Blue Carbon: Bringing Field Research and ArcGIS Mapping to the High School Classroom

Friday, 11 December 2020
Carol Wang Mondaca1, Molly Dunton2, Grant Pace3, Syed Yaheya Ismail2 and Dorothy M Peteet2, (1)Martin Van Buren High School, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, NY, United States, (2)NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, NY, United States, (3)Columbia University, New York, United States
Coastal wetlands, such as salt marshes, mangroves, and tidal freshwater wetlands provide a variety of ecosystem services. They have the capacity to be a major sink of greenhouse gases since they store carbon in plant biomass, they are a source of great biodiversity, and serve as nurseries to a myriad of fish and other organisms. Wetlands also protect our coasts and serve as natural water filtration systems. They are, however, susceptible to human exploitation. They are threatened by agriculture, drainage, commercial development, and climate change.

This unit has been aligned with NASA’s mission to expand our knowledge and scientific understanding of Earth as a system and its response to natural and human-induced changes and to improve our ability to predict climate, weather, and natural hazards. The lessons are intended to provide students with background information on the importance of salt marshes as ecosystems, emphasizing the ecosystem services they provide as well as their intrinsic value. Specifically, students are taking a deeper look at blue carbon, the carbon that is stored largely in sediment linked to coastal waters. Literature and data review is incorporated in order to give students firsthand experience reading, analyzing and presenting actual scientific research. This would then be the impetus to have students create their own methods and protocols to design an experiment to probe for depth at a local saltmarsh or tidal freshwater marsh. The rationale behind this is that students have a stake in the process and ownership of the design. Finally, the culmination of this unit is in having students utilize ArcGIS to map local wetlands, compare and contrast wetland loss over time, and to conduct computational and applied mathematics. Students then take data collected out in the field and work with ArcGIS to calculate carbon storage of the local wetland. An alternative capstone project is included for a virtual environment where students can create their own ArcGIS Blue Carbon Story Map, researching and mapping a wetland from their home country or of significance to them. This project serves three purposes—to emphasize the global importance of wetlands, international efforts towards conservation, and to also celebrate student diversity and inclusion.