To kick off their environmental science unit, Teal and Indigo Bands headed out this morning for a half day excursion to Whirlpool Cave through Austin Watershed Protection. They climbed deep into the Edward’s Aquifer via caves to explore Austin's unique Karst topography and learn more about our city’s watershed. This experience will be helpful as they later move into a project focused on water quality in which the learners will develop their own water filtration systems. Ultimately, the engineering design challenge they will take on will be to work in a team to design a low-cost water treatment device to prevent children in areas with poor water quality from getting sick.

Caving proved to be exciting to some, and a bit nerve-wracking to others. Gearing up and going deep into the earth is a novel experience, and for some of these scientists, it was a thrilling adventure and for others it meant conquering some hidden fears. While below ground, we learned that water that enters Whirlpool Cave, located not far from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, takes just three days to reach Barton Springs, which then dumps into Barton Creek, which then leads to the Colorado River, our drinking supply. Trace dye studies helped scientists learn this and it impacted us all greatly — we understand in a more profound way how everything we do can impact our water supply.

After caving, we headed out to a sinkhole to test the water quality there. Henry ran a nitrate test using an Octa-Slide Color Comparator while Clara collected macro invertebrates and found a Spreadwing Damselfly, an indicator the water quality was good. Meanwhile, Rowen and Victoria worked with a scientist from the watershed protection agency to run pH, nitrate, and dissolved oxygen tests. They recorded the pH at 7, found the nitrate level was 0, and measured 7.5 mg/L for dissolved oxygen. More signs that the water in the Beckett Meadows wet pond is good, bordering on excellent!