For our final program of the season, we were lucky to be joined by 32 enthusiastic students and staff who made a seven-hour trek up from Philadelphia to experience Hurricane Island from October 5-9, 2014! Students spent the first part of the program learning about the botany, geology, history, intertidal zone, birds, sustainable infrastructure, and lobster industry that are all unique to Hurricane's island ecology.
The main focus of this program was for students to fulfill one of their IB Diploma requirements by completing a group project to "find a question to answer utilizing scientific reasoning and investigation." Students split into five groups, and based on the subject that peaked their interest over the first few days of exploration on Hurricane, these groups generated potential questions they wanted to pursue. From those questions, we spent time discussing how questions drive our experimental design, and worked to help students come up with an appropriate sampling approach to address their question. After everyone was clear on the data they needed to collect, the protocol to follow in order to collect data consistently, and the field equipment they needed, groups set out for a day of field work.
The first group focused on the intertidal zone, and was interested to see if the invasive green crabs we find on Hurricane prefer to live in a specific area of the intertidal. These students learned how to use a leveling rod and a sighting compass to make sure that they were collecting comparable tide heights regardless of the slope and terrain in the intertidal. They chose the intertidal zone between Hurricane and Two-Bush Island as their site for research, and used meter square quadrats for their sampling area.
The second group noticed that as we hiked around the island, there are areas that seem to see more windthow and downed trees than others. They decided to survey plots along the coastal perimeter trail on Hurricane in order to see if there was a noticeable difference in the ratio of live to dead trees between the more protected east side of the island vs. the exposed west side. Students also used a wind rose showing the average wind speeds in the area based on the season to help explain their results.
The third group was interested in learning more about our solar capacity on Hurricane Island. They looked at the amount of power our 24 280-watt panel array could bring in during an average fall day, and then looked at the different draws of a coffee-maker, refrigerator, freezer, laptop, and a cellphone in order to understand how long each of these appliances could run before exhausting our power supply.
The fourth group was interested in seeing whether they could identify a driving force behind the different stages of fall that we see in the American Mountain Ash trees on Hurricane. They developed their own leaf-color key to quantify stages of color change with a number scale, looked at sun exposure, location on the island, and as they worked, started to realize elevation may impact the differences they were noticing in the degree to which each tree had changed the color of its leaves.
The final group looked at our two main fresh water resources, the quarry and the ice pond, and tried to quantify some of the differences between them which may impact the type of organisms that grow in each. They collected readings on dissolved oxygen, pH, and then collected water samples with a plankton net in order to identify some of the small freshwater invertebrates that call each water source home. Students also caught some small fish in the quarry, and observed green frogs at both sites.
The groups spent the final portion of their time on Hurricane working to synthesize the data they collected, and prepared an "initial findings" presentation of their work, which covered the question they were asking, how they collected their data, how they worked as a groups, what their initial results were, and how they would improve this project if they were to do it again. We then celebrated the completion of group projects with a hike up to sunset rock. We couldn't have asked for a better way to wrap up our season on Hurricane, and hope to see Northeast High School students out on the island next year!