Fall Donner Summit Program Blog

This Fall, Headwaters Science Institute led two separate programs with high school students from College Prep High School and Sacramento Waldorf High School. Both schools enjoyed overnight stays at the Clair Tappaan Lodge located on Donner Summit. Clair Tappaan Lodge offered these students a unique opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the Tahoe National Forest while having quick access to the large Van Norden Meadow wetland located just down the hill. Headwaters instructors introduced students to various ecological topics of interest in the area and set the students loose to start asking unique scientific questions of their own.

After formulating hypotheses for their research questions, students designed experiments before heading out into the field for data collection. The students research interest generally fell into tree categories: aquatic macroinvertebrate, water quality, and parasites infecting local trees.

A group of students from Sac Waldorf studied how the pine needles affected the pH of surrounding soils. They found that the soil underneath pine tree canopies was less basic than soils tested elsewhere and hypothesized that this was due to the acidity of the needles dropped.

Students from College Prep High School investigated aquatic invertebrate populations in the waterways of Van Norden Meadow. They found that the salinity of the water was higher where a dam had recently been removed compared to an area below the dam. They were surprised to find that the number of aquatic invertebrates was much higher in the same area above where the dam once was. Despite relatively high levels of total dissolved solids, the water quality was generally very good in this area. They hypothesized that they found more invertebrates here because this location was less prone to drying out in warmer months.

Students spent the bulk of their second day exploring the area and collecting data for their projects, before returning back to the lodge analyze their findings.

Each research group graphed their data and created a presentation to share with their peers informing them on their particular discoveries.

It was a fulfilling week spent with these students as they explored this unique ecosystem for the first time. In student exit surveys from these to schools, we were gratified to find comments left for us including “I hope we get to do more trips like this in the future,” and “science is way more fun than I originally thought it was.”

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