North Carolina 9-12th Grade Ranger-Led Field Trips
The programs below are geared towards high school students but can also be adapted for use with college groups. All programs are aligned with the North Carolina Standard Course of Study and the National Science Education Standards.
These programs work towards channeling high school students' energy into positive action as students collect data on real world environmental problems facing the park. Our hands-on programs are interdisciplinary, student-directed, engaging, collaborative, and technology-friendly.
There are many species of algae and fungi, but when certain species of fungi join with certain species of algae in a symbiotic relationship, they become a unique organism called lichen. This unit focuses on how lichens are used as bioindicators of poor air quality. Monitoring lichen composition is important to detect the loss of biodiversity as less pollution tolerant species die out and are replaced by more tolerant species. During this study students will observe and identify the growth forms of the lichens on assigned trees and determine the percentage of coverage of each form.
Ozone Garden: Purchase Knob only.
Scientists have noticed that ground level ozone levels tend to be worse at higher elevations, especially at night. Because of this, it is important to monitor ozone levels at various elevations. Purchase Knob is a high elevation site within the park. One of the methods we use to monitor the effects of ozone pollution is to periodically check how certain sensitive species of plants are reacting to ozone exposure. During the study, students will be able to understand what ground level ozone is and how it affects plants and animals, and assist in collecting data from a specific plant in the ozone biomonitoring garden.
The Great Smoky Mountains are known as the "Salamander Capital of the World" as they are an especially abundant and diverse group in the Great Smokies. There are 30 species of salamanders within the boundaries of the Park. Since these salamanders breathe through their skin they are more susceptible to water and air pollution and are used as bioindicators. Many species aren't active year round which also gives us valuable phenology data that may shift with a changing climate. During this study students will work in groups inventorying and monitoring many of the salamanders found in the park.
Our soils in the park, especially at high elevations such as Purchase Knob and Clingmans Dome, are exposed to high levels of acid rain. Soils with a pH of 5.5 or lower have a low availability of calcium and other nutrients but an overabundance of aluminum and iron. Park managers are very concerned about how this affects soils and the availability of nutrients to plants and animals. The majority of snail species in the park are calcium-based and snails are an important part of the food chain. During this study students will search and identify snails, explain why scientists are concerned about snail populations, and learn about the ecologic process of calcium cycling, and the role snails play in the food web.
Tardigrade inventory: Purchase Knob location only.
When most students imagine national parks and nature in general they probably think of large, charismatic animals such as bear and deer. Although these animals are important parts of the ecosystem, there are many other pieces that we often overlook. Tardigrades and other microorganisms are some of the most numerous and most biodiverse organisms on Earth. This unit explores the biodiversity and ecologic role of these fascinating microscopic organisms. During the study students will be introduced to the process of collecting lichens and isolating resident tardigrades, rotifers and other microscopic organisms.
All plants and animals are important to the ecosystem. Although often overlooked, terrestrial invertebrates are as important to the ecosystem as the large vertebrates are. With an estimated 200 million insects for every human, it could be argued invertebrates truly rule the planet. The functional responses of terrestrial invertebrates to soil pH, soil temperature, and air temperature provide a complete assessment of the ecosystem. During this study students will monitor the population of terrestrial invertebrates in a predetermined area.
Locations: Purchase Knob and Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
The Smokies has over 2,100 miles of rushing mountain streams and rivers that flow through the park. In each mile lives a diverse community of native fish, amphibians, insects, and larvae, some of which are found only in the Southern Appalachians. Park fisheries managers and university researchers monitor water quality, fish populations, and watersheds to better understand the dynamics of aquatic ecology. During this unit, students collect water quality data from the stream and identify macroinvertebrates.
Locations: Purchase Knob, Mingus Creek and Deep Creek Picnic Area
Phenology and Climate Change
Students collect tree phenology data for an on-going monitoring study looking at the changes and impacts of changes in our weather and climate. Students will learn about tree identification, carbon sequestration and phenology.
Location: Purchase Knob (near Maggie Valley, NC), Mingus Mill, Deep Creek North Carolina State Standards: Earth/Environmental Science: Clarifying objectives E.En2.2.1, 2.2.2, 2.5.1, 2.5.5, 2.6.1-4, 2.7.1-3, 2.8.4 Biology: Clarifying objectives Bio. 2.1.1, 2.1.4, 2.2.1, 2.2.2, 3.5.2 AP Biology: Compentency goals 1.01-1.04, 6.02, 6.05, 7.01-7.03 AP Environmental: Compentency goals 1.01-1.04, 2.05, 5.01, 5.02, 6.03, 7.04