Summer 2019 California Project WET Gazette: Wetlands Soil Lesson, Teacher Workshops
Volume XXlV, Issue IIl
The Rainbow Underfoot
“A rainbow of soil is under our feet; red as a barn and black as a peat. It’s yellow as lemon and white as the snow; bluish gray. So many colors below. Hidden in darkness as thick as the night; The only rainbow that can form without light. Dig you a pit, or bore you a hole, you’ll find enough colors to well rest your soul.”
— A Rainbow of Soil Words (by F.D. Hole, 1985)
Spring for many brings thoughts of blooming flowers, a re-greening of the landscape, a steady warming and ever-lengthening days in anticipation of summer. For me, those are just markers counting down to when the soil underfoot has become friable enough to gather in hand to feel the moist, flour-like crumble of a good loam, the gritty texture of sand and the slickness of clay particles.
Soil is such an amazing substance. It is the genesis of the interface between the lifeless geological world of rock and mineral and the vast biological world of terrestrial landscapes — a true phenomenon of nature in a time when the label seems to be applied to everything under and including the sun!
Though it is titled ‘Wetland Soils in Living Color’ (p: 217), this Project WET activity lays out a wonderful, basic approach to engage students in the study of soil that can be applied in any terrestrial landscape. What I like best about the Project WET activity as a graduate of a natural resources program is that it doesn’t begin with an immediate dive into soil classification and physical properties — It begins with observing the terrestrial life the soil is supporting above.
Think about it. What clues can the surface vegetation provide about the properties of the soil below? Or in the case of students just starting to learn about soil, what questions can be generated by observing the surface vegetation and exploring for evidence of other lifeforms to drive engagement in studying the world of soil underfoot?
The presence of reeds, cattails or moss covering an area are classic indicators of a wetland — an area where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all or for varying periods of time during the year. But what might the patterns of drying grassland at this time of year be indicating about the soil below? Why do some areas grow trees, while others do not?
Rather than tell students how to classify or distinguish between soils, the Project WET activity has students determine characteristics that can be used to differentiate or classify soils by studying soil samples. Students new to the study of soil may need some reassurance it is okay to get their hands dirty — and a bit muddy!
Does the soil sample feel dry or damp? Does it feel sticky or does it easily fall apart? What happens to the texture if you get it wet? Does it feel gritty, slick and sticky or just slick when rubbed between fingers? How might these textures affect the movement of water through each soil?
Color is usually a characteristic students note right off the bat, whether the color is just varied shades of brown or tan or a rainbow of colors as described in the quote at the beginning of this article. Color is also a great way to get younger students into the study of soil. I’d give student teams a set of paint strips collected from local stores and ask them to locate as many soil colors as they could in a study area.
The youngest students always enjoyed ‘making paint’ out of the colors, which could be used to create something on paper or face paint each other. Middle school students tended to prefer getting into argument over face-painting, and I always got a chuckle out of how serious students would be that a given soil was ‘Sienna Rouge,’ while another team would insist it was ‘Light Coffee Sunset’ based on whichever paint company brand created their team’s color strips.
However, the arguments were perfect vehicles for getting students to talk about the need to standardize the color title to make sure everyone was talking about the same thing — then find out they were thinking like scientists as they are introduced to the ‘Wetland Soils Color Chart’ in the activity and an actual Munsell Soil Color Book. ‘2.5YR’ may not sound as exciting as the color titles from the paint companies, but students always thought it was cool that a soil scientist from one part of the world could toss out one of the Munsell codes and have its meaning understood by a soil scientist somewhere else on the planet.
Color provides clues to mineral content and the underlying geology a soil is formed from. Color also provides clues to the organic content, age, soil chemical processes and the movement of water within a soil. A soil that is ‘red as a barn’ indicates the presence of iron oxides or aluminum and good drainage, while soil ‘black as a peat’ can indicate a soil that is high in organic matter. The presence of calcium or magnesium carbonates — or sand — can lead to a soil ‘white as the snow.’ ‘Bluish gray’ colors are indicators of waterlog conditions occurring in the soil.
While visual learners are still focused on colors, kinesthetic learners will have soil in hand and be figuring out one soil feels different from another. The greater the grittiness of sand one can feel, the greater the ease water can move through the soil. Likewise, the more slick and sticky a soil feels due to clay, the more water a soil can hold to the point it could greatly restrict the movement of water to create waterlog conditions. One can leave the study of texture to just noting what they feel including level of dampness as it is written in the activity, but I use the opportunity to introduce students to the use of an NRCS soil texture key.
Another great aspect of ‘Wetland Soils in Living Color’ is one can pull off the field component of the activity is pretty easily on a field trip, on the school grounds or in a nearby park. Of course, one has to make sure it is okay to for students dig in an area and scouted the site for the easiest areas for that to occur. Despite its title, the ‘Wetland Soils color chart’ includes colors for non-wetland soils too. I’ve used it to introduce the study of soils in forest, wetland, oak savanna, floodplain and meadow communities.
With hand trowels, rulers or measuring tapes, a clip board per team with a soil sample data chart, laminated Wetlands Soil color chart and an NRCS soil texture key in hand, I’ll have student teams of 3 to 4 begin with recording their observations of the above ground features of their assigned study location, including the material they scrape aside to reach the actual surface of the soil. Student teams then record color, moisture and texture observations at the surface and at 7.5 cm, 15 cm and 30 cm below the surface so students can compare their observations at different depths and between teams.
Why would anyone want to do this with students? Soil is a prime example of a unique Earth system and place-based phenomenon that can engage students in studying relationships between Earth systems. While primary students may focus on the fact that soil differs from one location to another by color and feel, upper elementary students begin looking at soil as the interface between the geosphere and biosphere, while secondary students can return to the same soil samples to study soil interactions with the hydrosphere and atmosphere that drive the processes of change through time in physical and chemical properties as soil fills with air and dries or gets saturated with water.
“Each soil has had its own history. Like a river, a mountain, a forest, or any natural thing, its present condition is due to the influences of many things and events of the past.”
— Charles Kellogg, The Soils That Support Us, 1956
‘Wetland Soils in Living Color’ also provides a template of soil study that is directly in line with practices used by field professionals by constantly asking students to think about how the soil characteristics they observe affect the larger world connected to that soil. It is an important shift in thinking skill from viewing the world through a narrow lens of just soil properties to a broader lens of how soil properties influence and are shaped by the environment in which they are found. The other great thing about studying soil is — it is an easily available substance one can often get right outside the classroom door.
I hope you get a chance to take some soil in hand and marvel at what it took for a variety of Earth’s natural processes to interact and create whatever you have in hand — just make sure you aren’t grabbing your sample from the hang out of the neighborhood cats! Please visit the “Websites of Interest” for more on the study of soil. You’ll also find a full list of summer into fall Project WET workshops in the “Professional Development Opportunities” listed in this Gazette. For those just ready for a break, check out the list of potential “Events” to enjoy over the summer or get a jump on “Grant and Scholarship” opportunities. Hope you have a wonderful summer!
WEBSITES OF INTEREST
Soils are amazing! Life as we know it would not exist without them, as they provide countless services that benefit all humans. Clean air and water, the clothes on our backs, habitat, and food for plants and animals are just a few things we can thank soils for. These ‘goods and services’ provided by soils are called ecosystem services. As people continue to study soils, the list of their benefits to us and the environment continues to grow! Check out the sections on this page to learn more about all the important work that soils do for us!
Soils under NPS jurisdiction become protected from development and intensive use, preserving their existence and diversity. The uniqueness of the soils lies in the fact national park properties preserve special environmental conditions and soil forming factors, that working together, form unique assemblages of soils that are very often only in those park lands. These unique assemblages of soils also support unique assemblages of vegetation and wildlife.
The first impression we have when looking at bare earth or soil is of color. Bright colors especially, catch our eye. Geographers are familiar with Red Desert soils in California, Arizona, and Nevada (Arizona State Soil); and Gray Desert soils in Idaho, Utah, and Nevada (Nevada State Soil). We have the White Sands in New Mexico, Green Sands along the Atlantic Coast, and Redbeds in Texas and Oklahoma (Oklahoma State Soil). The Red River between Oklahoma and Texas carries red sediment downstream, particularly in times of flood.
Soil Texture Testing – Two Simple Methods
Soil texture testing is pretty easy. Of course you can get a lab to test for you but getting up close and personal with your soil is never a bad thing. The Jar Method, is the first method one you’ll most commonly find on beginning garden sites. The second method, the Soil Texture by Feel or Ribbon Method, was one I for some reason figured was only for experts. I mean by feel – you figure you’d need to feel a lot of soil to become reasonably good at this. But turns out it’s pretty straight-forward and for me it’s even easier and faster than the jar.
This interactive map allows you to explore a variety of soil properties throughout the continental United States. The data shown here were obtained by aggregating USDA-NCSS soil survey data (SSURGO back-filled with STATSGO where SSURGO is not available) within 800m² grid cells. This data aggregation technique results in maps that may not match the original data at any given point, and is intended to depict regional trends in soil properties at the statewide scale.
This interactive map allows you to explore USDA-NCSS soil survey data for locations throughout most of the U.S.Explore soil survey areas using an interactive Google map. View detailed information about map units and their components. This app runs in your web browser and is compatible with desktop computers, tablets, and smartphones. Check out this site for additional soil exploration apps!
Wetlands are among the most important ecosystems in the world. They produce high levels of oxygen, filter toxic chemicals out of water, reduce flooding and erosion, recharge groundwater and provide a diverse range of recreational opportunities from fishing and hunting to photography. They also serve as critical habitat for wildlife, including a large percentage of plants and animals on California’s endangered species list.
USFS: California Fens
Fens are an important and unique wetland type. Fens are peat-forming wetlands that rely on groundwater input and require thousands of years to develop and cannot easily be restored once destroyed. Fens are also hotspots of biodiversity. They are important as sites of groundwater discharge and are good indicators of shallow aquifers. In addition, fens figure prominently in nearly all scenarios of CO2-induced global change because they are a major sink for atmospheric carbon.
Hydric soils are defined as soils formed under conditions of saturation, flooding, or ponding long enough in the growing season to develop anaerobic conditions in the upper part of the soil profile. Field Indicators are an efficient on-site means to confirm the presence of hydric soil. The Field Indicators are designed to identify soils which meet the hydric soil definition without further data collection.
From this vantage point, the deck of a cargo ship skims by above, beyond the fragile levee wall that holds back the mighty San Joaquin River. A few centuries ago, standing in this same spot on the edge of Twitchell Island, we would have been covered in ten or twenty feet of peat: dark, pungent, carbon-rich soil – the muck of eons of decomposing plant matter and bacterial corpses.
James Marshall’s discovery of gold set California on a short road to statehood. It also marked the onset of major changes for the wildlife habitats in California’s Central Valley—one of the most important waterfowl wintering areas on the continent. When Marshall noticed those few shiny specks of gold in the creek below Sutter’s Mill, the Canadian and U.S. prairies were still essentially untouched. In a wet year, the prairies could send over 400 million ducks south, four to five times the number we see today.
Many states have a designated state bird, flower, fossil, mineral, etc. In California the state bird is the California Valley Quail, the state flower is the Golden Poppy, the state fossil is the Saber- toothed Cat, and the state mineral is Native Gold. Many states also have a state soil – one that has significance or is important to the state. e San Joaquin is the o cial state soil of California. Let’s explore how the San Joaquin is important to California and even the entire world.
Electric cars and solar panels are the most visible signs of California’s ambitious climate change policies. Now the state is setting its sights on a lower-tech way to cut carbon emissions: soil. It’s spending millions of dollars to help farmers grow plants, which absorb carbon and help move it into the soil where it can be stored long-term. This makes California home to some of the first official “carbon farmers” in the country.
The underlying principle of carbon farming is straightforward: to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, where it drives climate change, and put it back into plants and the pedosphere, the Earth’s living soil layer. One way farmers do this is by fertilizing their lands with nutrient-rich compost. As plants grow, they store carbon in their leaves and roots and bank it in organic matter, such as decomposing plant pieces in the soil. Soil microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi, also store carbon. This prevents the carbon from escaping into the atmosphere and joining oxygen to form carbon dioxide.
Once exposed to the elements, serpentine rock weathers to form soil. The resultant soils are a byproduct of the mineralogy of the rock, from which it is formed, but other factors come into play like rainfall, topography, and the length of time the serpentine rock has been exposed. All of these factors result in a tremendous variety of soil types derived from serpentine, yet there are characteristics of serpentine soils in common that have bearing on the plants that occupy these areas and their distinctive plant community.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES
Vast riparian forests, wetlands, vernal pools and grasslands loaded with once sprawled across a far more biologically diverse Central Valley that sprung from the seasonal ebb and flow of flood waters swelling the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and all their tributaries, from Red Bluff and Fresno to converge on the Delta. Come learn about issues plaguing California’s aging flood and water conveyance systems and the floodplain restoration can play in not only safeguarding our homes and business from flooding, but also providing other ecosystem services ranging from increased biological diversity to improving water quality - Join us in Galt, Manteca or Chico this summer – or Fresno this fall!
Enjoy a week gaining a deeper understanding of forest ecosystems and human use of natural resources. Attending educators will receive a high-quality, interdisciplinary professional development experience focused on content and practices at the heart of current forest issues – as well as Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. You’ll leave with a wealth of environmental education curriculum- including Project Learning Tree and Project WET! A $25 registration fee includes all housing, meals and materials you will receive throughout the week – and an opportunity to receive credit and a $200 stipend. The Shasta session is still open for registration!
The California Project WET program and our sponsors are eager to assist in supporting local professional development and water education outreach efforts. Our volunteer network of workshop Facilitators has been hard at work designing and organizing workshops for the upcoming seasons. Please check our website throughout the summer for new Fall workshop opportunities!
These specialized Project WET workshops provide an opportunity for new and veteran Project WET educators to interact with California climate change researchers during a day of learning about the basics of weather and climate science, how the California Department of Water Resources and other California organizations are applying this science to safeguard California water resources – and how Project WET activities can help you integrate climate science concepts and skills back in the classroom – Join us in northern Los Angeles, Solano or Riverside Counties this fall!
The EEI Curriculum is 85 K-12 grade units that teaches standards through an environmental lens, including understanding resources, conservation, where our food, energy, and water come from, and complicated decision-making processes related to climate change, green chemistry and use of our public lands. California examples make learning relevant and stimulate student involvement with the world around them. Click here to see a list of correlating Project WET activities to use with individual EEI units!
June 1 –June 9, 2019: California Invasive Species Action Week
The goals of the California Invasive Species Action Week (CISAW) are to increase public awareness of invasive species issues and promote public participation in the fight against California’s invasive species and their impacts on our natural resources. Help us celebrate California’s Invasive Species Action Week, by volunteering to take action to help stop the spread of invasive species, Find an event near you by visiting our list of 2018 Schedule of Events! Don’t forget to check out the Project WET activity ‘Invaders’ (p: 263)!
June 8, 2019: World Oceans Day
On World Oceans Day, people around our blue planet celebrate and honor the ocean, which connects us all. Get together with your family, friends, community, and the planet to start creating a better future. Working together, we can and will protect our shared ocean. Click here to find an event near you!
July 6 and August 31, 2019: California Free Fishing Days
If you are new to the sport of fishing, California offers two Free Fishing Days each year where you can fish without a sport fishing license to give fishing a try. Some areas of the state offer a Fishing in the City program where you can go fishing in the middle of major metropolitan areas. Fishing in the City and free fishing day clinics are designed to educate novice anglers about fishing ethics, fish habits, effective methods for catching fish, and fishing tackle. You can even learn how to clean and prepare your catch so you can enjoy it for dinner that night.
September 21, 2019: California Coastal Cleanup Day
California Coastal Cleanup Day welcomes more than 60,000 volunteers who help clean up our beaches, lakes, and waterways of hundreds of thousands of pounds of trash and recyclables each year. It is a great opportunity for direct community involvement to combat the marine litter problem. Please join us in the fight to preserve wildlife by taking trash out of the environment. Plan to spend a day outside connecting with your community to celebrate California!
September 28, 2019: National Public Lands Day
From our neighborhood parks to our nation’s iconic national parks and forests, public lands are the places where we live, learn, play, exercise, and relax. Now it’s your turn to give back! NPLD is a fee-free day for all federal public lands and many state parks. Bring your family, friends, students, or co-workers to spend a day outdoors giving back to our community. Your work will help ensure our public lands continue to be beautiful places for all to enjoy. Click here for more information!
September 28, 2019: Free Entrance Days in the National Parks
Celebrate National Public Lands Day with free entrance to a local National Park! Fee waiver includes: entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise. Click here to learn about discounts and special offers from park partners.
October 13 – 19, 2019: Earth Science Week 2019
Take part in Earth Science Week! “Geoscience Is for Everyone” is the 2019 theme to emphasize artistic expression as a unique, powerful opportunity for geoscience education and understanding in the 21st century. This year’s theme will engage young people and others in exploring the relationship between the arts and the Earth systems. The coming year’s theme will emphasize both the inclusive potential and the importance of the geosciences in the lives of all people.
October 18 – 20, 2019: California Science Education Conference
The California Science Education Conference is your best source of information on implementing CA NGSS in your classroom. The California Science Teachers Association (CSTA) hosts this conference to focus on what California science educators need to know to hone their craft, stay updated on standards, and apply best practices gleaned from experts throughout the state. You are invited to join us for the only conference dedicated to meeting the unique needs of California TK-12 Science teachers. Join us in San Jose this Fall!
December 9-10, 2019: California STEAM Symposium
Registration is open now for the 2019 STEAM Symposium in Anaheim! If you are interested in practical strategies and new ideas, classroom resources and curriculum, networking, and inspiration to reinvigorate your practice, the California STEAM Symposium is for you, the California STEAM Symposium is for you. Join STEAM educators from across California at this event!
GRANTS, SCHOLARSHIPS & STUDENT CONTESTS
Target Field Trip Grants - Applications Open: August 1, 2019
Some of the best learning opportunities happen outside the classroom, but it’s become increasingly difficult for schools to fund these learning opportunities. To help schools out, we launched Field Trip Grants in 2007. Since then, we’ve made it possible for millions of students to go on a field trip. Target stores award Field Trip Grants to K-12 schools nationwide. Each grant is valued up to $700. 2019 grant applications are due by noon CST Oct. 1.
Toshiba America Foundation K – 5 Grant - Deadline: October 1, 2019
Do you have an innovative idea for improving math or science instruction in your classroom? Is your idea project based learning with measurable outcomes? What do you need to make learning math and science fun for your students? K-5 grade teachers are invited to apply on-line for a $1,000 Toshiba America Foundation grant to help bring an innovative hands-on project into their own classroom.
Toshiba America Foundation 6 - 12 Grant - Deadline: November 1, 2019
Wanted: Classroom Innovators! Toshiba America Foundation accepts applications from teachers who are passionate about making science and mathematics more engaging for their students. Grade 6-12 Grant requests for $5,000 or less are accepted on a rolling basis, throughout the calendar year. Grant requests for $5,000 or more are accepted and reviewed.
California Project WET Gazette is published by the Water Education Foundation, which serves as the state coordinator and host institution for Project WET USA, a program of the Project WET Foundation.
This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Geological Survey under Grant/Cooperative Agreement No. G18AC00208. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Geological Survey. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Editor: Brian Brown, California Project WET Coordinator