GARRETT — It’s a Thursday morning and 13 members of the “Salty Surveyors” gather in high school teacher Anthony Thomas’ classroom during Supervised Study Time to talk about their mission. But their classroom is usually held outdoors where hands-on studies can be made.
The extracurricular group meets twice a month to work on field research, specifically sampling local water and soils specimens. The student-driven effort began last fall with seven members who set guidelines to study three water sites and four water sites in the community.
Students go out twice a month, giving up four to five hours on a Saturday or Sunday outside of the classroom.
“We go out and take our (water and soil) samples and come back and do all the analysis here in the classroom where they log in the site and coordinates, put soil samples pulled with a soil corer in a tray to dry out for a couple days before they begin to analyze it,” said Thomas.
Water samples are collected in a tube and also logged by location. Sites include Ocker Park on the north side of town and two sites along “Dirty Ditch” along the city’s water treatment plant.
“Right now our data is not inconclusive, and but really isn’t too exciting,” said Thomas.
The group is looking at phosphates and nitrates.
“We were really hoping to see some seasonal fluctuations, from spring to summer, but it’s been pretty constant,” he said.
By the end of this month, Salty Surveyors will be partnering with Purdue University through NASA, where members will be pairing off to do additional research outside the group. Each team will present research findings to Purdue through a virtual poster due this week. The top two posters will advance to regional judging in Madison, Wisconsin.
Thomas said the group was able to acquire a used industrial drone through Garrett native Craig Gillespie, at less than 50% of its actual cost. The drone, along with sensors, is valued close to $11,000, but was purchased for about $4,000 through funding from the Dekko Foundation, G-K-B Education Foundation, James Foundation, United Way of DeKalb County and the Community Foundation of DeKalb County.
“We had several grants, but what really got us started was the G-K-B Foundation Grant,” said Thomas.
The drone allows the pilot to fly it over a field, implementing one of two sensors, one a normal vision sensor, the other a multi-special sensor that mimics infrared so students can scan an entire field and start to identify low and high levels of growth, according to Thomas.
By the end of year, their goal is find out how to use drone to the best of its abilities and establish a baseline data for the area’s soil and water.
The entire group is from grades 9-11, so most plan to stay with the group next year.
In the meantime, they would like to be able to study samples from larger bodies of water, not from the shore but on the water, perhaps implementing a canoe or kayak.
Thomas said he knows of no other school in the area with any program such as this.
“From an educator’s perspective, everyone wants to be here, everyone is involved,” he said of the group.