Bundle 5: Iowa’s Changing Land Use

Tier 2: Human interactions with the land

Tier 2: Human interactions with the land


The objective of Tier 2 is for students to learn about ecosystem services and benefits that come from land and landscapes.  Furthermore, students need to learn about “how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s systems” (language is from MS-ESS3-4).


To achieve this objective, we present two case studies that illustrate ecosystem services, and how those ecosystem services are changed by human development. Students will begin by confronting one of two local phenomena.  The first phenomenon or case study involves the links between karst topography (shallow limestone and dolomite surface rock) and drinking water quality. Karst topography is common in northeast Iowa and occurs in conjunction with sinkholes, which capture media attention and student interest. In the second option, students consider the tradeoffs between local development of land, and the loss of ecosystem services or benefits provided by the land prior to development.   These options can both be covered sequentially, or one can be chosen over the other.

Big questions:

  • What does it mean to develop land?
  • What natural resources must a community use as their population grows?
  • What are the limitations on our consumption?
  • What are our individual and societal needs, desires, and values? How do they manifest in natural resource use?
  • How do humans benefit from ecosystem services?
  • What are the scientific, economic, and social considerations for development?

Standards addressed:

MS-ESS2-4 Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through Earth’s systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity.
MS-ESS3-3  Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.
Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s systems.
MS-ESS3-5  Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.
 Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.
 Construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment.
MS-PS3-3  Apply scientific principles to design, construct, and test a device that either minimizes or maximizes thermal energy transfer.
MS-PS4-3  Integrate qualitative scientific and technical information to support the claim that digitized signals are a more reliable way to encode and transmit information than analog signals.
Science and Engineering
Crosscutting Concepts

Tier in depth:

Option 1:  Karst Topography, Drinking Water, and Sinkholes

Introduction: The composition of the ground impacts how society uses it – and vice versa. Karst topography (shallow limestone and dolomite surface rock) is common in northeast Iowa, and has important consequences for water quality.  A map of the karst terrain is shown below.

Sinkholes are more common than students might expect, and even happen in Iowa. In karst terrain, because the surface bedrock is soluble, sinkholes are fairly common. Because of the solubility and porosity of the karst layers, water contamination problems can occur more easily in karst terrain.  When water pollution sources (such as intensive livestock operations) are combined with karst terrain and private wells — problems with water quality and well pollution have been found. To confront and begin exploring these problem, have students view the following resources which describe various accounts of sinkholes, drinking water, mining shafts, and karst topography in Iowa (and surrounding area).

Data investigation: Using data sources, students learn more about karst topography, sinkholes, past mining systems, CAFO’s, and their interrelations. Ask students: How is karst topography related to water quality? Is our water safe to drink? What are the “hot spots” in Iowa that have similar water issues (due to geology and surrounding land use)? How can we mitigate these problems with drinking water? How can we measure and predict our risk due to contaminants from animal feeding operations (AFOs) and other agriculture? Is it possible to predict our risk of sinkholes or water contamination? What are the variables involved, and how can they be measured and described? Use data sources below to predict outcomes and investigate your hometown or school. More maps are available from the DNR.

Option 2: Local Development

Choose a local development project in your town (preferably in the planning stages, although implementation also works). Ask students to list and discuss the environmental resources (i.e., ecosystem services) that tract of land provides (or provided), and to consider how the land development might change them.  Students can contrast the ecosystem services with the benefits from the development, such as housing or recreation.  Encourage students to argue from evidence – if the new development will provide recreation for community members, how many individuals are expected to utilize the space, and is there a precedent? If the development is slotted for land that currently holds pollinator habitat, what kind of importance do pollinators hold in the community, and what percentage of pollinator habitat does this slot of land take up? Help your students to use precise measurements and quantitative language by utilizing the following resources.  Can the development be modified to maintain some of the ecosystem services? Or can enhancement of nearby landscape (i.e. plantings, management of habitat, soils or drainage, etc.) be done to make up for development-related losses in ecosystem services?







Created by Andrea Malek (andrea-malek@uiowa.edu) and edited by Charles Stanier (charles-stanier@uiowa.edu).