Steamboat Springs Alex Kumor, a middle school student from Fort Collins, watched the beads attached to her shoelaces brighten with color as she hiked up Hahn's Peak.
The beads' brightness increased with the UV intensity and were used as an awareness tool during Camp Atmospheric Exploration and Research in the Environment, a science camp for middle school girls, held last week.
Camp AERIE consisted of a series of outdoor explorations that included collecting data about the atmosphere, water and vegetation.
Professor Melanie Wetzel and Steamboat Springs Middle School science teacher Lisa Lorenz, who served as the camp leaders, hoped the girls would develop a love for science and a strong background in quantitative analysis.
Wetzel said there are fewer women in science fields than men and said she would like to see women at least take more science classes during their high school years. She said the camp gave students the extra confidence often needed when enrolling in a challenging science course.
"It is really a great camp and more fun with women," Kumor said.
She said the camaraderie of the girls created a positive learning environment.
Students visited the Storm Peak Laboratory on two occasions and tested the air for particles.
The aerosol particle counter sucks in air and makes a cloud and then tests for particles per cubic centimeter.
Wetzel said air particles can be generated from the wind-blown dust, smoke, car emissions or anything released into the air.
Students are "making links between atmospheric processes and environmental protection and climate change," Wetzel said.
Wetzel, a professor at the University of Nevada in Reno, conducts some of her research.
Students spent three days in Hahn's Peak enjoying the outdoors while testing the physical properties of the area.
From the pH readings students gathered from Steamboat Lake and the surrounding water, they stumbled onto an environmental puzzle even most professionals couldn't explain.
Most of the pH in Steamboat Lake and surrounding water was more basic than normal. Students collected readings of 9 and 10.
Lorenz said a pH of 6.5 to 8.5 is normal for the area. She said water in the Steamboat area is a little more basic because of the rock and soil formation.
Katie Gainor said she learned the additional growth of algae in the waters could be contributing to the high alkalinity.
Lorenz said because of the lack of cloud cover and rain this summer, the water was exposed to higher levels of UV rays.
The increased UV exposure was beneficial to the algae and encouraged its growth.
However, the byproducts of algae are known to increase the alkalinity of water.
"We were really astounded," Lorenz said.
Gainor said the group also predicted the lack of rain would not help the problem.
She said rain can dilute the water and help the pH return to a normal range.
To test the properties of the area, students got to use technology of the atmospheric research field.
For one research project, students hiked up Hahn's Peak taking readings of wind speed, air temperature, UV intensity and air particles at an increase of 300 feet in altitude until they reached the top.
Wetzel said after students collected their readings, they learned how to graph them on a computer and interpret the results.
Students learned why readings would change as they increased in altitude.
Wind speed changed dramatically depending on the surrounding vegetation.
Wetzel said meteorologists depend on geographic maps to determine changes in wind speed.
Lorenz pointed out different rocks and their types to students and Wetzel questioned students on the type of clouds building around the mountains.
Students learned through their own data and observation the interconnectivity of the weather with the land and water.
Jessika Fowler said the best thing about the camp was having knowledgeable leaders with all the technology needed to test the area right at hand.
The camp was as much of a learning experience as it was an outdoor adventure.
The girls stayed at cabins in Hahn's Peak and took paddleboats out on Steamboat Lake, practiced morning yoga and prepared dinner together in the evening.
Lorenz said none of the students participating in the camp will be her students in the upcoming school year but is glad for the students who took the opportunity to learn from each other and from Wetzel, a research scientist.
"They learned quite a bit about atmospheric processes, atmospheric sources of pollution and the risk from natural radiation," Wetzel said. "They learned how to interpret measurement from instrumentation."