1-2 benthics, and find signs of animal life. Group 1 found a lot of Tamarisk; Group 2 found Caddisfly and Stonefly larvaes; and Group 3 found fox scat.

Based on our findings, our class concluded that the river had better water quality and more invasive plants than the creek. However, the creek had more animal activity.

20140102_093238
Examining Canones Creek

Overall, the students learned that a creek is different from a river because it is smaller/narrower than a river and does not branch out like a river does. Also, a creek will have more animal activity than a river because it safer for critters to access since it’s shallower and the current is typically slower. Lastly, the students learned that an invasive species is not native to that specific environment and has a negative impact on its surroundings.

We had a really great time exploring new land and learning new concepts. We can’t wait until the next adventure      🙂

McCurdy High School Explores the Rio Chama

There’s one River Classroom that we haven’t blogged about yet this year, and that’s McCurdy High School! High schools students have many demands on their time, so this group meets once per month to explore different aspects of Earth Science.

This month we headed to the Rio Chama to learn about riparian ecosystems.

fullsizerender
Waders in a row on a gorgeous fall morning

Many of these students had never been to the Rio Chama before, so we began by discussing the river, where it is, where it begins, where it ends, and where the water in the river comes from. To allow our students to explore the area a little, we discussed different types of maps and had our students create their own maps of our study area.

fullsizerender2
Discussing what to include on the maps

img_9229

After each student had explored the area and created a map, we set out the maps on a picnic table. The students circulated around the table and noted similarities and differences.

img_9247

Once we had a better grasp on the path of the Rio Chama we began collecting scientific data. One group worked on testing water quality (temperature, pH, turbidity, conductivity, nitrate levels, and dissolved oxygen levels), while the other group collected and counted benthic macroinvertebrates. The groups switched places so that all students got to collect both types of data and record it on their data sheet.

img_9256

img_9268
Measuring the conductivity of the water

100_5457

100_5421
One of our fantastic McCurdy teachers points out caddis on a rock

100_5433

100_5448
Getting a closer look at a benthic macroinvertebrate

fullsizerender4

img_9290

We had a really wonderful day and collected a wealth of scientific data that lead us to conclude that while the Rio Chama at this location isn’t pristine, it’s not in bad shape in many ways.

img_9315

We look forward to our next adventure with these students!

Chama Elementary at the Rio Chama

Exploring new places is always exciting, and exploring a new stretch of the Rio Chama with our students from Chama Elementary was a fantastic experience! Many of our students have been fishing at this particular location with their families, but this was their first time to view this river with the eyes of a scientist.

img_8683
First time in waders and headed to the river
img_8702
Discussing the river

chama-rc9%ef%80%a216

For many students it was their first time in waders. We discussed wader safety and headed on in! We also began picking up rocks and looking at benthic macroinvertebrates. Later in the year, students will survey and count these aquatic insects.

chama-rc9%ef%80%a216%ef%80%a23
Benthic macroinvertebrates can be found by picking up rocks in the river.

We also took this opportunity to discuss maps and location. Students made observations about several different types of maps before creating their own maps of the area we were exploring.

img_8679
Carefully considering a physical map of New Mexico

img_8693

img_8727
Drawing a compass rose on a map with a compass
img_8703
Drawing maps

We also reviewed compass skills. These will be really important later as we move on to latitude and longitude.

This was our first trip into the field with the students from Chama Elementary. We all had a great time at the river, and our students are prepared to begin some serious data collection on our next trip!

Great Minds Think Alike

The school year is winding down, and this week we said goodbye to another one of our River Classrooms. Our 4th-6th grade students from Española met one last time at the Rio Chama to test water quality, collect benthic macroinvertebrates, and review everything that we’ve learned this year.

Everybody was excited to get waders on once again!

IMG_8715

IMG_8717
Aspirating our Kestrel weather sensor to get an accurate air temperature
IMG_8720
Taking GPS coordinates and measuring water temperature

\IMG_8727

\

IMG_8740
Reviewing our benthic macroinvertebrate findings

Our review activity was one final River Classroom challenge! It consisted of 15 tasks, such as find an invasive plant, name it, and find its GPS coordinates.

IMG_8750

IMG_8751
Discussing the challenge
IMG_8753
Recording GPS coordinates

IMG_8748

It was a wonderful day to end the year, and our brilliant students did a fantastic job on their final challenge. We were very pleased with how much they’ve learned this year!

We’ll see these students again in the fall!

 

Graphing data in Tierra Amarilla

Last Thursday we headed back up to Tierra Amarilla for a classroom day with our 5th and 6th graders at Tierra Amarilla Elementary. We’ve collected some great water quality data and identified some benthic macroinvertebrates since last fall, and we took this opportunity to create graphical displays of our data that we can present at our open house event.

IMG_6912

IMG_6915
Beginning a poster is always the most difficult part!

IMG_6919

IMG_6921

IMG_6926

IMG_6927

IMG_6930

IMG_6936

IMG_6937

IMG_6939

IMG_6950

IMG_6953

It’s no surprise that these students are wonderful scientists. We’ve learned that about them over the course of the year. Presenting your findings is a very important part of the scientific process, and these students buckled down and created some absolutely wonderful displays of their data!

IMG_6955

IMG_6959

IMG_6963

IMG_6956

IMG_6961

Each poster display was a little different. Students decided to use number lines, histograms, tables, and figures to display their data. These kids are excellent scientists, and we’re proud to present their work to the community at our open house!