Environmental Geochemistry Class Project

Carey Gazis, Central Washington University

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Initial Publication Date: June 6, 2013


This is a inquiry-driven class research project on a local environmental geochemistry question that is accomplished during three-hour laboratory sessions each week. Students are divided into groups that will share the responsibilities of collecting samples and data. Once the data is collected, it is shared among the entire class so that all students have the same data set. The class works on data presentation, preliminary analysis, and statistics together Then each student writes his/her own report separately.


Laboratory skills -- Students have basic laboratory skills necessary to carry out a supervised geochemical study (e.g. can perform Gram titration of waters in field, can collect water samples using clean methods).

Quantitative methods -- Students can manipulate, sort, and transfer data in Excel and can create simple x-y plots and histograms to bring out trends in data.

Critical thinking -- Students can develop multiple hypotheses to explain trends in data and can design tests of these hypotheses.

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This activity is part of an upper-level undergraduate/ graduate course in Environmental Geochemistry. The students in the course are mostly seniors and M.S. students, mostly in Geology, but some in Chemistry and/or Biology.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students in this course have completed two terms of introductory Chemistry. Most have completed math through at least Pre-Calculus and one or more introductory-level Geology courses. Students should know basic chemistry and be comfortable with chemical units and unit conversion.

How the activity is situated in the course

The project takes place throughout the course during weekly three-hour lab sessions. It culminates in individually written reports that are turned in at the very end of the course.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Aqueous geochemistry
Trace element geochemistry
Chemistry of specific water type: surface water, groundwater, snow, soil leachates (depends on project chosen)

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Formulating hypotheses to be tested and/or specific questions to be addressed.
Designing sampling strategy to test hypotheses/address questions.
Extracting significant findings and trends from large data set
Assessing data in terms of detection limits and uncertainties
Critical evaluation of models to explain observations

Other skills goals for this activity

Clean protocol for sampling waters
Operating ICP-MS, especially using software for data reduction
Written report of research results

Description and Teaching Materials

Class Project on Local Geochemistry Topic (Acrobat (PDF) 138kB Jun6 13)

Teaching Notes and Tips


Assessment of student reports.

References and Resources