Lesson 6: Challenges for Earth's Reservoirs

Getting Started

Before you begin this lesson, go back and do the 2-day mass measurement for the "Water and Estuaries (Saltwater Activity)" experiment that you started in Lesson 4.

You have studied and read about the characteristics of water and the Earth's various reservoirs. These reservoirs include oceans, lakes, streams, wetlands, and estuaries that contain either saltwater, freshwater, or a mixture of the two. For this lesson, you will step away from the book and begin an investigation into a reservoir of your choice. Your investigation will be a journey in which you look at a local, regional, national, or global water environment and the influence of either an abiotic or biotic factor. An abiotic factor is a non-living component of an ecosystem and includes sunlight, items such as rocks and minerals, and physical factors such as temperature and weather. Biotic factors are the living components of an ecosystem and include any kind of plant, animal, or microscopic organism. While abiotic and biotic factors are found in all ecosystems, the focus of this activity will be on the hydrosphere.

One important idea in your exploration is a building block for any kind of scientific inquiry. The building block is a question. Without a question, an investigation will have no direction and will end up much like a balloon that has been blown up and left untied — all over the place. As you progress through this activity, you will take time to gain information about a topic with the end goal of developing a meaningful scientific question. While this may seem like an odd way to finish an assignment, the goal is to learn how to use information to develop a good question.

Stuff You Need

  • Protecting Earth's Water Supply by Ron Fridell
  • access to information about water reservoirs
  • phone book and phone

Ideas to Think About

  • What makes a good scientific question?

Things to Know

  • The biosphere includes all of the ecosystems found in all areas of the Earth.
  • Abiotic elements are the nonliving components of the biosphere.
  • Biotic elements are the living components of the biosphere.
  • An inquiry is any process that has the aim of deepening knowledge, resolving doubt, or solving a problem.
  • Eutrophication is an increase in nutrients and organisms, and is a normal part of a lake's life.


  • Identify and create questions and hypotheses that can be answered through scientific investigations. (S)
  • Analyze evidence to explain observations, make inferences and predictions, and develop the relationship between evidence and explanation. (S)
  • Use oral and written language to communicate findings. (LA)
  • Use technologies and information systems to research, disseminate findings to others, gather, visualize, and analyze data. (S)
  • Analyze and evaluate information from a scientifically literate viewpoint by reading, hearing, and/or viewing scientific texts, articles, and events in the popular press. (S)
  • Describe how humans affect the quality of water through economic trade-offs and local water issues. (SS) (S)

Introducing the Lesson

As your child has progressed, the goal has been to bring her to a point where she explores information about the hydrosphere more deeply, understands claims and evidence, and sees cause and effect. For this lesson, your child will gather information in order to formulate a meaningful scientific question. Your child's investigation will accomplish two goals: 1) increase knowledge and understanding about an issue associated with the hydrosphere, and 2) develop higher-level inquiry skills by asking her to take knowledge and understanding, analyze a situation, and create a meaningful question that addresses an issue or concern discovered as a result of the information gathered.

In previous lessons, your child has been challenged to comprehend in order to understand that things that are often taken for granted can mean the difference between the life and death of organisms in ecosystems associated with the hydrosphere. Your child will be challenged to see this and consider causes of such issues and how some tricky situations might be resolved or prevented. The goal is not to actually solve the problem but rather to figure out a way to start an investigation in order to solve the problem.
Reading and Questions
Materials: Protecting Earth's Water Supply by Ron Fridell
Read pages 14-25 in Protecting Earth's Water Supply. In this reading, you will see examples of various issues associated with the pollution of the hydrosphere and find out how a scientist develops an inquiry question that drives an investigation and future experimentation.
  1. What are some of the things that can pollute drinking water?
    Chemical pollutants, sewage, bacteria, and oil can all pollute drinking water.
  2. Choose one of the following topics for the next 4 questions: Presque Isle Bay in Pennsylvania; Nigeria; or Prince William Sound, Alaska.

    What is the problem?
    Presque Isle Bay in Pennsylvania: higher levels of e.coli bacteria in the water
    Nigeria: Cholera in the water, sickening and killing many people
    Prince William Sound, Alaska: Oil spill killing animals and fish
  3. What is the problem caused by?
    Presque Isle Bay in Pennsylvania: contamination with human or animal waste and wet weather
    Nigeria: contaminated wells and contaminated water spread through storm runoff
    Prince William Sound, Alaska: an oil supertanker struck rocks and spilled oil
  4. What was done or recommended to solve the problem? For Prince William Sound, more information appears on pages 35-38. For Nigeria, more information appears on 58-61.
    Presque Isle Bay in Pennsylvania: further studies to determine how to reduce contaminated run off; temporarily closed beaches
    Nigeria: Life straw, ways to filter out cholera and dangerous bacteria
    Prince William Sound, Alaska: Long cleanup process cleaning animals
  5. What would be an inquiry question for solving the problem?
    Presque Isle Bay: How can sewage runoff be prevented?
    Nigeria: What can protect people from dangerous bacteria and provide clean drinking water?
    Prince William Sound: What are some ways to reduce both types of pollution? What types of legislation can be passed to prevent or reduce oil spills?