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As humans have moved around, they settled towns and cities. Humans changed the natural environment to suit their desires. For example, a new grocery store comes to town. First they clear the land, build a building and asphalt a huge area for parking. Consider the following questions:

  • What effect do the human actions have on the environment?
  • What effect have human actions had on water drainage?
  • How have human actions changed animal habitat?
  • In what way have humans influenced the growth of plants?
Over the years, there have been several scientific concerns associated with our environment. In each case, scientists looked closely to determine if human actions caused the problem. In cases where human actions can reverse a problem, scientists often recommend this course of action. An example of this is:
Biologists became alarmed in the late 1980's with the disappearance of many types of amphibians. Amphibians have been around for 360 million years, long before the dinosaurs. Their sudden disappearance is alarming. Scientists are afraid that the vanishing amphibians might be an example of "miner's canary" syndrome.

In the nineteenth century, coal miners took canaries down into the mines with them. Canaries are very sensitive to the poisonous odorless gas carbon monoxide. If carbon monoxide was present in the mines, the canary would die alerting the miners to get out before the miners died.
Amphibians are very sensitive to their environment as well. Their moist skin absorbs chemicals from pond water. Biologists worry that the amphibians disappearance is an early warning that something very damaging is happening to the environment. One of the culprits is acid rain. Acid rain results when sulfur in smoke, produced by the burning of coal and oil, reacts with water in the air to form sulfuric acid, which falls back to Earth in rain or snow. This is one example of how humans are affecting the environment.
In this lab, you will examine the temperature of different surfaces and their effects on the environment.


  • Thermometer
  • Metric ruler
  • Pencil
  • Paper
  • Piece of cardboard
  • Graph paper
Safety concerns: icon Be sure to keep all glassware safety rules. As with all science lab activities, the most important safety rule is to follow all teacher directions.


  1. Choose four different surfaces around your school or home. Locations might include: asphalt, concrete, grass, sand, or dirt.
    • Observe your area. Record the time and a description of your area including any life forms observed (insects, mammals, spiders, plants, etc).
    • Carefully hold your thermometer three centimeters off the ground next to the surface you selected.
    • Shade your thermometer from direct sunlight using the piece of cardboard.
    • After the temperature stabilizes (three to five minutes) record the temperature on the data table.


      Time of day

      Area description









  2. Repeat this process on the other three surfaces.
  3. Use a bar graph to graph your data.


    1. In addition to any temperature differences, what other observations did you find when comparing your four surfaces?
    2. How did the temperatures differ between the four locations?
      • How do you account for such differences?
    3. What effect does the temperature have on the amount of life you found in your area?
    4. Describe what you think each area was like over one hundred years ago.
    5. How does this relate to areas like the rainforest where trees are cleared out to allow farming or mining to occur?

Review Science safetey rules here.

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Teachers should view the Teacher Site Map to relate Sci-ber text and the USOE 8th grade science core.

Updated October 24, 2008 by: Glen Westbroek

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