TL;DR Courses: Ecological Data Science

Written by Erin Kang | Wednesday, June 16

This week’s article is a look into SciTeen’s very own Ecological Data Science camp for high school students held virtually back in March. We partnered with the National Ecological Observatory Network to bring students ecology datasets to explore and analyze.

Participants received an introduction to Python (a computer programming language) and Jupyter notebooks. The students also delved into ecological data and learned the techniques necessary to import and analyze the data. A few concepts students learned about include carbon dioxide flux, eddy covariance, and triple air aspiration temperature.

Below are two testimonials from students who participated in the camp.

Miranda Miller-Bruzos – Junior at Boca Raton Community High School

What experience did you have with the subject of ecology before doing the SciTeens camp? 

I didn’t really have too much experience in the subject of ecology. I did take AP Environmental and AICE Marine, so I did learn about different creatures and different aspects like climate change and carbon flux. So, we talked about some topics but I wouldn’t say they were necessarily focused on ecology.

Were you already passionate/interested about ecology?

Yes - I’ve always been interested in the environment and wanting to do more research, and I think that in my future I want to do research. It was definitely something I was interested in.

Did you have any experience coding before?

Not really. One time, maybe like a week in freshman year, I used this app called Grasshopper which tries to teach you how to code. But I really didn’t know anything.

 Did you encounter any obstacles, and how did you work through them?

I did run into a lot of trouble, especially with my final project. I really just asked for help. After the actual meeting, the camp had an hour where you can work with the SciTeens mentors and I did that. So, if I had any questions or encountered any problems, I asked them. With their help, I was able to do everything.

 Choose one data product you worked with – what did you end up doing with it?

So, we used the NEON sites. For my project, I used California and Florida (the DSNY site and the SOAP site). I analyzed the mean humidity and compared the patterns between both of them. I just basically coded to analyze the data and compare both of them. I used t-tests as well. I also calculated the mean of the data and made graphs so I could see the pattern of the relative humidity.

Did you find anything interesting or unexpected?

I didn’t find anything really surprising. In my mind, I thought that the data might look similar between Florida and California, but the relative humidity mean was very different so that was really the only surprising thing. However, after I did research, I understood why the results were the way they were.

 How has this camp further sparked your interest in STEM?

This camp really did spark an interest in science because prior to this camp, I didn’t really know what exactly I wanted to do. Once I participated in this camp, it really helped me believe that I could become a researcher.

What new skills or information have you learned as a result of this camp?

I didn’t know how to code before this camp, but now I know how to do some basic coding. I also learned about different jobs and how you can incorporate coding in a field like ecology.

What about this experience (both the SciTeens camp and working with NEON data) might make you want to work with ecological data in the future?

So, I never really knew what I wanted to do. I knew that I was interested in the environment and wanted to help it but I didn’t know what part. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a lawyer or study specific things. Doing this camp and hearing from the guests, made me realize that I actually want to do research. I’m very interested in going out into the field, collecting data, and analyzing differences. There were two NEON guest speakers and one of the speakers said that she looks at multiple things and is very hands on, which is what I am into.

 Alessandra Castillejos – Sophomore at Cypress Bay High School

What experience did you have with the subject of ecology before doing the SciTeens camp? 

I didn’t really have any experience with ecology, but I was very interested in exploring this field, especially now because the change in climate is affecting many of our ecosystems. These ecosystems are in danger. I believe by studying ecology that can provide us with a solution to combat this – it can help with resource allocation and can help people realize the effects our actions have on the environment.

Have you worked with any ecology data sets before?

No, this was my first time.

Did you have any experience coding before?

Yes. Last year, I took Computer Science Principles at my school. So, I learned a little bit of Java Script, but I didn’t go in-depth and I didn’t really like the curriculum. However, this year, I am taking Computer Science A and that really developed my critical thinking skills. I was hoping to learn Python too to deepen my knowledge base. Coding just offers so many opportunities and you can do so much with coding. That’s why I find it so fascinating.

What NEON data products did you explore during the camp? Did you find a favorite data product, or product type?

I worked with the data from the Central Plains Experimental Range (CPER) at the NEON site. I basically studied how temperature correlates with the amount of carbon flux during the summertime (specifically July) versus winter (specifically December). My results were essentially with higher temperatures, there’s a greater amount of carbon flux.

Did you find a favorite data product, or product type?

I found all the data products interesting. The SOAP dataset was really interesting as well. I specifically studied with one in Colorado because I want to go Colorado one day, and I learned a little bit about the environment there.

Did you encounter any obstacles, and how did you work through them?

Yes. Sometimes I would have trouble graphing my data because the formation of the graph was skewed but I was able to get help from the instructors and were able to help me fight the problem by telling me what to do. So, I did that and it got fixed. Also, within the project, I had a lot of NaN values which are Not a Number values. This basically means the data was probably not inputted or something. Unfortunately, I couldn’t change it because if I did, I would have to change my entire project question. In the future, I would use a data set that doesn’t revolve around that many NaN values. I also tried changing my data frames as well, but it wasn’t helping and I was still getting a lot of the same values.

Choose one data product you worked with – what did you end up doing with it?

I worked with the Central Plains Experimental Range (CPER) data set at the NEON site and I studied how temperature correlates with carbon flux and chose December and July. My conclusion was that in December, the carbon flux plot showed that when there’s low CO2 temperatures, there’s low carbon flux. In the carbon flux plot for July, there were many high and low amounts but those changes also correlated to the changes in temperature. When there were low temperatures, there was also low carbon flux and vice versa. As I said before, since there were many missing values in the dataset, I couldn’t support my hypothesis.

Did you find anything interesting or unexpected?

I found the magnitude of the ways you can use Python to present data extremely interesting. In Python, you can show these values through a relationship or a story and not just with meaningless numbers. While working with the NEON data, I found it really interesting how all these values in the dataset represent a relationship in the environment and nature and even with us. Those values show a relationship with humans as well. All of this can be useful in allocating resources, maintaining clean air, tracking weather, and sustaining biodiversity, especially with climate change.

What about this experience (both the SciTeens camp and working with NEON data) might make you want to work with ecological data in the future?

You can do so much with coding and it provides the answers to most of our problems now and in the future. The more we gather data and learn about ecology, the better we can help combat the problems that are very dangerous to our ecosystems right now. Hopefully, we can help sustain a clean environment in the future or take the steps to do so.

TL;DR

In partnership with the National Ecological Observatory Network, SciTeens presented a unique way of introducing students to the world of data science and ecology. Our Ecological Data Science course served as an eye-opening experience for many campers. If you found this interesting, be sure to check out our new Physics & Data Science virtual course coming soon!

About the Author

Erin Kang is a senior at James S. Rickards High School and is a part of the SciTeens team. Her hobbies include baking, listening to music, and playing the violin. If you have any questions or future article recommendations, feel free to contact her at erin@sciteens.org.