Freshman Environmental Science

Photo: Sandia Cloud CapŠ Kerri Lathrop2004

Units, Notes and worksheets


San Pedro Creek Work Audio Files
What is environmental Science?

How Aristotle determined the Earth was round

A controlled experiment

The scientific method

Accuracy and precision


Quantitative vs. Qualitative

How are Ecosystems Organized?

Ecology, Ecosystems Biotic and abiotic

How Species interact with each other

Energy flow through ecosystems

Ecosystem Cycles

Sandia Crest

Requirements for life

Atmosphere, climate and seasons

Thermal energy

Conduction, convection and radiation

Coriolis Effect

Surface Ocean Currents for Map


El Niņo

Earth's Changing Climate

Green House Gasses and Global Warming

The Ozone Layer

Non-Renewable Energy Notes

Alternative Energy Links

Intro to Watersheds and Topographic mapping

The Water Cycle


Sacrifices in store for the future

Writing a lab report

San Pedro Creek water quality monitoring program, Notes for introduction

Water Quality Links

San Pedro Creek December 2005 Presentation

Study Questions


Vegetation Transects


Notebook: Your notebook should be set up in the following way.

*Parent Letter


Notes & handouts

Graded work

Test and quizzes


Rubrics and work in progress





Please keep your notebook in the classroom so that you always have it and it does not get lost!





What is Environmental Science?

How Aristotle determined the Earth was round

A Controlled Experiment



Scientific Method:
  1. Define/Identify the Problem
  2. Form a Hypothesis
  3. Make Observations or Test Hypothesis and Perform Experiments
  4. Organize and Analyze Data
  5. Do Experiments and Observations Support Hypothesis?
    • If No, Perform New Experiments and Repeat Step 4
  6. Draw Conclusions
  7. Communicate Results


Do Scientist use the "Scientific Method?"

10 Science Myths

Accuracy Vs Precision-

Accuracy is like hitting your target, right on the bull's eye.  To measure accurately means to get the actual or true measurement.

Precision is getting the same result over and over again (even if it is not correct!) Although if you are precise and get the same results it is more likely that you will be accurate, whereas if you get a different result each time you know that only one of them could be right!

"measure Twice, Cut once."



nA variable is a factor that can change.  A variable can change other factors when it changes.
Examples of variables:
- Open vs. Closed container

Quantitative vs. Qualitative

nA quantitative Variable is one that is measured using numbers. 

 Examples: temperature is measured in degrees, length can be measured in centimeters.

nA qualitative variable is one that can not be measured in numbers, but by its qualities, such as bright, green, hot, cold, pain. 


Could life exist on other planets?

To explore this questions we must first ask ourselves what are the basic requirements of life.

-6 most commonly used elements in living things:

       Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Calcium

These six elements are important components of cells, together they make up molecules such as carbohydrates (Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen), Proteins (Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen and Phosphorus), Phosphorus is an important part of DNA, the molecular blue print in every living thing.  Water is made of of Hydrogen and Oxygen.

- Many other elements are required in trace amounts such as Iron, sodium, Potassium, nickel, copper and many others.

-Atmosphere, gives us air to breathe and protects us form harmful UV rays

-gravity, helps hold us and our atmosphere on the planet, also creates air pressure, with out it we might explode

-Earth's magnetic field, deflects some of the suns harmful energy

-Sunlight - Plants use sunlight in photosynthesis to create food to be used by the plant, that can be eaten by animals, who can be eaten by other animals. (only Chemosynthetic bacteria could survive without the sun's energy)

-Water-(H20) it makes up around 70% of the human body!

-Shelter- All organisms need protection from the weather and the sun.



Scientific Notation:

Practice using this website:




Earth's Processes and Patterns: Oceans and Atmosphere Unit

Earth's Atmosphere

Class Notes and Vocab

Read this about seasons


What causes Seasons


Weather vs. Climate and more!

How is thermal energy transferred?

First we need to understand the three states of matter: Solid, Liquid and Gas

The Phase or state that mater is in depends on the amount of kinetic energy it has.  Kinetic Energy is how fast the particles in an object are moving. 

In a gas the particles known as molecules or atoms are moving very fast, move freely about in all directions and are very spread out. (High Kinetic Energy)

In a liquid the molecules move freely but not as fast as in gas.  Molecules are more condense and are close enough to touch other molecules. (Medium Kinetic Energy)

In a Solid the atoms or molecules can not move freely, rather they are stuck next to their neighboring atoms or molecules and can only move in place, vibrating.  As a solid is heated the atoms move in place faster and can bump their neighbor molecules or atoms.

Temperature is a measure of the average kinetic energy of a group of particles or of an object.

Heat is a measure of the total kinetic energy in an object.  This depends on the mass of an object.  Two objects could have the same mass (sometimes on earth referred to as weight, different amounts of heat.  The object with the greater mass would have more heat.

The heat in one litter of boiling water could be less than the heat in 20 litters of cold water. Just because it has a higher temperature does not mean it has more heat.

3 methods of Energy transfer: Conduction, Convection and Radiation.

Conduction is the transfer of thermal energy though solids when the particles are in direct contact with one another. Particles do not move from place to place, the vibrate in place and bump their neighboring particle causing those particles to move faster.

Example: The handle of a cast iron pan gets hot as the pan sits in direct contact with the heating element on the stove.  The heat travels through the iron as particles in contact with the element get bumped by the particles in the element and get "excited" and move faster and bump their neighboring particles.

Radiation is the transfer of thermal energy when subatomic particles move in waves through space. When the particle hits and object it gains energy or heats up, meaning the molecules that it is made of move faster.  Some type of radiation can travel through solid objects, like X-rays for example.

Examples of radiation include: The sun, fire, tanning beds, gamma rays, all visible light, ultra violet light, infrared, and radio waves. Depending on the frequency and size of the wavelengths, different type of radiation transfer different levels of heat.   All type of radiation are part of the electromagnetic spectrum as shown below.

Click Here to Learn More about the Electromagnetic Spectrum with NASA

Convention is the transfer of thermal energy when particles or molecule move from place to place in a liquid or a gas.  This can not occur in solids because the particles can not move around!  Hot air or water rises because the particles are more spread out and it is less dense than cooler air or water. air or water that is cooler than the surrounding air or water sinks because it is more dense (has a greater mass per unit volume) than the warmer air or water.  This process can cause convention current in water or air. 

Example: When the sun strikes an area of land it heats up, as the air above the land heats up, the molecules get "excited" move faster and spread out more.  This cause the air to become less dense than the surrounding air.  The warmer air rises. (This is called a thermal and is important for migrating birds and hang gliders!) When warm air rises it leaves a void, and creates an area of low pressure, like a vacuum.  Air from some place else has to come and take its place.  (This is what causes the wind!) Eventually the warm air may travel horizontally, away from the area of land being heated by the sun, and cools.  As it cools the molecules slow down and move closer together.  This makes the air more dense than the surrounding air and it sinks.  The result is a convention current. Convention currents in the earth's mantle are responsible for the Rio Grande Rift, causing to pieces of the earth's crust to move in opposite directions!

Air Pressure

Understanding Air Pressure

High and low Pressure


What Causes the Wind?

What Causes Wind?

Kite Science, Wind Origins and Global Winds

More on Wind

Ocean Currents

Click Here for the Surface Ocean Currents Map

The Coriolis Effect

The coriolis effect is caused by Earth's rotation on its axis.  This effects the ocean and wind currents. In the Northern Hemisphere currents travel in a clockwise direction, and in the Southern Hemisphere currents travel in a counter clockwise direction.

Click here to read more about the coriolis effect


Upwelling is important for fisheries world wide. 50% of the fish caught in the ocean are harvested in areas where upwelling occurs.  The Cold Nutrient rich water that comes up from the bottom supports algae and plankton that provide food for fish and other marine life.

El Niņo

El Niņo is a momentary change in the Earth's Climate. When there is an El Niņo the upwelling to the west of Peru Stops.  Warm water that was pushed away by the wind comes back and the fish leave to find cooler water. During El Niņo Years, wet climates tend to become drier and dry climates tend to get more precipitation.


Earth's Changing Climate

  1. What is the difference between weather and climate?
  2. How has Earth's Climate Changed over time?
  3. What methods do scientists use to study past climates?
  4. How will a better understanding of past and present climates help us predict future climates?
  5. How has New Mexico's Climate Changed over time?
  6. How does El Nino La Nina Cycle (ENSO index) affect the Southwest?
  7. What are five major Factors that affect climate? Briefly explain how each affects climate.
  8. How does climate change affect plants and animals? Give an example of climate change leading to extinction.

To answer these questions visit: The Links Below:

Introduction to Climate

Earth's Climate History (Physical

NOAA's Paleoclimatology Site

Paleoclimate and CO2 Concentrations

What would happen if we had 4X the normal level of CO2?

New Mexico's Changing Climate

This graph shows above and below average annual rainfall. Reconstruction of annual rainfall from El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico, based on tree-ring analysis showing long-term (more than 100 years) climatic trends. (Adapted from Grissino-Mayer 1997).

Compare Climate Data From Around NM

Paleoclimate map animation (may take a minute to load)

Climate Change and Extinctions

How has Earth's Climate Changed over time?

Recent climate Change and Frog Extinctions


How does El Nino affect the Southwest?

Factors that Affect Climate in the Polar Regions and beyond!

Green House Gasses  & Global Warming

What are Greenhouse gasses?

More about greenhouse gasses

The Greenhouse effect and its effects...

What is global warming

Venus's runaway green house effect

Ozone Layer

Read about the ozone layer

How the Ozone "hole" formed

NOAA's Guide to Ozone


Watersheds and Topographic Mapping


Watershed- an area of land that drains into a body of water

Example – east and west America- Continental Divide- Water on the west side drains to the Pacific Ocean-Water on the East side drains to the Atlantic Ocean. 

Closed Basin- A watershed where the water never reaches the sea/ocean.

Intermittent stream- does not flow all the time.  (maybe only after a storm)

Perennial stream- Stream that flows year round.

In order to understand watersheds we need to learn to read topographic maps.

Topographic Maps:  Maps that show land features and elevation with contour lines.

Elevation:  The vertical distance above sea level, usually measured in Meters or Feet.

Contour lines:  Lines on a topographic map that represent the same elevation. Contour lines Never EVER Cross!  If there is a drop off, like a cliff the lines may touch, but the never cross.  When Contour lines are close together that means the area is very steep!

Contour Interval: The vertical distance between contour lines.



The study of organisms, their interactions with the environment and each other.


The biotic and abiotic factors that interact and function as a unit.

  Biotic (Living)                      Abiotic (Non-Living)


Plants                                                   Soil

Animals                                                Water

Bacteria                                                Minerals, Nutrients

Fungi                                                                Elements

Protista                                                 Climate / Weather


                                                                        Organic Matter

(dead plants, animals and their parts or waste)


How Species interact with each other


Species one

Species two



   Predator  +    Positive (Predator)

Prey    ─  Negative (Prey)

Cougar (predator) prey on Deer (prey)




Two Trees competing for water


+ (Parasite)


A tick on a moose




Lichen: Fungus and algae



Neutral  (O)

A remora eel and a shark

Predation is when on animal hunts another animal for food. The Predator does the hunting and the prey is the hunted.

Competition occurs when two organisms compete for the access to same limited resource. Competition is energetically expensive for both organism and is negative for both species.

Parasitism is the relationship between a parasite, and a host. The parasite takes its nourishment for a host. Parasites usually don’t kill their hosts unless there are too many. Parasites may make their host weaker and more susceptible to predation.

Mutualism is a relationship where both species involved benefit.  Our bodies are hosts to many beneficial bacteria which help us digest our food and produce nutrients. 

Commensalism is a relationship in which one species benefits and the other is neither harmed nor helped.  A bird using a tree to build its nest does not hurt the tree, but the tree gives the bird a home. 


Energy flow in an ecosystem

The energy that drives most ecosystems comes form the sun. (One exception to this are chemotropic bacteria that can get their energy from Hydrogen sulfide from deep sea vents)

Photosynthesis is the process plants use to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen and sugar,

using energy from the sun.

CO2 + H2O + energy from the sunā  C6H12O6 + O2


The opposite of this process is used by plants at night and by most other organisms.


Cellular respiration if the process of breaking down sugar to yield energy, releasing carbon dioxide gas to the atmosphere.

C6H12O6 + O2 ā  CO2 + H2O + Heat


Producers: Organisms that make their own food. Such as plants using the process of photosynthesis.

Consumers: Organisms that get their energy from other organisms.  Animals must eat plants or other animals as a source of energy.

Herbivore: An animal that eats only Produces or plants. (like vegetarians)

Carnivore: An animal that eats only other consumers or animals. (meat only)

Omnivore: An animal that eats both producers and consumers. (Plant and animal eater)

Decomposer: an organism that breaks down dead organisms in an ecosystem, returning the nutrients to the soil or water. Bacteria and Fungi are examples of decomposers.


Trophic  levels and the energy pyramid:

A tropic level is a step in the energy pyramid.  For example Producers make up the base of the pyramid while primary consumers or herbivores sit right above them.


The reason we have an energy pyramid is because energy is lost at each level.  Much of the energy is used up and released as heat. Some of the energy is wasted. Less than 10% of the energy (measured in calories) is available to the next trophic level.  There will never be as many carnivores as there are herbivores because energy is lost at each tropic level as heat.  There is not as much energy available to them.


Trophic levels and pyramids

Energy in Ecosystems


Field Guides

Habitat- Where an organism lives.  A habitat has to provide an organism with everything it needs to live including food, water, shelter and space.

Niche- A niche is an organisms role in the ecosystem.  A niche is what an organism does, what its purpose is. Plants are producers part of their role is to provide food to herbivores.

Niche or Ecological Niche

Another Definition for Niche

How matter cycles through ecosystems

The Rock Cycle

The Rock Cycle

Rock Cycle (text)

Interactive Rock Cycle

Three major rock types

How rocks are formed


The Carbon Cycle

Wikipedia Carbon cycle

NASA Kids: The carbon cycle and Global warming


The Nitrogen Cycle

Physical geography Nitrogen cycle

The Nitrogen cycle


The Water Cycle

The water cycle

USGS water cycle page








Labs and field Experiences


Classroom policies

Units of Study

Required materials

Classroom Wish list

Code of Conduct



Environmental Science

Ms. Lathrop

Fall 2006

Dear Students and Parents/Guardians,


            Welcome to East Mountain High School!  I hope you all had a great summer break! Below you will find a description of the course, a list of rules,  policies and a wish list of materials for the class. Also I want to let you know that information about this class can be found at  I will try to update this site with assignments, and notes on a regular basis. 

Let me take a moment to introduce myself.  This is my fourth year at EMHS.  Three years ago I moved to New Mexico from Vermont.  I bring with me experience in field biology.  I have studied avian ecology with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Institute, the Forest Service and with the Fish and Wildlife Service on the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Roswell.  Also I have volunteered for water quality monitoring groups. I have also worked for a non-profit wildlife conservation organization called Keeping Track, as an educator leading tracking workshops as a way of teaching youth about wildlife biology and conservation. Currently I am working on my Masters in Science Teaching at New Mexico Tech. This summer I had the opportunity to study geology in the Southwest and in New Zealand.  What a great experience!

There are many exciting opportunities at EMHS. Our class has been invited to work with Talking Talons and the New Mexico Watershed Watch program on monitoring and restoring a section of the San Pedro Creek not too far from the school.  Help from parent volunteers as chaperones during labs and field trips will make this and other experiences possible for our students. You can e-mail me at





                                                Kerri Lathrop


Goals for this semester:

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Labs and Field Experiences


I hear and I forget,

I see and I remember,

I do and I understand.

(Chinese Proverb)


Labs and other field experiences are opportunities for experiential learning and are an essential part of the curriculum in this course. Labs can be time consuming so it is crucial that we stay focused on the work at hand. We are very lucky at East Mountain High School to have access to 27 acres of pinon-juniper woodlands right out our back door. Also we have been invited to work on a stream monitoring and restoration project on the San Pedro Creek. We will be going “into the field” on a regular basis and for safety’s sake there are some basic guidelines that need to be followed:

We need to approach labs like real scientists; detectives looking for clues to better understand our environment. Thus like real detectives it is important not to disturb the evidence. This means being alert and focused on the environment.

All students need to be dressed to go outside. Students should have at hat, sunscreen and a water bottle. Students must have CLOSED TOED SHOES, like tennis shoes or boots. No heals over one inch high. Students should have old clothes that they don’t mind getting dirty or worn. (Students might want to keep field clothes in my classroom, or their locker that they can change into on lab days in case they forget or don’t want to wear them all day.) I will not require, but will recommend wearing long pants to avoid getting scraped by the brush and cacti. Skirts are not appropriate for work in the in the field.

Students must show respect for plants and animals. Unless we are collecting specimens, plants and animals should not be disturbed. Since soil erosion is a huge problem here in the Southwest, we need to avoid stepping on steep banks and other areas where the soil might be exposed. Students must not wander out of sight of the teacher or a chaperone. Students who cannot follow the above guidelines will not be allowed to participate in future outdoor lab activities, and will receive a zero on the lab.

I am certified in Wilderness First Aid, but I hope that I never have to use it.

Lab topics and field trips may include:

ˇ        A comparison of Biodiversity in different areas on campus.

ˇ        The ecology of the Sandia Mountains.

ˇ        Water quality monitoring and restoration on the San Pedro Creek.

ˇ        Designing and building passive solar house models.

ˇ        Monitoring transects for tracks and sign of mammals.


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Student Work 50% of grade

Individual Projects and Group Projects. For each unit students will individually or in a small group complete a project that demonstrates understanding of the topic. 20-50 points each.

Lab Reports. After each lab we do students will do part or all of a formal lab write up. Up to 100 points each.

Science News  I will hand out an article once a week for us to discuss, alternatively students can download  news stories from the internet. Students will write a summary and identify connections to what we are studying in class. 10 points each

Midterm and Final Exams.  Each will be worth 10% of the final grade.

Journal Writing.  Students will be given a prompt to write about at the beginning or end of a class period.  Students’ entries will be graded on depth of thought and effort.  5 % of Grade

Tests and Quizzes. Every week or two we will have a quiz or test to review what we have covered in class that week. Open Notebook Tests: At the end of some units students will take an open notebook test that requires students to apply the knowledge they have gained. 20% of Grade

Class Participation and Attitude. Students who are disruptive or refuse to participate will lose points.  5 % of Grade

Notebook and Material Checks.  Periodically I will check to see if students are prepared for class and organized.  10 points each (part of participation)



Classroom Policies

Homework & Tests: Class assignments and homework may be corrected and for full credit if a student unsatisfied with his or her grade. Tests may be corrected for half credit for each missed question. Corrections must include the complete question re-written and the corrected response. Corrections must be stapled to the original test or assignment. Corrected assignments must be re-submitted within a week of being handed back.

Late work: For each day an assignment is late it will lose a letter grade, or 10% of its value.

Late work will not be accepted after a week.

Absences: When a student is absent it is his or her responsibility to obtain the information and work that they missed. Students will be given and extra day on the assignment for each day they are absent.

Tardiness: For each two incidences of tardiness the student will be referred to the office for a lunchtime detention.


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Units of study and highlighted activities:

The Science of Map Making: How we see and depict our environment.

Students will:

Read about early map makers

Learn to read topographic maps

Use GPS units and GIS to map their homes.

Watersheds: Water quality, use and conservation.

Students will:

Use topographic maps to understand watersheds boundaries

Experiment and learn about water quality measures such as:

Turbidity, temperature, conductivity, pH, flow rates

Take monthly field trips to San Pedro Creek to measure watershed health

Measure their personal water use for a week


Ecosystems: How living creatures interact with their environment.

Students will:

Research different local species and make field guide pages about them

Look for interactions between species and each other and the environment

Design and experiment to measure the health of the piņons behind the school

Research different ecosystems around New Mexico

Oceans and Atmosphere: Patterns and processes of our environment

Students will:

Map the wind and ocean currents of the world

Model el Niņo, read about its effects worldwide

Research global warming and the greenhouse effect

Use a computer model to study actors the effect ozone and air quality in cities

Living in our Environment: Resources use and conservation.

Students will:

Research the sources of resources used in everyday life

Look at the environmental impacts of resource use

Design a home that is resource efficient technology


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Required Materials

1- 1 Ŋ ” 3 Ring binder with dividers

Loose-leaf paper

Zippered pouch with Pencils, eraser, Pen and Highlighter

Folder with pockets for homework assignments to take home

Headphone for listening to news stories


Highly Recommend Materials

A book to read if you finish an assignment before the rest of the class

A calculator

USB Jump Drive

Field clothes and shoes for days when we work outside


Please have the above materials by the end of the first week of class.


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Classroom Wish list

- White board Markers

- Wax Paper

- Scissors

- Glue Sticks

- Masking Tape

- Hot Glue Guns and Hot Glue Sticks

- Boxes of Tissues

- "D" & "AA" Duracell Batteries

- Science and Nature Magazines

- Art and craft supplies for Projects

- Small Plastic Totes for Organization

-Hair Dryer, Turntable

-Interesting Natural Objects: Feathers, Stones, Skulls, etc.

- Flat Baking sheets    


Your help in supplying the above materials is much appreciated and makes hands-on activities in the classroom possible! Thank you.


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Code of Conduct



Be on time. Coming in late to class is disruptive to the learning of other students.2 instances of tardiness result in a lunch detention.

Come to class prepared with a pen, pencil, notebook and assignments completed.

Be honest. Cheating, plagiarism and lying will not be tolerated.

Respect the teacher and your classmates. Give your undivided attention to the teacher and your classmates when they are speaking to the class.

Respect the property of others. Do not write on tables or any other surface in the classroom besides paper.

Ask for permission before leaving the room and using the phone.

Treat others with dignity and respect.

No soda in the classroom, and no food or drink near computers or other equipment.

Stay on task.

All rules in the student handbook apply in my classroom so be sure to read it.


1 st offense-Student will get a reminder warning.

2 nd offense-Student will stay after class to discuss the behavior with the teacher.

3 rd offense- Student will call their parent during class and explain to their parent why they are calling.

4 th offense-Referral to the office. ISS or lunch detention.

If there continues to be problems I will schedule a meeting to discuss the problem with the parents.

Mistreatment of other students, or animals will result in immediate referral to the office.



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