Environmental Sampling--Mercury Project

Environmental Sampling follows Preparing for Field Sampling and takes the class out to collect samples from their field site.  Refresh the class as necessary, or do another ‘dry run’ of the procedure. Ensure that all materials are available.



  • Material lists are specific to the type of sampling you will be doing. See Preparing for Field Sampling for a generalized list.


General Sampling Notes:

There are more specific Field Sampling Protocols in the attachments below. The protocols are specific to:

  • Aquatic Invertebrate Sampling
  • Terrestrial Sampling
    • soil sampling
  • Ice Fishing Sampling

Important note:

Students should do the whole study as planned and interpret the results, even if they realize partway through that they might have done something different. If the protocols are changed in the middle of the study, no one will know whether the results are real or whether the protocol change created some odd results.
Regardless of the type of sampling your class is doing the following procedures are essential:

  1. Make defensible research plans
  2. Collect only the information needed
  3. Be systematic and collect the same type of data in the same way
  4. Take very careful field and lab notes
  5. Enter the data into a spreadsheet in order to analyze and graph it
  6. Check entered data twice to minimize errors whenever you can
  7. Label the sample bags before you begin. Labels should be written in permanent marker right on the outside of the outer sample bag and only on the outside. Write the label in 2 places – on the front and back of the bag, or top and bottom, in case one label gets partly wiped off. Let the writing dry before you start sampling.
  8. The mercury instrument needs a very small amount of material. The dish that holds the samples for analysis is about the size of an average paper clip so it is not necessary to send much material in. A single beetle can be a sample. A larger amount of soil is OK but the lab technician will mix it and pull out a small piece to analyze. A few leaves and needles would be enough to analyze litter. You do need to ensure that your sampling is representative, such that it characterizes what’s in the field. If the litter at your site is mostly spruce needles with a few maple leaves, the sample you send in should be about that same proportion.
  9. To collect samples, no matter what type, work in pairs. One person is in charge of the sample bag (they are called “Dirty Hands”) and the other will collect the samples (they are called “Clean Hands”). The person collecting samples (Clean Hands) puts on a pair of gloves. Once the gloves are on, Clean Hands touches nothing but the sample he/she is collecting and any pre‐cleaned supplies. Any rinsing should be done with the Poland Spring water, not any other type of water (e.g., tap water).
  10. Treat each sample like a brand-new item, "Clean Hands" puts on a new pair of gloves.
  11. Collect samples of one or more types, as appropriate for your study.


Submit your samples to the lab in a cooler, on ice, by shipping them overnight or delivering them yourself. Fill out the Chain of Custody form or the lab will not have enough information to analyze your samples.

See Sample Submission for more details.


Question Set

A student handout is available below

  • What types of animals did you find in your invertebrate sampling or fishing campaign?
  • Did different sites produce different numbers and types of animals caught?
    • If the answer to the above question is "yes", what site was most successful in terms of animals caught?
  • Did certain animals prefer certain kinds of environmental conditions (deep water, shallow water, caught at the bottom or near the top of the water column)?
  • Did the outside temperature have any impact on the number of animals caught?
  • What types of animals are not likely to be caught in a rock bag or kick net?
  • If you used more than one method to collect invertebrates, what comparisons can you make among the methods and animals caught with each?
  • Would you expect to capture the same animals if you conducted this experiment several times throughout the year? How could you test your predictions experimentally?

Assessment opportunity

Observe the groups as they prepare the samples to make sure that their procedures are correct. All samples should be collected according to the protocols and techniques outlined and should be properly bagged and labeled.

Have students critique each other as they do their dry runs to look for proper collection techniques and labeling procedures. Additionally, you can use the Field Sampling Checklist (the student version is an MSWord document- you can modify it- please send your modifications to Hannah) and the teacher rubric for the Field Sampling Checklist (the teacher version is an MSExcel spreadsheet- again, please send modifications to Hannah.


Have the perfect extension for an activity like this? Share it with us in the comments section below.


These documents can be viewed by clicking the links below.  Individual PDFs of each document can be downloaded from the "attachments" at the bottom of this web page.

    Question Sets