Richard Leanos and his classmates said they were amazed Wednesday by the differences they saw at different points along the Columbia River.
Some areas had lower water temperatures than others. The dissolved oxygen content of the water varied at each location. Even the flora and fauna changed from place to place.
"It's pretty cool how it's all different but the same river," said the 17-year-old junior from Pasco High School.
More than 300 students from Pasco High, mostly sophomores but some juniors and seniors, have spent the past few days collecting samples, making observations and recording other data for a science field study.
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New state science requirements require high school students be able to write and investigate a field study. Teachers said the field study is good practice for that requirement, but they and students said it also provides a real world application and makes students aware of their own environment.
"A lot of the time they're just using data that's given to them," said Raquel Martinez, head of the Science Department at Pasco High.
The students visited three locations along the Columbia -- Ringold Springs, the Vernita access at Priest Rapids Dam and Chiawana Park -- and worked with technology from Oregon-based company Vernier to collect data on how salty and cloudy the water at each location was, as well as the acidity, temperature and dissolved oxygen content.
They will use the data to develop hypotheses about why salmon are struggling in the lower reaches of the river.
Martinez said the students used equipment purchased for Pasco High by the district but also borrowed some from Chiawana High. Teachers also worked with the GEAR UP program through Washington State University Tri-Cities.
The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife waived fees to allow larger groups of students to visit the locations and the students will share their final data with department officials.
Martinez and Judy Dietzen, who teaches environmental science and earth science at Pasco High, said students were excited about the project, including a presentation by biologists at Priest Rapids Dam.
"We asked them so many questions we ran out of time," Dietzen said.
Angela Grabovskaya, an 18-year-old junior, said she and other students should do more coursework such as field studies as it contributes to a more hands-on learning experience that sticks.
Andres Ramos, a 17-year-old sophomore, said he appreciated the deeper understanding the field study provided.
"I'm actually learning why the fish are dying and why the environment is changing and how I can help in some way," he said.