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Biosphere, Hydrosphere



World-wide, wetlands provide important resources in terms of water resources, food and building resources, nutrient cycling, and climate controls. Despite their many values, wetlands historically have been misunderstood and abused because their importance wasn't obvious and their hazards, such as malaria and predators, were thought to outweigh the benefits of the wetland. For many years, wetlands were seen as "useless swamps" and were frequently filled, drained, polluted or used for dumping grounds. Many cities, such as Houston, TX, and Foster City, CA were built on former wetlands. Raised and drained former wetlands, especially those in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa provide fertile soils for farming. The destruction of wetlands in the United States alone has been significant - more than half of all wetlands in the 48 contiguous states have been lost since the mid-1700s. In the last twenty years, wetland conservation and restoration efforts have gained steam and fewer wetlands have been negatively impacted and many others have been restored.

Your community has the opportunity to acquire a major retailer. Their preferred building location is on a large natural wetland area (see scenario image 1). This wetland area is the major flood control system for the river that runs through your community, and is inundated annually. Several neighborhoods border the wetland and it provides a major source of socio-economic support for the community (food, including wild grains and fruits; timber; and recreation, especially hunting and fishing.).

This opportunity has divided your town. Many citizens are in favor of allowing the major retailer to build in this location, while others are vehemently opposed. What are the factors for, and against, civic development of a wetland? Complete an ESS analysis to define the impacts of development on the wetland.


Date: 3/17/2010

Scenario Images:

Wetlands come in many forms
Wetlands in Appalachia take many forms, from wetlands that develop along large streams that have standing water with emergent aquatics (above) to forested wetlands (below).
(Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway administration)

Some don't look like wetlands
Many forested wetlands do not even look wet.
(Image courtesy of Tom Biebighauser)

Artificial vernal pool
There are relatively few natural wetlands remaining in Appalachia, resulting in a loss of precious habitat, especially of vernal pools. To fulfill the role of natural vernal pools, many schools and communities construct vernal pools for teaching purposes and flooding control. This pool is located outside of the McBrayer Elementary School in Morehead, KY.
(Image courtesy of Tom Biebighauser)

Wet Meadows
Restored wet meadows serve functions similar to vernal pools, and provide important habitats for flowering plants and insects.
(Image courtesy of Tom Biebighauser)



"WOW! The Wonders of Wetlands, and educator's guide" (Cycle A)
This volume contains numerous wetlands activities as well as basic information about wetlands that is useful for review prior to teaching.


EPA: Wetland Walk Manual (Cycle A)
This one is very good for answering What causes wetlands to form? It also incorporates mapping skills.


EPA: wetlands (Cycle A)
Definitions of terms you will encounter in your study of wetlands.


EPA: What's up with our nation's water? (Cycle A)
A status report on the nation's water quality and what you can do to help. Pay close attention to chapter 7, What are Wetlands?


USGS: The fragile Fringe (Cycle A)
This site contains an in-depth review of coastal and inland wetlands.


Carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions in wetlands (Cycle B)
Wetlands, even small riverine wetlands, are important carbon sinks and also sources of greenhouse gasses.


Kentucky Pride's Wetlands Page (Cycle B)
All about wetlands, including constructing healthy wetlands.


Kentucky Regulations impacting civic development of wetlands (Cycle B)
Kentucky and most other states have regulations that dictate the processes corporations must follow if development results in permanent impacts on wetlands. How will these regulations impact development of your local wetland?


The Vernal Pool Association (Cycle B)
This site for the Vernal Pool Association provides a variety of resources about the biology and geomorphology of vernal pools.


Wetland Resource Value (Cycle B)
This report contains a good example of how to quantify the economic value of a wetland.


America's Wetland educational resources (Cycle C)
This site contains many resources for teaching the importance of coastal and other wetlands.


Watersheds (Cycle C)
This resource from Environmental Literacy has links to numerous classroom activities as well as basic information about watersheds.


Wetlands Theme Page (Cycle C)
This site is an excellent resource for cross-curricular (science + social studies) activities about wetlands.


Wetlands: A World in Our Backyard (Cycle C)
This site contains links to numerous classroom activities about wetlands. It can be used as a stand-alone unit or you can pick and choose activities from the matrix to suit your individual needs.


Sample Investigations:


"WOW! The Wonders of Wetlands: an educator's guide" (Cycle A)
The following investigations are taken from "Wow! The Wonders of Wetlands: an educators guide. This book contains basic information for teachers as well as wetland-related lesson plans for grades K-12. We suggest the following actvities from this book be used to develop a learning unit on wetlands, around which your students' ESS analysis can be wrapped as a unit project:
Difficulty: beginner


Wetland Transects (Cycle A)
Students will lay out transect lines near a riverine (or other) wetland and describe the flora and fauna they encounter. This activity can be extended to incorporate the lithosphere and hydrosphere by having students monitor sediment type and moisture content along the transects.
Difficulty: beginner


World in our Backyard (Cycle A)
This is a series of modules developed by the EPA for the New England region, but applicable to many places. Chapters 1-4 are especially useful for aiding student learning in support of writing their response to this scenario.
Difficulty: beginner


Sprawl in the Lehigh River Watershed (Cycle B)
This module explores the impact of civic development (urban sprawl) on the Lehigh River watershed. It helps students learn about the larger picture, before narrowing their focus to their local wetland.
Difficulty: beginner


Watershed Assessment (Cycle B)
This activity teaches students about wetlands in the context of the watershed they occur in and civic impacts upon them.
Difficulty: advanced




  • Science
    National Science Education Standards - Science Content Standards The science content standards outline what students should know, understand, and be able to do in the natural sciences over the course of K-12 education.
      The understandings and abilities associated with the following concepts and processes need to be developed throughout a student's educational experiences:
      • Systems, order, and organization
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Life Science (Std C)
        • Populations and ecosystems
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Populations, resources, and environments
        • Risks and benefits
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Life Science (Std C)
        • Interdependence of organisms
        • Matter, energy, and organization in living systems
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Geochemical cycles
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Natural resources
        • Environmental quality
        • Natural and human-induced hazards
  • Geography
    Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, 1994
      Geography studies the relationships between people, places, and environments by mapping information about them into a spatial context. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective
      • How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth’s surface
      The identities and lives of individuals and people are rooted in particular places and in those human constructs called regions. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • The physical and human characteristics of places
      Physical processes shape Earth’s surface and interact with plant and animal life to create, sustain, and modify ecosystems. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth’s surface
      • The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems on Earth’s surface
      The physical environment is modified by human activities, largely as a consequence of the ways in which human societies value and use Earth’s natural resources, and human activities are also influenced by Earth’s physical features and processes. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How human actions modify the physical environment
      • The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources
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