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)
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 traditional composting compare to worm composting, or vermiculture? How does the temperature of the compost pile change?
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…
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,…
What causes landslides? The USGS Landslide Hazards Program conducts research needed to answer major questions related to landslide hazards. Where and when will landslides occur? How big will the landslides be? How fast and how far will they move? What areas will the landslides affect or damage? How frequently do landslides occur in a given locality? Investigate the patterns of landslide occurrence in your area. Are they related to locations, geology, or topography? Are they more frequent…
Tornadoes are a very destructive weather phenomenon that is very hard to predict. Certain weather conditions can indicate if a tornado is likely to occur, but the path that the tornado will take is completely unpredictable. Storm chasers are people who chase tornadoes and try to capture them on film or video. They often have a sense of predicting where and when a tornado will strike, but the best images are also due to a bit of luck and survival instinct. Even though tornadoes are…
Floods can be very destructive, capable of leveling whole towns and decimating crops and fields. Typically in regions prone to flooding there are cycles of flooding that occur, usually in areas where a wet season comes after a period of drought. You can use precipitation data to test if incidents of flooding have been preceded by periods of drought. Look for long periods of dryness in the precipitation data to indicate a drought. You can also conduct an experiment on dry or moist soil to see…
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