It’s the last day of Sky School and we had soooo much fun. It was super duper amazing. We completed our inquiry projects last night. The posters were tantalizing. Our science taste buds did an Irish river dance to the flavors of our research. One student reported that “There was so much data that I popped a blood vessel in my brain.” We had great food that fueled our brains. We’re all very salty from playing the game ‘Mafia’ until 10:30 PM.
Mr. Breckenfeldspar is a big fan of rocks and sunrise hikes. He brought his Geiger counter and we were able to detect decaying isotopes in igneous rocks. We also met a man named Mack who lives in a shack on top of a crack (in granitic gneiss) who thinks fire is whack. His house was cold and he had a new door ‘cuz his stuff was stol’d by a criminal bold. He also enjoys photography.
Here’s a summary of what we learned: hard work is fun; geology is a science; sandwiches can be dangerous if you are unaware of the ingredients; ‘dirt’ is a four letter word, but so is ‘soil; “if it’s green and it don’t float, it’s epidote;” there’s an important difference between dirt and soil; and the ‘great attractor’ of galaxies might be real. iBananas!
We are the Pinch Testers, we study different types of soils by taking our fingers and pinching them and differentiating the composition of the soil. As we woke up this morning a surprise was waiting outside. We walked out the door and it was snowing! So unfortunately no pinch testing today. However we are finished with our fieldwork so we don’t have to go outside.
Yesterday in our fieldwork we taped off boundaries around an area for measuring the diameter of trees so that we could determine the smallest to largest size of trees and take data about them. This data will help us to determine the age and health of those trees which will give us insight into which of them are more likely to fall in windy conditions. The extra pieces of information that we took about these trees were their conditions which were if they were burned, standing, or alive, and if they had parasites or mistletoe. To determine the age of the trees we took cores from the trees and plan to count the rings. After we collected all the data we decided to collect more information about the trees from the sap from fallen trees. We went around with petri dishes and scraped sap into three individual dishes, and today we will attempt to test the sugar content and pH of the sap to see if any of those are correlated to the tree’s health. This evening we are going to present our results to other groups and we are excited to see what the outcomes may be!
The Trailblazers, led by hydrologist extraordinaire Kirstin, have had an eventful few days on Mt. Lemmon, marked by some of the sootiest soot, coldest snow, and dirtiest soil ever to have been encountered by an inquiry group in the storied history of the Sky School. We began our investigations into soil carbon levels on Thursday by bushwacking up a recently scorched Summerhaven slope. Among the ashes of the recent Carter Canyon fire, we endured treacherous slopes and horrible atmospheric conditions to collect data on the depth of the soil organic layer.
Trailblazers site our first soil profiles at the Carter Canyon site
Steep slopes, excellent folks
Sooty knee problems
Digging deep to find the clay layer
Friday morning, our sojourn to collect the game camera was interrupted by a stampede of wild beasts. Standing two and half feet tall, with fearsome talons and an armor of feathers, the mere appearance of these three creatures could scare even the most foolhardy of graduate students. Thankfully, we Trailblazers were familiar with the wild turkeys from our last Thanksgiving dinner, and were not afraid.
Snowy times in the forest
Keeping warm on log
Afterward, our data collection efforts led us into a vicious snowstorm, with visibility limited to mere hundreds of feet. True to our name, we Trailblazers struggled against the accumulating snow as we dug the deepest soil profiles of our inquiry thus far. All this strife was not for naught, as we have just finished preparing our presentation for the hallowed 3rd Annual Flowing Wells High School Sky School Symposium.
Out in a blaze of glory, we are:
On our first day at Sky School, we traveled up Mount Lemmon for a night of astronomy and exploration. We set up an infrared camera trap to look for wildlife on our campus. We captured video of a white throated wood rat, yellow eyed junco, cliff chipmunk, and a mountain cottontail. Some animals were more vigilant than others. The cottontail and the junco were more vigilant than the wood rat or chipmunk. We wondered if there was an unseen predator lurking in the darkness beyond the camera.
After some delicious tacos, we embraced the cold to explore the stars. We observed Sirius, Castor, Betelgeuse, the moon, the Sombrero Galaxy, the Eskimo Nebula, Jupiter and three of its moons, and the grand finale of a star cluster, resulting in many oohs and ahhs. After seeing those objects through the 24 inch Phillips telescope, we learned to use star charts to find many of the same stars on our own, as well Venus and the North Star. After peering out at the stars, we gazed out at the man-made stars of Tucson, and discussed light pollution and how dark Tucson actually is.
We have all been up to Mt. Lemmon before, but this experience was the best. We took a phenomenal hike around the meadow loop trail and learned a lot about microorganisms and the dominant trees up here. We learned about Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, and Quaking aspen. These awesome trees envelop the mountain. Also on the trail we saw the awesome “Great Grandfather tree”. This extremely old and beautiful tree has nodules all over its base. We learned how fungi have a beneficial relationship with the tree’s roots and how some bacteria can create nodules by digesting root exudates and turning them into hormones. The tree can then utilize the hormones and grow around the bacteria encapsulating it.
Microbes are cool yo-also they keep trees happy and healthy.
-Barky bark aka The Bark Beetles
We rolled up to Sky School in some in some swagged out jackets thanks to the Old Pueblo Rotary Club. We traveled up the mountain throughout the day collecting data. We already understood that atmospheric pressure and temperature changes with elevation, but we wondered if we would observe a similar trend using surface temperature data. We hypothesized that surface temperature would decrease with increasing elevation. We were also interested in looking for patterns in plants with increasing elevation that might relate to surface temperature, so we also measured leaf size and relative greenness. To quantify greenness of leaves, we developed a color standard and assigned numbers to various shades of gray (1= very light gray and 3=very dark grey). We used a camo hat with various shades of green as our color standards. We found in increase in leaf greenness with increasing elevation. Our surface temperature results were less straightforward, but provided us a great opportunity to discuss confounding factors and the importance of experimental design.
During our hike, we observed some soils that looked like mud, or that was very wet. We discovered that the soil was totally dry. The wet appearance likely came from the soil being “fresh to death” (recently weathered rock with a lot of mica).
We are looking forward to tacos tonight and heading up to the astronomy observatory and checking out the stars!
Even though we’re leaving, Gregory School has had a lot of fun. This is what the Kick Aspen research group (mentored by Pacifica) has done so far:
1. As part of our research on the ages of Douglas firs and aspen trees, we bored holes in giant aspen trees with a special drill to remove a pencil-thin piece of wood so we could count all the rings to determine their ages. One tree was 122 years old, and the other was 164 years old.
2. Our research group had found some of the largest aspen trees we have ever seen, some so big we could not wrap our arms all the way around them.
3. Several of our group members fell on the steep slopes, but the group worked as a team helped them back up.
4. We kicked aspen presenting our research last night!
Measuring a really large aspen tree.
Demonstrating the use of the special drill (increment borer) on a Douglas fir
Even though it was a horrendously windy day we did the unthinkable and went for a hike. The meadow was by far our favorite part of the mountain and was worth the hike. Once we got there we realized how awesome the meadow was and it protected us from the wind. We spent the next several hours taking in the scenery, learning about lichens, and playing games. Walking through the meadow we quickly realized at the entrance to the meadow lichen were only on the bottom of the trees and everywhere else in the meadow the lichen are on the top of the trees. We thought maybe they are located where there is more light-because lichens are made up of a photosynthetic organism and a fungus. Gary Fell! This was while we were playing the notoriously awesome Predator vs. Prey activity. An activity which allowed us to appreciate the environment and learn about how animals survive. We finished the hike singing SpongeBob SquarePants, taking selfies, and dancing in the wind.
The Hippie Gypsies (Phil’s group)
Who’s cooler than The Gregory School? No one!!! No, really. We’ve spent the last two days on Mt. Lemmon hiking around, checking out rocks and lichen, and doing cool science experiments. And, it’s pretty cold out. We are lichen it a lot. We’ve been getting a lot of lichtures. We witnessed some termites that took a lichen to a tree. We’re sorry that our jokes are in spore taste. The grad fellows are really fungis. Our project is really starting to mushroom, and our group members have become symbiosisters and symbiobros. Are we professional comedians? Of course knot. But, we hope a lot of these sappy puns willow make you laugh. Now I left you Aspen many questions, but I can Ash-sure you that we will leaf Sky School with lots of know-LEDGE (as in cliffs) and good memories. ‘Ledge’ is written in boulder so that you’ll get it.
On our second day in Sky School, we went to collect data for our experiment. We hiked through the woods and found an opening. We measured the temperature and diameter of the trees surrounding us. On our twenty-fourth tree, we decided to take a snack break. We had pretzels and popcorn. When we were eating it, we got tired and we decided to sit on a log. The log started to teeter and we acted as if it were a teeter-totter. Then someone decided to sit on a shaky part of the log. Everyone started to scream and suddenly – the log broke! Ben laughed with us and said, “You should’ve see your faces!” We all had fun hiking our way back to the research site. We collected data for 30 different trees in the end.