1. Students calculate stream flow at a local waterway 2. Students use historical data to learn about past storm events 3. Students think about the impacts of higher flow with climate change
Day 9: How much water is in that river?
Students will know a. How to estimate flow in a river or stream, and be able to explain why this technique cannot be used in the Hudson River. b. How Hudson River flow is expected to change as predicted by global climate change models, and be able to explain how these changes may impact the Hudson.
- Computers with Excel
- Meter stick
- Orange or ping-pong ball
- Measuring tape
- Stopwatch with seconds
- Easel or whiteboard to show calculations
Preparation: This exercise requires a trip to a stream or tributary. Students should be familiar with getting data from Excel and calculating averages.
Engage: Ask students how much water would fit into the classroom. How would they determine this? Allow students to work in pairs to come up with an answer. After discussing their methodologies, show students pictures of various types of rivers and streams. Ask them to imagine standing on the edge of a stream or river and to think about how much water is going by each second. Then ask them about a local stream, and the Hudson River.
Explore: Prepare students for outdoor work. At the stream, take students to the water’s edge and have students observe the movement of the water. Ask students to brainstorm what information they would need to measure the volume of water; this is a good chance to refresh their memories about volume. Introduce the concept of cubic feet per second (cfs) and ask them what they must measure to find the cfs flowing past them in the stream.
Eventually you should get them to the idea that you can think of taking a rectangular slice (width x depth) of the stream (get the width and average depth of the stream at your location from student collection) and calculating how many slices go past your location in a second.
In groups, students should complete the attached stream flow worksheet. Make sure students understand the importance of averaging multiple readings.
Explain: Back in the classroom, students can calculate stream flow. Talk about why this technique doesn’t work to estimate flow in the Hudson River. Because the Hudson is tidal, velocity measurements are not used to estimate flow. The velocity can actually be negative if the tide is coming in, causing the river to flow backwards. The Native American name for the Hudson is Mahicanituk (muh-hee-kan-tuck), the river that flows both ways. The negative flow is outweighed over the course of a tidal cycle by the positive flow, however, so the overall flow of the river is toward the sea. If students were willing to watch and measure the distance a ping pong ball moved in the river over the course of a tidal cycle, they would see a positive movement downstream. Flow is estimated for the Hudson by adding the freshwater input to the river from the Adirondacks at the Green Island dam together with flow from all of the major tributaries to the Hudson (Esopus, Rondout, Wallkill, Wappinger etc.) These streams enter the river at different points, so you would only add the stream input from the streams upstream of the point you are measuring. When the students see the historical flow data, they will see that it’s estimated from freshwater input from the river’s watershed upstream from that point.
After students have their calculations, have them look at their original guesses and see how close they were. Have them compare the numbers with the volume of their classroom. Next have the students look at the historic flow rate of the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. How does this compare with the volume flowing past a point in their stream and the volume of their classroom? Lastly, plot a trend line on the graph of flow from Poughkeepsie. Are the flows increasing? Climate change estimates are that the Hudson’s flow rate will increase by 20% by 2050. Ask the students to think about the impact on the communities and ecosystems along the river’s edge. Because the Hudson doesn’t have a flood plain, this increase in freshwater flow will likely not have an impact. It would, however, have a huge impact on the Mississippi River, for example, because it has a significant flood plain. The Hudson may, however, be impacted by rising sea level combined with increases in freshwater flow and railroad companies are beginning to be concerned that the tracks along the Hudson could be inundated some day.
Extensions: You can measure the volume of your whole school and see how many schools worth of water flow by ever second.
You can tell your students that the City of New York uses about 1 billion gallons of water every single day. Source – NYC water consumption info and other useful info can be found on the NYC DEP’s website: http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/dep/html/maplevels.html .
Evaluate: Collect students’ worksheets and discuss the implications of changing flow on the Hudson River ecosystem.
References: Palmer, M.A., C.A.R. Liermann, C. Nilsson, M. Floerke, J. Alcamo, P.S. Lake, and N.Bond. 2008. Climate change and the world’s river basins: anticipating management options.” Fronteiers in Ecology and the Environment, vol 6.
- Worksheet (pdf, 93 KB)