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Did They Make the Gradient? Climate and Stream Temperatures Now and Into the Future

This article is from Issue Climate Change - Vol. 14 No. 1.

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If the temperature of a stream rises too high, the animals that live in the stream may find it difficult to survive. Big changes in a stream’s daytime temperature as compared with its nighttime temperature may also cause a problem for aquatic animals. The scientists in this study were interested in answering three questions: (1) How does the shape of a stream affect its daytime water temperature? (2) How does the shape of a stream affect the difference between its daytime and nighttime water temperatures? (3) How might a rise in average air temperature over time affect a stream’s water temperature?

Welcome to the Climate Change edition

Note to Educators

Journal Lesson Plan

Word Search

Word Scramble

Education Standards Correlations

Reflection Section Answer Guide


Additional Resources for this Article:
Meet the scientists that contributed to this article:

"Science Topics" covered in this article:
  • Life Science
  • People and Science
  • Technology and Science

"Thinking About Science Themes" covered in this article:
Scientific knowledge usually advances in small steps. When similar results are reported by different scientists, scientists have more confidence that the results are accurate. When scientists generally agree that existing results are accurate, they do new studies to push their knowledge even further. For example, scientists agree that a change in air temperature will cause a change in stream temperature. Scientists also generally agree that if the air temperature in an area rises, then stream temperatures in the area will likely rise as well. In this study, the scientists wondered if the shape of a stream would also affect the streamís temperature. In other words, they wondered if the temperature of some streams would change more than other streams, if the temperature rose by the same amount and the only difference was the streamís shape. The scientists designed a study to answer this question. You can see that scientists develop specific questions to answer. Research advances our knowledge one question at a time. Scientists are like detectives who must answer one question before they can move to the next.
Specific "Thinking About Science" Themes:
  • Characteristics of Scientists
  • The Scientific Process

"Thinking About Environmental Themes" covered in this article:
Streams are found all over the world. Streams are waterways that carry water to rivers, and rivers carry water to oceans. Streams provide habitat for many animals, including invertebrates, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. To provide habitat for animals, the water temperature of streams must not exceed an upper limit. The State of North Carolina has determined that mountain and upper Piedmont streams must not be higher than 29 degrees Centigrade (figure 1). The State has also determined that the temperature should not be higher than 32 degrees Centigrade for lower Piedmont and coastal streams and rivers. Many things affect a streamís temperature. The amount of shade over a stream may affect its temperature. The air temperature also affects a streamís temperature. What else might affect a streamís temperature? The scientists in this study were interested in discovering as much as they could about what causes a streamís temperature to rise during the day. You may be surprised at what they discovered!
Specific "Thinking About the Environment" Themes:
  • Water

NSE Standards covered in this article:
  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry (A)
  • Nature of science (G)
  • Risks and benefits (F)
  • Science as a human endeavor (G)
  • Structure of the earth system (D)
  • Understandings about science and technology (E)
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry (A)