Written by Melissa Hiner and Slava Trifonov
The Seattle Waldorf High School senior class has been working on starting a new and exciting project for the high school. We were given the task of designing and creating a chemistry project for future ninth grade students, as part of our own Biochemistry morning lesson block. This ongoing project will be looking at the water quality in the wetlands of Magnuson Park. Using multiple experiments, we can test the water and surroundings to determine the condition of the water. Taking observations and recording numbers gives us data to put into one big database that will eventually be filled throughout the next few years. With all this data we will be able to monitor the health of the wetlands at Magnuson Park.
Each Wednesday morning at the start of our in-person days we met at the wetlands to explore experiments and record data. We used the same eight experiments for four weeks, and each experiment was important to our research. We used water samples and test strips to test for heavy metals and pH levels, chemicals tests for nitrate and phosphate levels, thermometers to record water temperature, a long tube to check the turbidity, and lastly we took observations of wildlife and plant species. By using the same experiments each week we were able to observe changes in the environment.
These water parameters are vital to preserving the delicate balance of various conditions that determine the health of the environment. Taking ecological surveys of the plant and animal life within the wetlands allows us to see if there are any invasive species and gives us an understanding of how hospitable the current conditions are to the native flora and fauna. And while the presence or absence of certain species may give us a clue on the state of the wetlands, to figure out how and why the environment is changing we need precise scientific data on the composition of the wetlands. Chlorine, ammonia, and heavy metals can poison aquatic life, while drastically high or low pH levels create a deadly environment. High levels of nutrients such as phosphate and nitrates leads to excessive algae growth which can result in low levels of oxygen (anoxia), results of which are often deadly for fish and other animals in the water. Some factors that we tested for are more variable than others, especially water temperature and turbidity (cloudiness). Both of those factors change seasonally and life in the wetlands adjusts accordingly, however, unprecedented changes in these factors may impact life in negative ways. Each and every change, no matter how small, may impact the environment and is important to categorize and take note of.
This year’s twelfth grade class created a Field Manual for future students to use, so that they will know how to test these water factors and will understand how each affects a healthy ecosystem. Our hope for this project is that it will be continued for many years by the ninth grade students in their Organic Chemistry block. We hope it will help them to observe and measure, to learn about chemistry, to connect them to the place where they live, and to care about protecting vibrant urban ecosystems.