Wednesday, April 21, 2010

just an observation

My wife is an elementary media specialist, which means librarian to most people. I help out as much as I can which means I put lots of books on the shelf. To give you an idea, to date, this school year, she has checked out almost 8000 books. All of which must be put back on the shelves.

My observation: Elementary kids (boys and girls) check out enormous amounts of books in the 500's and 600's of your basic Dewey system. These books are science and applied science. Dinosaurs and horses/farm animals/pets are checked out the most but all of geology, biology, chemistry and physics are well represented.

Why is it then that many of the elementary teachers I meet are so hesitant to teach science when obviously their students are more than ready for the challenge?

Next week I will be in DC the whole week getting more training with the JASON project of National Geographic. This program aims teaching good science to middle school kids.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

mining era pipeline

Late last week, when I was looking at dirty snow, I was really scouting out a location for a geology/Colorado History field trip I was going to take a third grade class on. There are many areas to choose from and this trip (I use any excuse to get into the mountains) I wanted to check out Corkscrew Gulch, part of the Red Mountain Mining District. This pipeline was used to carry tailings from the mill down to the Ironton Park area. I am just totally amazed at what these guys did with wooden pipelines. Most of the pipeline is gone, and what is left is still under lots of snow, but I was still able to see a few of the sites.

The pipeline had to cross Corkscrew Gulch. Here, looking up at the pipe from the bottom of the gulch. Rumor has it that this was the second longest suspension bridge in Colorado.
Along the pipeline route there are small wooden boxes where the tailings slurry would drop some quick elevation. The gradient of the pipeline had to be such that the whole slurry would continue downhill. If the gradient was too shallow, gravity wouldn't be able to help the material to move. If the gradient was too steep, the water would run of leaving the solids behind. here you can see the uphill entrance for the pipeline. The downhill exit is below the snow.
This is the view across Corkscrew Gulch. The supports for the bridge are still in place, but the bridge itself is only for use in Indiana Jones movies. No one else would ever dream of crossing the span. There is a ski trail up to this spot and it makes a great afternoon of winter exploring.
The field trip is scheduled for mid-May. There is a chance that the snow might be melted. However, I think I need to scout out some lower elevation spots just in case.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dirty snow means a quick melt

I was able to get up into the high country this week. The day was warm, the sky was blue and the snow was covered with red dust. This is not the pink snow of bacterial fame, but snow that is covered with the red dust of the Utah and Arizona deserts. The week before we had had some powerful "wind events". There was a record report of winds at Red Mountain Pass at almost 90 mph. These spring winds not only do an efficient job of melting back (or I guess I should say sublimating) the snow. We lost 12% of the snow pack in just a few days. The winds also drop dust particles from the desert onto the snow. Studies have shown that this dirty snow will melt at a much faster rate than clean snow. A recent article in the aspen times discusses this effect.

As the climate changes, models suggest that the American Intermountain West will become warmer and dryer. A warmer and drier desert could provide even more dust in future years. The snow pack, which might be less than average, will melt even faster. No matter why the climate is changing I think we need to start thinking about how we can best survive these changes.

A dirty hillside. Looking towards Hayden Peak.

The north facing slope is still white from new snow on top of the dust. The south facing slope shows the extent of dust as the newer snow has melted.
Snow shoe tracks showing clean snow below the dusty layer.