Is soil structure an important factor in earthquake dynamics? Investigate soil liquefaction and how different soil types respond to earthquake movements. Are movements more dramatic in sandy/loamy or clay type soils? Which soil structures are most stable? Which are the most volatile? (MCEER, 2005)
Soils are made of particles of different types and sizes. The space between particles is called pore space. Pore space determines the amount of water that a given volume of soil can hold. Porosity is the percentage of the total volume of soil that consists of pore space. Compare the porosity of different types of soil. Which types of soil hold the most water? Can you see this under a microscope?
Divide a part of your garden into two equal plots, with each plot receiving equal amounts of sun. Cover one plot with two inches of organic mulch, such as compost or ground bark. Leave the other plot uncovered. Use the same amount of water for each plot for two or three weeks. At the beginning of the experiment, and at one-week intervals, dig down and check the soil in each plot for moisture content. Which plot holds water better? Which plot shows better plant growth? (McCausland, 2006)
Soil may look like a bunch of dirt, but good quality soil is actually a complex mixture of dirt, nutrients, microorganisms, insects and worms. What type of benefit do these microorganisms offer a growing plant? You can test this by baking soil in the oven to sterilize and kill the microorganisms. Do plants grown in sterile soil do better than plants in unsterilized soil? What about adding worms to one plant, but not to the other. Will the plant with worms grow better? Some insects are bad…
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No one can deny the devastating consequences of an oil spill on the local wildlife. Oil affects all levels of the ecosystem, from plants to fish and birds. What happens to water plants if you add motor oil to their pot? What is the effect of motor oil on the health of a goldfish, or water insects? What happens to the barbs of a bird feather if they are dipped in oil? Can you test different types of environmentally-friendly detergents for cleaning the bird feathers? Can you test different…
Make your own fertile soil using kitchen scraps, manure, leaves, grass clippings, and other compostable materials. Which materials make the best compost? How does the amount of nitrogen change the rate at which the compost forms? How does a 'hot' compost pile compare to a 'cold' compost pile, or how does traditional composting compare to worm composting, or vermiculture?
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Figure 1. Different composting methods yield different soils. In this picture, the soil on the left is…
Think about mountain ranges, canyons, sand dunes, or any other interesting geological feature you may live near enough to visit. The surface of the Earth is always changing due to a balance of forces both above and below the surface. Below-surface forces cause the Earth's crust to be faulted, folded, tilted, and lifted. Above-surface forces are primarily due to the natural processes of weathering and erosion. Can you show the effects of these forces using scale models, demonstrations,…
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