Headwater Science Institute’s winter of studying the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada continued last week with the completion of the Tahoe Expedition Academy Snow Science Field Program.
It was two days of fun-filled and informative research, the first day for ninth- and 10th-grade biology students and the second for 11th- and 12th-grade earth science students.
“I never knew what I skied on everyday was so complex,” one student said.
The days were a shortened version of Headwaters’ Research Experience, an immersive, months-long program where students develop a formal research paper, allowing students to see how snow depth and density is measured and what kinds of water-quality metrics can be measured from snow melt.
Like the full Research Experience, these students then completed a mini research project of their own to experience how the scientific process works.
Here are some more quotes from the two field days:
“I loved learning about how snow layers are formed and seeing it in real life.”
“I got to learn about the importance of snow and different factors [that can be measured] in snow. I got to be outside and have a blast.”
“I had a lot of fun and learned about albedo and its impact on rate of snow melt.”
Building a snow cave at the 2022 Bay School Snow Science Camp.
Do roads impact water quality in the snowpack? How does a forest or an open meadow change snowpack depth?
These are just some of the questions students examined at the recently completed Headwaters Science Institute’s Bay School Snow Science Camp in the Sierra Nevada’s Olympic Valley – topped off with a healthy portion of cross country skiing, playing in the snow and even learning how to build an emergency snow shelter.
“I thoroughly enjoyed this trip, from going out into the meadow of snow and taking samples, to cross country skiing,” Bay School camper Coco told Headwaters. “I learned so much over the course of this trip, especially about the chemicals in snow, such as pH and how that affects drinking water and the native biotic species.”
Arie Koshkin, a graduate student studying snow science at University of Nevada Reno, brought her expertise to the camp examining the effects of fire on snow pack. She even brought some cool instruments from her lab for the students to use.
“I really enjoyed being in the snow and learning about its role – from the chemical composition of snow to skiing,” Arie, another camper, said. “I also met a lot of new people and found friends with similar interests in science. This trip was really amazing and I can’t wait to continue exploring science.”
She was a middle schooler with a passion for bird watching when she joined Headwater Science Institute’s Research Experience just a year ago. Now she’s a published researcher attending college at 14 years old.
Lara Tseng’s stunning educational evolution, from middle-schooler to full-time student in the Early Entrance Program at CSULA, is just one example of the success experienced by graduates of Headwater’s Research Experience. In fact, she’s one of four recent Headwaters students who had their research manuscripts published in the Journal of Emerging Investigators.
Colin Saltzgaber, a senior at the Nueva School in San Mateo, Calif., cited his published work on vegetation in the Yosemite Valley as a primary contributing factor to his acceptance into the University of Pennsylvania.
Thresia Vazhaeparambil, a senior at Harker School in San Jose, Calif., published her research studying the dams, reservoirs, and watersheds in the foothills surrounding her home.
And in 2020, Monta Vista High School student Ryan Li was published for his research on the relationship between macroinvertebrates, water quality, and the health of a creek near his home.
A huge congratulations to all four of our students! Below is more on each project and how the Research Experience helped in their journey to being published.
A passion for birds turns into an educational opportunity
“I just never was expecting something like a manuscript to be a part of the equation, but Headwaters encouraged me to do that,” Lara Tseng said. “My research mentor helped me with writing and editing the manuscript because, especially in middle school, there really isn’t a lot of that incorporated into the curriculum. Headwaters and the people there definitely guided me through the experience so I didn’t really feel like I was alone or afraid to approach something.”
She called the impetus to her research as a “combination of interest and coincidence,” a good starting point for many good scientific inquiries. She’s since enrolled in CSULA, one of the few programs in the nation that allows students 16 and under to be full-time university students.
“For me, the Research Experience changed a lot of things about my perception of science,” she said. “… It taught me about the different aspects of a study: Going from the initial observation that leads to a question that you’re interested in, discovering the answer to it and then hypothesizing and creating a methodology that actually works and then actually going through with that methodology and producing results and drawing some sort of conclusion from those results.
“One thing that surprised me is the results; they don’t have to match up with your hypothesis. It can be completely different, and it can still be really important impactful research.”
A dream to attend UPenn becomes a reality
Colin Saltzgaber has had his eye on attending the University of Pennsylvania, where his dad graduated from, for as long as he can remember. He said his Research Experience was a big part of being accepted, specifically a letter of recommendation from Headwaters Executive Director Meg Seifert.
“Meg touched upon not only the work I did with Headwaters, but also she wrote about broader things like work ethic and how I contributed to help Headwaters outside of science, whether it was through donations or giving talks helping other students out,” said Colin, who plans on studying mineralogy and geology at Penn. “The Headwaters program itself, it was one of things I talked a lot about, ways I could back up my interest in mineralogy and geology.”
“The rendering of the proposed expanded reservoir will increase the reservoir’s operational capacity up to 140,000 acre-feet of water,” she said. “Dams have many widely known benefits to humans, but not many people are aware of the harmful effects they can have on their surrounding environment.
“An expansion of this magnitude will have significant and severe impacts on the reservoir’s ecosystem, which is why I wanted to further study dams and the nitrification of their surroundings.”
She echoed Colin’s sentiments of the publication process being arduous but worth it.
“I was not expecting the depth of feedback that I received and was surprised by the extensive nature of the process,” she said. “… It was reviewed by three scientists with relevant expertise in the specific field in addition to the editors and reviewers of the journal itself. While the process seemed intimidating at first, it was an exciting learning experience.”
Finding large-scale climate phenomena in his own backyard
He said his favorite part of the process was “the opportunity to delve deeply into an area of science which I have been interested in while helping to make new potential discoveries which relate to that field of science as well as the study area.”
He said the publication process helped him improve his ability to translate findings into writing.
“I would say to a student considering entering this program that they should definitely give it a go,” he said. “Even if you don’t have an exact idea of what your research project would look like, the people who run the program will help you narrow down and guide you through the process of writing a research paper.”
During the last two weeks, Headwaters Science Institute worked with the entire TKA 7th grade to help students conduct their own independent scientific research. The highlight of this program was the Friday field trip to Alviso Marina County Park where students put their own experiments into action studying the salt marsh wetlands in the South San Francisco Bay. A big thank you to all the parent drivers who made this program possible and we hope to see you all at the science presentation night at TKA on Thursday the 17th.
We are very excited to share some of the creative research projects designed by the students at TKA. Read on to hear about a few of these great research projects!
Group 1: Raymond, Aarav, Emily, Elisee
Question: How do the chemicals in the polluted pond affect the number of insects around it?
Claim: There will be more insects at the non-polluted pond than the polluted pond. It may be harder for the insects to find food at the polluted pond.
Group 2: Nathan Leong, Daniel Lee, Joanna Lee
Question: How does the amount of salt in the water affect transparency?
Claim: That the saltwater would make the water less clear. We think that the dissolved salt would make the lake denser and less clear.
Group 3: Andrew Scharfy, Natalie Thwaites, Tega. Sebeni, Christopher Wang
Question: How do Savvanah sparrows affect the population of crustaceans, snails, and grass.
Claim: They keep the populations from sky rocketing. We think this is true because the sparrows eat the crustaceans, snails, and eat the grass seeds, which prevents them from overpopulation.
Group 4: Camila, Connor, Kevin, Libby
Question: How has the trash in the environment affected the water and the land around it?
Claim: The water will be polluted and some animals may not be able to survive there anymore. People leave trash on the streets and the trash can be transferred to the salt ponds. Then the trash brought by the current will be washed ashore and then pile up.
Group 5: Reid Black, Alex Mazin, Angelina Komashko, Jenine Fong
Question: How does the nearness to an active saltwater pond affect the amount of grass?
Claim: We think that the closer we go to the saltwater the less grass there will be. Because organisms can’t survive on salt.
Group 6: Sofia P., Caleb K., Brandon M., Italia A.
Question: How do the herbivores affect the plant population?
Claim: We think that with more herbivores there will be fewer plants and fewer herbivores should lead to more plants. We think our claim will be true because organisms that feed off each other are most likely to change over time.
Group 7: Hengrui, Kenneth, Morgan, Natalie
Question: How does the distance away from saltwater affect the height of the grass?
Claim: We think the further away grass is from saltwater, the taller the grass will be. This is because salt might decrease the quality of the water the plants use.
All of these TKA students have been working hard to graph and analyze the data they collected during their field day. Student pre and post-program surveys suggest that these projects help students gain valuable critical thinking skills. Between the start and end of the program students ability to correctly interpret complex graphs increased by 21% moreover, 97% of students report overcoming a challenge to complete their projects. All of us at Headwaters are excited to see their presentations on the evening of the 17th and hope to see you there as well.
Meg and Dan just finished an incredible weekend with the AP Environmental Science students from the Head Royce School in Oakland. These 14 students and two science teachers spent the weekend at Donner Summit doing research projects. This group did 5 different research projects with wide-ranging topics, but all projects were based around learning more about the ecosystems on Donner Summit.
Four girls, Hana, Nora, Aicha, and Chloe that were interested in soil nutrient distribution in the ecosystem. They focused on phosphorus because it is a limiting nutrient that can affect plant growth. They ran transects away from the lake for 50 meters and found that there wasn’t a big variation in phosphorus, but that is most abundant close to the lake bed. They concluded that overall the donner summit area is mainly depleted of phosphorus in the soil.
Jihae, Olivia, and Siena studied algae in two different waterways, the Headwaters of the South Yuba River in Van Norden Meadow, and Castle Creek where it meets Van Norden meadow. They chose this topic because meadows and creeks are critical water sources home to a range of species. While algae can be a great food source for some animals and insects algae blooms can deplete the water of oxygen and make it hard for animals to live there. They found that both Van Norden and Castle Creek had low levels of phosphate, nitrate, and nitrite as well as algae. Overall, they concluded that both waterways are very healthy and functioning well.
Matt and Daniel spent the weekend in the forest. They studied how do soil conditions (pH and moisture) affect tree growth and composition? They found that there was not a strong relationship between soil pH or moisture and tree size. They concluded that they could only test the pH of the very top layer of soil, but that the tree is mainly accessing nutrients from deep in the ground. If they were to try this again they would try to get soil samples from deeper.
Awo, Tess, and Jonathan studied the differences in water quality and macroinvertebrate diversity and abundance between Van Norden Meadow and Castle Creek. They found that the water quality was very similar between the two sites, however, the temperature was significantly colder in the creek and that diversity and abundance of bugs was significantly higher in Castle Creek than in Van Norden meadow. They concluded that the creek is a better ecosystem for the pollution intolerant macroinvertebrates.
Lastly, Lu and Hannah studied lichen. Their research question was, “Do primary or secondary growth forests provide a better habitat for lichens?” They found that significantly more trees in primary forests have lichen growing on them. Lichen are fragile and need healthy ecosystems to grow. They concluded that the primary growth forests have better overall health and a larger diversity of trees then the secondary growth forests. It is important to maintain our forests.
Lu Paris will be presenting her research on Lichen at the Celebrate Science Symposium on October 20th.
Meg, Dan, Gene and Hanna (their science teachers) learned a lot from their diverse research interests. We want to give a huge thank you to Gene and Hanna for going the extra mile to allow their students to pursue their research interests and helping mentor them on their projects.