Field of Streams

by Carolyn Robles and Megan Goldman ‘15

Research on Mt. Baldy

Mt. Baldy, the majestic mountain that looms above The Claremont Colleges, provides an unmatched Southern California photo op each winter from the Scripps campus: a snow-capped mountain tops fruit-bearing orange trees, towering palms, and red-tiled roofs.

The mountain is an irresistible siren calling those who like to ski and frolic in the snow. But the mountain is so much more: It’s an outdoor research lab. Students in Professor Branwen Williams’ environmental analysis 30 class boarded a school bus that transported them from Claremont to Mt. Baldy. From Mt. Baldy Village, Williams and her students hiked to a nearby stream, navigating the patches of snow and ice still clinging to the mountainside.

Once they arrived, the students were given high-tech Vernier probes to perform various water quality tests. Armed with some of science’s latest technology, students accumulated data such as the water’s pH value, the amount of total dissolved solids, dissolved oxygen content, and the concentration of nitrates.

“We first took measurements in an area of the stream below the Mt. Baldy Village and then in an area above the village. The results from the upper location determine the natural quality of the stream, and the measurements from the site below the village will show us the quality of water after human intervention,” said Megan Goldman ’15.

Additionally, the students collected water samples from both sites. They brought these samples back to an indoor laboratory to examine their populations of bacteria. A separate test was conducted to determine whether E. Coli was present in the samples. According to Goldman, trace amounts of the bacterium were present in samples, which could have resulted from water runoff that contains fertilizer and similar material from the surrounding soil.

Williams’ students did more than learn about water in this lab—they also had fun.

“I really enjoyed collecting the data for this lab because we explored a beautiful part of our community,” says Goldman. “I had a fantastic time taking measurements while wading in a river with snow-covered mountains and giant trees in the background.”

Most important, the lab helped students become more knowledgeable about local issues.

Goldman says: “Although it is important to learn about water quality in general terms, the most important part about this lab is that we are now more informed about the condition of fresh water in our local area. The results have become more applicable to our own daily lives.”


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