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Should Ditches be Graded? Testing Unpaved Roads with a Computer Program

This article is from Issue Olympic Winter Games - Vol. 2 No. 2.

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Soil erosion and sedimentation reduce the diversity of the natural environment. When soil is eroded and sedimentation occurs, important nutrients are carried away from the soil. The scientists in this study wanted to find a way to predict how much erosion would be caused by unpaved roads.

Welcome to the Olympic Winter Games edition

Note to Educators

Education Standards Correlations


Meet the scientists that contributed to this article:

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

"Environmental Topics" covered in this article:
  • Forest and Grassland Use (Educators)
  • Growing and Using Trees and Other Plants (Students)
  • Importance of Forest to People (Students)
  • Protecting Trees and Other Plants (Students)
  • The Value of Forests and Grasslands (Educators)
  • Using Forests (Students)

Regions covered in this article:
  • Rocky Mountain

"Thinking About Science Themes" covered in this article:
For many types of science, an important goal is to be able to predict events that might happen in the future. For example, you know that people try to predict the weather every day! Like the weather, most things in the natural world are so complicated that scientists are not always successful predicting what might happen. With the use of computers, scientists are able to consider the relationship of many more variables at the same time. With computers, they can study more complicated systems. This is because computers can keep track of millions of bits of information at once. In this study, the scientists compared their actual observations and measurements of soil erosion with the estimates made by a computer program. They wanted to know how well the computer program could estimate actual soil erosion. If it could estimate soil erosion fairly well, the computer program could become a useful tool for prediction for other places. This is a good example of how science can help society and the environment.
Specific "Thinking About Science" Themes:
  • The Scientific Process
  • Uses and Benefits of Science

"Thinking About Environmental Themes" covered in this article:
Whenever humans build something, they sometimes disturb the natural environment. In forested areas, people often build unpaved roads for occasional use (Figure 1). Even though these roads are useful to humans, they can cause soil erosion and sedimentation in the natural environment. This is primarily because rain runs freely across the roads into ditches, carrying soil particles with it. If sediment from roads reaches streams, it can harm the fish or other animals and plants that live in the stream. Scientists want to know how to build roads that do not cause sediment to reach forest streams. Because people want to use these kinds of roads, scientists are looking for ways to design roads that minimize soil erosion and sedimentation. Whenever humans build something, it is always wise to look for ways to reduce harm to the environment.
Specific "Thinking About the Environment" Themes:
  • Human impact on natural resources and other living things

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

Science Benchmarks covered in this article:
  • Habits of Mind: Communication Skils
  • Habits of Mind: Critical-Response Skills
  • Human Society: Social Trade-Offs
  • The Nature of Technology: Issues in Technology
  • The Nature of Technology: Technology and Science
  • The Physical Setting: Processes that Shape the Earth