Two groups of students at Clark Magnet High School are each in the running to win $30,000 after successfully beating more than 30 other teams at high schools across the western region in an environmental studies competition.
As part of the Lexus Eco Challenge, one team looked at how land devastated by the Station Fire is recovering and the other studied the effects of acid rain.
After collecting data from two high-altitude balloons students launched in 2012 and earlier this year, Team 696 captured images taken thousands of miles above the Angeles National Forest, including the more than 160,000 acres burned in the Station Fire.
After studying that area, team members saw firsthand how the forest has recovered since the fire and identified some invasive species of plants that have since cropped up, including castor bean, tree tobacco and tamarisk.
Following that study, they traveled to local elementary schools to speak against the dangers of fire and then watered dozens of newly planted, big-cone spruce trees in the Deukmejian Wilderness Park.
The other group of students at Clark Magnet, known as the Eco Narcs, won $10,000 for studying how acid rain impacts the environment.
Acid rain can be formed when polluting gases, particularly emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, mix with rain clouds.
Among the dangers it can pose is that once the acidic water falls as rain into the soil, its high aluminum content prevents plants and trees from absorbing water.
The rain can also pollute lakes and streams and, inevitably, fish can die because of exposure to the chemicals.
The team studied emissions from a sports car, an SUV and a sedan, and determined that a more fuel-efficient vehicle would create less acid-rain formation.
Dominique Evans-Bye, a teacher who advised the students on the acid-rain project, said they approached the study with their own creativity.
“I try to encourage them to just take a different look at things,” she said.
Clark Magnet Principal Doug Dall presented the teams with cake this week to celebrate their advancement in the competition.
The two teams are among 32 high- and middle-school finalists across the country who are competing for an additional $30,000 to continue work on their projects.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.