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How much salt?

Unit Plan: Salt PollutionLesson: 5 Time: At least 2 class periods Setting: Classroom
9-12Data Exploration & NOS
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Students will know what level of salt concentration affects aquatic plants and/or animals, and will be able to explain the results of an experiment to determine these levels.


    1.  Students brainstorm the impact of salt on different aquatic organisms.
    2. Students will develop an experiment to test the impact of chloride on aquatic organisms – either zooplankton or duckweed.
    3. Students will run the experiment for 2-5 days and record their results. 


    Copies of student worksheet – How much salt? 

    Animal Experiment

    Plant Experiment

    Cladocerans or copepods- students will need 5- 10 organisms per container

    Duckweed plants –students will need 5-10 plants per container

    Rock salt (deionized)

    Deionized water


    Beakers or cups (7 per group)


    Tweezers, filter paper, petri dish

    Preparation: You should prepare 6 different stock solutions.  This can be done either with the students in the lab or ahead of time. 

    1.  Stock solution of 9.5 grams salt for 500 mL of water = 19,000 mg/L
    2. Stock solution of 2 gram salt for 500 mL of water = 4000 mg/L
    3. Stock solution of 1 gram salt for 1000 ml of water = 1000 mg/L
    4. Stock solution of 0.5 gram salt for 1000 ml of water = 500 mg/L
    5. Stock solution of 0.1 gram salt for 1000 ml of water, then take 500 ml of this water and add another 500 mL of regular water = 50 mg/L
    6. Stock solution of 0.05 gram salt for 1000 ml of water, then take 500 ml of this water and add another 500 mL of regular water = 25 mg/L


    The average concentration for the Wappinger Creek has been around 50 mg/L for the last few years.  Ocean water generally has about 19,000 mg/L.  The salt front of the Hudson is wherever the concentration reaches 100 mg/L.  In the estuarine parts of the river, salinity ranges from 500 mg/L to 3500 mg/L and higher. 

    Decide whether you are going to be using plants or animals. The plants need, on average, 3-5 days to respond to the salt; the animals usually respond within 24 hours. 

    Purchase a Daphnia culture kit at least 2 weeks before you plan to do the experiment, to ensure that you have a healthy culture.  You should try and use newly hatched Daphnia in order to minimize the differences in the sizes of the animals.  Because the appearance of resting eggs indicates a poor culture environment, do not use Daphnia with resting eggs. Students can do these next steps to minimize the preparation time.  Twenty-four hours before beginning the experiment, remove all the females bearing embryos from the stock culture and place them in 400-mL beakers containing 300 mL of spring or stream water and the appropriate amount of food.  Five beakers, each containing 10 adults, usually will supply enough young individuals for one toxicity test. When you are ready to begin your bioassay, choose young (small) Daphnia from these cultures.  Introduce the same number of neonates (at least 5-10) into each test vessel and control using a plastic, disposable pipette with a 5-mm diameter. Be sure to release the young below the surface to avoid killing them by trapping air under their carapaces. Record the time and number of young introduced into each labeled vessel.

    Duckweed can be ordered from scientific supply companies, or collected from area ponds.  If you are using duckweed, you will need enough for each container to have five-ten plants.  Separate them in petri dishes; it is easier if the petri dishes have coffee filters in them, so that the plants can be easily seen and moved with tweezers. 

    1. Engage:  Show a picture of a familiar freshwater organism (a goldfish, turtle, or frog) and ask what would happen if you put this animal into the ocean.  Would it survive?  Discuss what might happen to different kinds of organisms, referring back to the reading on the first day.
    2. Explore:  Students will receive the materials and begin working on the lab, following the directions on the lab sheet.  You will need to leave the Daphnia in the salt solution overnight in order to see a response (4-6 hours is usually enough).  It is recommended that you allow the Daphnia  to remain in the solutions for 48 hours.  The duckweed need to be left for at least five days in order to see a response. Additional information on conducting a bioassay can be found on Cornell's Environmental Inquiry website. 
    3. Explain:  Besides road salt, there are other sources of salt to our watersheds.  Water softeners, runoff from sewage systems, deposition, and rock weathering are some other ways that salt can enter the ecosystem.  When road salt is applied, it eventually dissolves into water and moves through the soil to groundwater or into surface water.  Salt affects organisms even below lethal concentrations by altering the drifting of aquatic insects (drifting is a form of migration and movement).  Another problem with creating consistently salty, unnatural conditions is the resulting ability of salt-tolerant invasive species to move into an area.  Generally, zooplankton die at a concentration of 1000 mg/L, although students should note that salt accumulates over time, and the longer the organisms are in a high salt environment, the more toxic the effects.  
    4. Extend: Students could calculate the Lethal Concentration 50, or LC50, which is used by the EPA to determine the toxicity of certain pollutants.  When 50% of the organisms die, that concentration is considered the upper limit.  For this experiment, consider that when 7 out of 10 Daphnia die at a specific concentration, that is recorded as 100% mortality.  Once students have determined the mortality threshold, they could design a second experiment to determine the specific level at which Daphnia are no longer successful. 
    5. Evaluate: Students will submit their lab reports. 

    Lesson Files

    How much salt? Student Worksheet
    Answer Key

    Benchmarks for Science Literacy

    2C Mathematical Inquiry, 5C Cells, 12C Manipulation and Observation

    NYS Standards

    MST 3- Mathematics in real-world settings, MST 4- Physical setting, living environment and nature of science, MST 6- Interconnectedness of mathematics, science, and technology (modeling, systems, scale, change, equilibrium, optimization), MST 7- Problem solving using mathematics, science, and technology (working effectively, process and analyze information, presenting results)
    Next Generation Science Standards

    Science and Engineering Practices

    Planning and carrying out investigations, Engaging in argument from evidence

    Bioassay techniques are based on work from Cornell's Environmental Inquiry project.