Students take EPA readings

By Garrett Neese

LAKE LINDEN – Most high school coursework doesn’t wind up in the hands of a federal agency.

But that was the case Friday, as Lake Linden-Hubbell High School and Dollar Bay High School students measured plant life at the Torch Lake Superfund site in a Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative project.

The data collected by students is sent on to the Environmental Protection Agency for its monitoring of the post-remediation recovery of the Torch Lake area. Both students and the EPA benefit, said biology teacher Nick Squires.

“I think they really like getting outside – for obvious reasons, because it’s different than the classroom, but also because they realize they’re doing legitimate science, and that has them excited,” he said.

During the Lake Linden session, students grabbed tools such as GPS systems, shovels and meter sticks and set down quadrants on spots around the site.

They had different tasks for each section. The southeast quarter was for estimating the percentage of the vegetation cover.

In the southwest corner, students catalogued the plant life and ranked their findings based on how often they occurred. The northeast quadrant was for collecting a soil sample from the 0.5 to 6 inches below the surface for physical and chemical analysis.

“It’s a firm squish of moistness. But it does crumble,” 10th-grade student Carli Ongie said, holding some of the soil.

The northwest was the most labor-intensive, as students collected any above-ground plant tissue rooted in the soil to measure the biomass. They then dug a 50-centimeter hole in the soil to measure the deepest and average penetration of roots.

Sutherland and Ongie’s group determined the maximum was about 60 centimeters; most were around 20.

“See where it changes color?” Most of them are right in that area,” Sutherland said, pointing to a line where the soil became more saturated with water.

Squires said the students’ Superfund activities will be tied back into their regular schoolwork, where they are studying the ecology of the area and humans’ impact on it. That includes both the mining activity that led to the stamp sands being deposited in the area as well as the Superfund cleanup to detoxify it.

“We’re looking at both the negative and positives that have come about, essentially originating with the miners,” he said.

Students echoed his views.

“You can only do so much in a classroom,” Sutherland said. “It’s nice to come out and see it, and work with it.”

Ongie agreed.

“It’s nice enjoying the outdoors,” she said. “We should do it more, actually.”

On Oct. 1, the students will board the Agassiz, Michigan Technological University’s research vessel, and take samples of sediments in Torch Lake.

“They can go and monitor the lake and see if the nice, healthy plant cover is stopping stamp sand from going into the lake,” said Joan Chadde, education program coordinator for the Western U.P. Center for Science, Math and Environmental Education.