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Earth Science Projects

This group of earth science projects are based on a broad definition of earth science, which includes other areas besides geology, including bodies of water--both limnology (the study of fresh water) and oceanography--rocks and minerals, and soil science.

These projects are adaptable to make them useful for different purposes, and can be used in homeschools, as jumping off points for public or private school science projects, or as the foundation of science fair projects. You can feel free to include, reconfigure, or ignore the extensions. You can, if necessary, also adapt them to a younger or older, more sophisticated audience.

Bodies of Water

Collect water from a rainfall, from your tap, and from several local bodies of water, including ponds, lakes, rivers, or oceans. Label it carefully. Describe each water sample.

  • Look at each sample under a microscope. What organisms do you find?
  • Test the pH of each water sample. Explain the results.
  • Test the water for other products, including arsenic, chlorine, copper, hardness, iron, lead, nitrates, nitrites, and pesticides. You can purchase water sample test kits online, including ones designed for student and science project use, like the one here:

Rocks and Minerals

Collect a bunch of small rocks from around your neighborhood, local parks, and anywhere you’re allowed to take rocks, and also, if possible, purchase a small set of assorted gems and minerals. How many ways can you find to categorize the sets individually and when they’re mixed together?

  • Classify the rocks as sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic.
  • Identify your rocks. What do the rocks you found outside reveal about the areas in your community where you found them? Use the information at this University of Wisconsin website if you like:
  • Look at your rocks and minerals under a magnifying glass. What do you see that you couldn’t see with just your unaided eyes?

Soil Science

Go the the International Sand Collectors Society website - and read the page about becoming a sand collector. Set yourself up as a sand collector adapting the suggested system to suit your purposes and begin collecting samples. Don’t forget to look in your neighborhood - there is sandy soil in places other than beaches and deserts.

  • Sand grains are small to measure easily. Develop a system for sorting sand by size. Is sand in each sample of similar size? Explain differences you notice within and between samples.
  • Using a standardized color identification system like Pantone, for example, to describe the colors of the sand you have. Explain color differences you notice within and between samples.
  • In the spring, go around your yard or a similar area of your choice. Take note of plants growing where they were not planted, for example, dandelions and violets in lawn areas, oaks and maples sprouting in the garden, irises that are feet away from where they were planted. Make a positive identification of each one. Do your best to figure out how the plants got to their new location. What conclusions can you draw about why they’re growing in the new place?
  • Find out about the growing guidelines for each of the plants you discovered. Check to see if the places where these “unplanted” specimens have landed meet their expected requirements. As part of this process, describe the soil conditions and test the soil. Explain any discrepancies you find between what the plants’ ideal growing conditions are and where they have actually grown. What conclusions can you draw?
  • Choose a case in which you have two specimens of the same plant growing unplanted in two different places. Alter the location of one of them (carefully dig it up if you have to) and add nutrients to the soil, water more frequently, or whatever you need to do to create a situation close to its ideal conditions. Compare the growth of the two plants. What conclusions can you draw.
  • Choose a kind of seed to plant. Dig up a bit of dirt from your yard or garden, place it in a flower pot, and plant several seeds in it. Stick the pot in the garden or yard and leave it to nature. For the second pot, prepare the soil to suit the plant’s needs and put it next the first pot. What difference does the prepared soil make to the plant?
  • Take a bit of the soil from each plant and look at it under the microscopes. How does it differ?