MTEOR/GEOL 113X - Spring orientation for Earth Wind & Fire Learning Community

IOWATER research project


1. Learning goals:

  • Students will learn to search, download, and format data from the USGS Stream Discharge and Iowa Environmental Mesonet databases

  • Students will create plots of discharge vs. time and precipitation vs. time in Google Sheets

  • Students will work in teams to design and conduct a field-based project to analyze water quality at stream locations around Ames using the IOWATER protocol

  • Students will summarize their research project in an abstract and poster


2.  Context

  • Meteorology and geology freshmen enrolled in MTEOR/GEOL 113X (1 cr.) in spring semester

  • Teams of three students work first with stream discharge and climate data to learn how to use spreadsheets and create plots

  • Then students design a research project around a specific water quality parameter and that involves data collection at 3-4 stream sites over a three-week period

3a. Description of activity

  • Every other class period dedicated to research project

  • Students work with existing dataset to create graphs for first part of semester

  • Graphs in Google Sheets shared with instructors and peer mentor who provide feedback

  • Students identify research question and design data collection after spring break

  • Three weeks to collect data, analyze, compare to water quality datasets, and interpret

  • Draft and final version of poster in Cybox for feedback


3b. Resources

  • Average daily stream discharge at three USGS gauge stations in Ames (

    • Click on map to zoom into Iowa, then click on Story County and find three gauges in Ames (05470000, 05471000, and 05470500)

    • Select time interval and download data or create graph (see below)

  • Average daily precipitation and temperature in Ames, Boone and Webster City

    • Go to

    • Historical Data - download

    • Select Ames

    • Download comma-separated data and paste into Google Sheet file

    • Go to

    • Historical data - download

    • Select BOONE and WEBSTER CITY

    • Select Air temperature (F) and hourly precipitation (in) for your three month period

    • Download comma-separated data and paste into Google Sheet file

  • Water quality data from City of Ames (Water Treatment Plant) - made available upon request from Maryann Ryan


4.  Teaching notes and tips

The original project was based on the IOWATER project funded by DNR. While we are still using their data collection protocol, the database is no longer maintained so we found alternative sources of data. We are combining the use of USGS stream discharge data with a field-based data collection at sites around Ames that were identified by IOWATER. We share a map of the sites and students choose three of them based on their research question.

Provide a detailed timeline and outline of the activity to students at the beginning of the class: coming up with deadlines as you progress will lead to frustration and delays.

Historical data are useful to provide a longer-term context of their research, and as a means to verify the reliability of the data that they have collected.

Explain to students that they need to be flexible with parameters that they cannot control: if they decide to study the effect of precipitation on the concentration of nitrates in a stream, and it doesn’t rain during their data collection window, they need to modify their question, or use historical data to assess it.


5. Assessment

The Undergraduate Research Student Self-Assessment instrument is used to measure student reported gains in thinking and working like a scientist, personal gains, and gains in skills. The Test of Scientific Literacy Skills pre- and post-test is also used for assessment.


6. References and resources

IOWATER website (inactive) - Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program

Weston, T.J. and Laursen, S.L. (2015) The Undergraduate Research Student Self-Assessment (URSSA): validation for use in program evaluation. CBE-Life Sci Educ. 14: 1-10.

Gormally, C. et al. (2012) Developing a Test of Scientific Literacy Skills (TOSLS): measuring undergraduates' evaluation of scientific information and arguments. CBE Life Sci Educ. 11(4): 364-77.

Additional resources available upon request.



Dr. Cinzia Cervato, Morrill Professor of Geological & Atmospheric Sciences

Dave Flory, Senior Lecturer of Meteorology