That's in my water?!?!
That's just one comment heard from sixth-graders examining a plankton sample under a microscope during their ride Monday on the Grand Valley University research vessel W.G. Jackson, studying water system health in Lake Michigan and Muskegon Lake. It was a wet day for the afternoon crowd, but still a great time on the lake!
We've been learning about the scientific process in science class, designing questions and experiments, collecting and analyzing data, and drawing conclusions that accept or reject their original hypotheses. Their experience conducting research on this boat reinforced the scientific process in a real-world setting.
On board the W.G. Jackson, we collected data to compare and contrast the ecology of Lake Michigan and Muskegon Lake, taking into account three factors that influence the lakes: physical, biological, and chemical. Physical factors include depth, color, turbidity (how far you can see into the water), and temperature. Biological factors include the plant and animal life present in the water. Chemical factors include the pH level and level of dissolved oxygen. All of these factors interact with each other and with the lake, affecting the health of the lake and thus the plant and animal life in the lake ecosystem.
As part of the process of studying biological factors, students conducted soil and water samples to determine trophic levels of the lakes, and they had to classify their samples as oligotrophic (like Lake Michigan, with a lot of sand and not a lot of organic material), mesotrophic (more organic presence) and eutrophic (like a swamp, since organics have lived there and built up over time).
We found the samples from Muskegon Lake are quite black, because there's a lot of organic decomposition. We also looked for bloodworms in the samples, which give rise to midgeflies, a food source for fish - a biotic factor. Muskegon Lake samples had a high number of bloodworms, signifying that it's a healthy lake biologically because the food chain has a healthy starting point. We also examined plankton density - figuring out how dense each cubic cm of water was for plankton -- because that is food for the fish as well.
We collected data and used our knowledge to classify the lake based on biology! This is actually used by scientists at GVSU to monitor water quality in both lakes and will be displayed right on the boat alongside the findings of other student-researchers.
At the end of the trip we discussed the presence of invasive species and what effect they have on the lake ecosystem, and how to restore the lake's natural healthy food chain. Mussels eat food that native species would eat, endangering native species.
As part of our outdoor education program's emphasis on stewardship, this trip reinforced our understanding of God's creation and our role within it in two important ways.
First, we learned that we can care for the lakes from our homes by understanding that what we put in our drains affects the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes comprise 90% of the country's freshwater source and we have a crucial calling to care for this, because fresh water is a limited resource. Damaging the Great Lakes impacts a large number of people. So then, how can we better care for this resource that the Lord has gifted us with and entrusted to us to care for?
Second, this reinforced that it's our responsibility as Christian to ask question about these things so that we can be wise stewards, like what materials should be used in household products that could wind up in our lakes? This experience is part of our goal at WSCS of giving students skills to ask these questions so they can avoid negative impacts in the future.