Exploring Water Flow and Sediment Deposition at Paradise

24 Aug

Hi! My name is Lizzie Sturtevant (’18), one of several students and faculty working on the Mill River Monitoring Project. I am majoring in geoscience and have an interest in hydrology and resource management. I have been working with geoscience professor Robert (Bob) Newton along with Marcia Rojas (18’), Maya Domeshek (18’), and Lynn Watts (17’) to examine water flow and sediment deposition in Paradise Pond and the Mill River during different weather events.


With support from the Center for the Environment(CEEDS), the Mill River Monitoring Project has brought together students, faculty, and staff with a variety of backgrounds and interests in the search for an alternative method of sediment removal in Paradise Pond that will preserve the health of the river and save the school money while making use of the natural hydraulic power of the Mill River.

As suggested by its name, Paradise Pond is a landmark cherished by members of the Smith community and town of Northampton for its scenic relief and space for boating activities. A resource so central to the scenery on campus does not come without the cost of proper maintenance. Every 8-10 years, Smith College pays to have Paradise Pond dredged to remove accumulated sediment. This expensive process involves the excavation and transportation of the sediment to a landfill.

When looking across the mounds of mud and dead leaves that have filled several sections of Paradise Pond, you may have wondered what causes this accumulation of sediment. Naturally, rivers have a balance of sediment inflow and outflow; however, the construction of a dam such as the one used to create Paradise Pond can disrupt this balance by lowering water velocities, thus enabling the deposition and accumulation of sediment (Batuca et. al, 2000).

Sediment In Pond at 1.49.03 PM
A birds-eye view of the sediment in Paradise Pond.

It may be possible to use the natural power of the Mill River to remove this sediment by operating the sluice gate that is located at the base of the campus dam. This project is exploring the possibility of opening the gate during events of high flow to hydraulically erode the sediment and carry it through the gate, ultimately flushing it downstream and into the natural flow of river sediment.

Prior to releasing significant amounts of sediment through the sluice gate, it is important that we know the potential effects of depositing this sediment downstream. To evaluate these risks of contamination, we have taken sediment cores from Paradise Pond and sites downstream to compare their composition. We have been analyzing these cores for contaminants such as mercury, lead, and phosphorous, which could affect the ecosystems downstream if found at higher concentrations in the pond.

RiverRayThe “River Ray” which we use to measure water velocity and discharge.

Laboratory instructor Marney Pratt (biological sciences) has been working with Molly Peek (18′) to measure the invertebrate diversity of the river in order to study the effect of sediment release on the biological communities downstream of the pond. If you have been following the [CEEDS] blog at all, you have already heard from Molly about some of the macroinvertebrates they have found!

Professor Newton, Maya, Marcia, Lyn and I have established four reference sites downstream of Paradise Pond to observe and record sediment deposition following the opening of the sluice gate. Now that we have established our baseline data and characterized the sediment in the pond, we are prepared to test opening the sluice gate to see how the sediment will be deposited downstream. We will keep you updated on our findings as we move forward with our research! 

-Lizzie Sturtevant (’18) lives in Morrow House and plays on Smith’s lacrosse team. She grew up in the Pioneer Valley and now lives in Leyden Massachusetts- only a 35 minute drive from campus. Lizzie fell in love with geology when she studied abroad in New Zealand during her junior year of high school.

Reference Cited:

Batuca, Dan G., and Jan M. Jordaan. Silting and Desilting of Reservoirs. Rotterdam, Netherlands: A.A. Balkema, 2000. Print.

Field Work on the Mill River

17 Aug

It’s Molly Peek (’18) again! I am working on the Mill River Project with Marney Pratt and Mia Ndama (’17). We are using different macroinvertebrate sampling methods to measure the health of the Mill River. A typical day of sampling for me involves both field and lab work. In the field, the first thing we do is deploy a Hester-Dendy sampler, which is a long-term macroinvertebrate sampling method. The Hester-Dendy is a series of small, pressed wood plates attached to a screw. This sampler is then secured to a cinder block. Three cinder blocks with one Hester-Dendy each are placed in a line across the stream and left for 4 weeks. Macroinvertbrates will start to live on the Hester-Dendy, and when we remove the device we will have an entire community of animals to sample.


After I place the Hester-Dendy, I use another sampling method, kick net sampling, to collect a sample of macroinvertebrates by disturbing the substrate, causing them to float into my net. I do this several times in one section of river and then take all of my collected samples back to the lab so I can catalog the results.

In the lab, I identify each individual to its genus, and then preserve it for future reference. I use these identifications to calculate water quality and stream health based on the number and type of invertebrates found in my samples. We find many different types of organisms, but some of the most important are mayfly, stonefly, and caddisfly larva. Anyone who is interested in flyfishing might recognize these bugs because they are important bait, but we are interested in them because they are groups that are sensitive to pollution and are good indicators of stream health.

#2(Caddisfly, or Trichoptera, larva)

The identifications can be tough sometimes, because the animals can be quite small and difficult to distinguish, even under a microscope, but we are currently working on a dichotomous key that will make identification easier in the future. This key will be used in BIO 155 when the class has their unit on macroinvertebrate sampling, and is specially made for the Mill river and for students who do not have experience identifying macroinvertebrates. It has also been pretty fun to make!

-Molly lives in King House and plays on Smith’s field hockey team. She grew up in New Jersey and now lives in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

A Day in the Lab

6 Aug

Hello! It’s Maya Domeshek of the Paradise Pond Sediment Sluicing Project again.

Last time I told you a bit about lab work and lab machinery.  But today I’d like to tell you about the other thing I’ve been learning this summer—Database Building.  As I’m sure you know, almost everything in our lives involves data management.  A good example is the college itself.  It has to keep track of people (students, faculty, staff) and money (salaries, tuition, aid) and also institutional information like grades and classes.  When there are so many different kinds of data connected in so many different ways—students have classes, grades, teachers, and tuition and teachers have classes, students, and salaries—a simple spreadsheet is not sufficient.  You build a database.

The Pond Project does not require anything so complicated as the college’s Banner Web system—which is good because I’ve only just started learning about Databases—but it’s just complicated enough that a flat file database won’t work.  I first became interested in databases when I noticed that we were having trouble keeping track of all of the sediment data we were collecting.  As I explained last time, most of my work has been determining the metal concentrations in the pond sediment.  Our method involves extracting the metals by digesting the sediment samples with acid and then analyzing the liquid with the ICP-OES (Inductively Coupled Plasma spectrometry- Optical Emission Spectroscopy).  In order to check our method, we have been running multiple extractions on some sediment cores to see how variable our extraction process is.  We have also been doing multiple ICP analyses on some extracts to see how variable the ICP is.  Unfortunately, the database we were using didn’t have a way to distinguish these different kinds of replicates, which made it hard for us to quantify the different kinds of error in our procedure.

This struck me as a problem worth fixing, so Bob (i.e. Professor Newton my research advisor and the new director of CEEDS) has kindly let me take some time out of my regular work to learn how to program a database in his preferred database system—Filemaker Pro.  I finished a first version of it last week in which the database could at least tell the difference between samples that had been extracted repeatedly and samples that had been analyzed repeatedly.  The next step is to get the database to average the metal concentrations of the different kinds of replicates and calculate their standard deviations.  That has required me to start learning about relational databases—databases that can associate a record in one table with one or more records in another one.  In our college database example, there might be a table with a list of students and one with a list of classes but each student can have multiple classes and each class can have multiple students so you might want to organize it as a relational database.

Anyway, once I had my first version of the database up and running with all the data in it, I could finally look at all of the metal data we’d been collecting.  And when I did, there was a new problem glaring right back at me—whenever we ran the same extract of a sample through the ICP and then did it again some time later, the later analysis would have a lower metal concentration than the first.  This meant that the metal concentration in our extract solutions was going down over time, probably because the metals were precipitating out.  With the new knowledge from the database, we can now revise our method to keep a consistent and small amount of time between our extracts and analyses.  Then we will have more accurate data on the metal content of the pond sediments so that we can get our permits and begin experimenting with sediment sluicing.

Also I now have a question for the chemistry department—why is it that some metals precipitate out of an acidic solution faster than others?

-Maya Domeshek ’18 has just finished her work on the Paradise Pond Project as a CEEDS-supported Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow with Professor Robert Newton.  She has not yet settled on a major, but in her free time she enjoys dancing, dance teaching, and sharing a meal with friends and family.

Messing About in Boats (Or in the Lab)

30 Jul

Hello, Internet! I’m Maya Domeshek (’18) and I’m working on the Paradise Pond Sediment Sluicing Project.  I’ve been working on it since last fall, and it’s been one of the great pleasures of my first year at Smith that I’ve been able to spend time on the pond in all seasons and weathers.  I especially enjoyed collecting sediment samples this fall (who doesn’t like to get their hands covered in mud?) and traversing the pond and the Mill River in a row boat, a pontoon boat, and a canoe.  As the River Rat in The Wind in the Willows would say “There is nothing—absolute nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing.”

But Geology isn’t all field trips; it’s also lab work and data analysis.  So I thought I’d take this opportunity to tell you a little about what we do in the lab and the wonderful laboratory machines that Marc Anderson tends and explains with such love.  Much of my research work this past year has been focused on analyzing the sediment samples we’ve collected in order to to determine their metal content.  We would like to know, for example, if  they have high lead concentrations so that we don’t wash anything poisonous downstream.  Don’t worry—so far none of our sediment has dangerous levels of lead.

Maya in the field.

When I analyze a sediment sample for metal, I take a few grams of sediment and heat them with nitric and hydrochloric acid and then burn off the organics with peroxide.  This pulls most of the metal into solution.  I then dilute the acidic water and soil solution to a known volume and measure the concentration of metal in that solution.  Once I know the concentration of metal in a known volume, I can calculate the total amount of metal in that known volume and thus the total amount in the few grams of sediment I started with.

My favorite part of this process is that I get to measure the concentration of metals in the sediment using the lab’s ICP-OES (Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectrometer).  This machine takes a small amount of a sample and heats it up hotter than the surface of the sun.  It then measures the intensity of light the atoms in the sample emit at their characteristic wavelengths.  Based on these intensity measurements, it can calculate the concentration.

There are many other things do in the lb and many other fascinating instruments to do them with.  My fellow student researcher Lizzie often works with the Hydra C, which measures mercury using atomic absorption (not emission).  Lyn has been looking at the changing chemistry of the water over the course of a storm, so she often uses the IC which measures the concentration of ions like nitrate and sulfate.  And Marcia has been determining the size makeup of the sediment, which actually only requires sieving.

I suppose that’s enough information about lab procedures and machines for now.  But, it really is amazing to think about how much thought and work that went into creating the analytic tools we get to use.  Check back next time to hear about data analysis.

-Maya Domeshek ’18 is currently working on the Paradise Pond Project as a CEEDS-supported Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow with Professor Robert Newton.  She has not yet settled on a major, but in her free time she enjoys dancing, dance teaching, and sharing a meal with friends and family.

Researching on the Mill River

29 Jul

I’m Molly Peek ’18 and I am working with biology lab instructor Marney Pratt and geosciences Professor Bob Newton on the Mill River Monitoring Project this summer. While the majority of the project is geology based, Marney and I look at the ecological effects of the changing hydrology and sedimentation of the river. It’s a great research project that involves a lot of wading (and sometimes swimming) in streams and looking at bugs and mussels!


The majority of this project involves testing the health of the stream to see if there are any drastic changes after a new sluicing method is tried on the Paradise pond dam. We use water quality and Shannon Diversity indexes to measure stream health by the amount and type of macroinvertebrates found living in the stream before and after the sluicing has begun. Because some invertebrates are more tolerant to environmental change and water quality than others, we look to see if there is a good mix of hearty and sensitive macroinvertebrates in a sample to formulate the health of the stream.

This summer, we are using two methods of sampling for these animals. The first is kick net sampling, which is used widely in stream health research and in Smith biology classes. The other method uses Hester-Dendy samplers, which is a longer-term method of sampling.

While this data is being used to assess the impact of a new method of dredging, it is also being used to help the Smith biology department. When the invertebrates are sampled, they are identified as accurately as possible and put into a key that will be used by students to help them do the same sampling and identification in class.

We are also taking surveys on the density and type of freshwater mussels found in the river as another indicator of stream health. Most of the mussel species found in the Mill River are stable and long-lived, so they are good indicators of the history of the stream’s health.

-Molly lives in King House and plays on Smith’s field hockey team. She grew up in New Jersey and now lives in the Green Mountains of Vermont!

China Climate Change Project

28 Jul

China is a country that is industrializing as it is urbanizing. As a result, rapid development has come at the cost of environmental degradation.  With more emphasis being placed on climate change and with the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris coming up in December, the world’s leaders are closely watching China: the world’s biggest carbon dioxide emitter. After several weeks of reading and researching, our team has come to the conclusion that China is constantly negotiating between economic development and environmental protection. The country is trying to seek a balance between those two essential perspectives in order to achieve sustainable development. In our project, we assess the current situation of this balance, analyze its future trajectory and give our own policy recommendations. Each of us is focusing on this process from a different perspective. Chang is focusing on urbanization, Zara is interested in energy, and Xinruo is looking at public health.

From left to right: Zara, Xinruo, and Chang.

I am Xinruo Guo, a rising sophomore. I usually go by Amy. I have not yet declared my major but I am interested in human health. Professor Daniel Gardner is the faculty adviser of this project and he is like a small database on China because he knows a lot of things about the country that I, as a Chinese citizen, do not know. This project has enabled me to learn a lot about the Chinese environment and public health issues that I did not know previously. Therefore, I really appreciate this chance and feel that I gained a lot from this summer research experience.

Hi! I’m Chang Liu (‘18), from Beijing, China. I have no idea what to major in yet (probably philosophy?). In this project, I focus my research on China’s urbanization process and its impacts on the environment, and seek a sustainable way of urbanizing China’s cities. Before this research, I knew nothing about environmental science. But having personally experienced the notorious pollution of my hometown, I wish to know more about China’s environmental issues, what caused them, and how to address them.

I’m Zara Jamshed (‘17) from New York City. I am an engineering major and will hopefully declare a minor in environmental science and policy soon. I’m really interested in energy technology, especially renewable energy sources. I am exploring how China might restructure its energy fleet away from coal-fired power to prioritize the environment without impeding its economic growth. Last fall, I took an anthropology course on China, but I didn’t know much about the country’s renewable energy initiatives or its role in climate change negotiations. I feel like I have learned a lot about China from my research, my co-workers and Professor Gardner.

This summer research project was made possible with the support of Smith College’s Center for the Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability.

Garden Inspiration

27 Jul

Hi everyone!

My name is Danielle and this summer I’m working as the garden manager at the Community Garden on campus. Come fall I’m going to be a senior somehow but I still have a few more months of denial first. As was mentioned in an earlier post, I’m an Economics major (no idea how that happened) and I’m also IMG_2624in the Sustainable Food concentration. My favorite food right now is cereal because I haven’t gone grocery shopping in forever and it’s the perfect way to settle in and cool down after an afternoon of weeding my beloved garden.

I ended up here, covered with an intricate web of tan lines, perpetually aware of the dirt wedged under my fingernails, and eating cold cereal out of a coffee mug at 8 pm, through a long series of fortunate, random circumstances. I proudly come from a family of farmers. Growing up, I thought that, like me, all of my classmates had farms outside of town, that they would visit their farms on the weekends and would be welcomed by the choking aroma of manure that seemed to cloud the atmosphere, followed by warm cookies and milk fresh from the cow. It wasn’t until I was much older, after the farm had shut down, that I realized how special this part of my life was.

Of course, given that I was only a kid at the time, my memories of jumping on hay bales (imagine the lava game but x1000) and kissing calves straight on the mouth (because germs are whatever) are overly romanticized. My grandparents, together with my mom and her five siblings, all worked extremely hard. The cows required milking twice a day every single day of the year. That meant every day before school, every Christmas morning before presents, in blizzards and sweltering New England humidity. And they were extremely poor. As with most families who depend on agriculture, survival of the family was closely tied to the survival of the farm. Yet despite everything that was put into it and despite everything that it produced (probably about 100 million pints of ice cream, and also severe arthritis for some), the farm as a business was not viable in the end.

The story of this farm, though not uncommon in the grand scheme of things, has been extraordinarily influential in many of my endeavors since its closure. Apart from the wonderful memories, the farm gave me a deep respect for one of the most unappreciated professions of all time: the production of the food we eat every day. I had always been a bit obsessed with food (and still am, and I strongly encourage everyone else to be), but it wasn’t until I made the connection that all of the food on my plate, in the pantry, and at the grocery story actually came from somewhere and, more importantly, someone that everything changed. I kid you not, sometimes I look at an ear of corn and see a human face.

Since then, I’ve used food as a sort of lens into a world that may otherwise have been inaccessible. At Smith, this has manifested in incredible discussions about the invisible forces that create our food systems, neoliberalism and international trade policies, the role of agriculture in sustainable development, the effects of climate change on the livelihood of farmers everywhere, slavery and foundations of exploitative agricultural labor practices in the US, systematic racism and issues of food distribution in our cities, the untold stories of women in agriculture, powerful corIMG_2621porations, scarcity, and abundance. The question of food, from sustainable production to equitable distribution, is one of the greatest conundrums of our time, so as far as obsessions go, I don’t think it’s such a bad one to have. Last summer, it brought me to the Dominican Republic, where I had the unspeakable privilege of visiting a number of sugar plantations and seeing for myself the many layers of the controversy that has recently been in the news. This summer, it has brought me to this on-campus position supported by CEEDS and an internship at Grow Food Northampton, where I’ve had the opportunity to learn firsthand about what it takes to grow food.

Anyway, that’s how I got here, and with that I’ll end my first (long-overdue) post as Community Garden Manager. Stick around to hear me talk about something other than me, like the exciting stuff that’s growing in the garden, the people I’ve met, and all the new words I’ve learned! In the meantime, here’s a sneak peak:

Early days- volunteers planting and staking tomato plants.

11657310_10205985059377569_2041909035_n (1)
Tomatoes in July are starting to show some color!

Red currants ripening on the bushes.

In the area? We are in the garden behind Gillett House each Sunday between 3-6 p.m and would love your company!

A Sampling of Forest Ecology Research

15 Jul

This summer I have spent most of my days working as an intern for the Botanic Garden of Smith College under the guidance of Gaby Immerman, assisting the staff there with the maintenance of the various gardens and trees around campus. On Fridays, however, each intern engages in a personal research project in order to create a final product that benefits the Botanic Garden in some way. I am being supported by CEEDS to work with Michelle Jackson, a 2015 graduate of Smith College and a researcher in Professor Jesse Bellemare’s laboratory, on research about the effects of Eastern hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) decline on the liverwort species Bazzania trilobata.

Eastern hemlock trees have been in decline as populations of two invasive Asian insects, the hemlock woolly adelgid and the elongate hemlock scale, get established and feed on the trees. In forests in Chesterfield and at Smith College’s MacLeish Field Station in Whately these hemlocks are gradually being replaced by black birch (Betula lenta), changing the composition of the understory, the interactions of various animals, and the forests as whole systems. B. trilobata is associated with Eastern hemlocks, but Michelle is interested in finding evidence as to whether these liverworts are actually dependent on Eastern hemlocks.

thumb_IMG_1273_1024Liverwort Bazzania trilobata

Michelle is testing the effects of different predictor variables on the survival of B. trilobata. Primarily, she is testing the difference between liverworts in areas with hemlock versus patches of forest with birch growth. She is also comparing these results to liverworts growing in areas that have been clear-cut, or those where hemlock trees have been salvage logged. Since hemlocks are coniferous and black birch are deciduous, Michelle is also looking at how being covered by the differing leaf litter affects B. trilobata. Her research takes into account variables such as aspect, slope, radiation, and soil moisture. I have been helping Michelle by flagging plots and making observations about the survival states of samples of B. trilobata.

I have also had the opportunity to help the other researchers in the Bellemare lab with their individual projects. I have helped collect data for Elizabeth Besozzi ’16, who is working to determine the effects of the shift of forests from hemlock to birch on salamanders and the food webs in which they are involved. I have helped collect soil samples for Aliza Fassler ’17, who is looking to see how this same shift in forest composition affects the soil and carbon-nitrogen cycling. I have also gotten the opportunity to help Anna George ’17 prepare tree core samples for her project involving the appearance of an increased spread of magnolia trees (Magnolia tripetala) into locations further north than their typical range.

Eastern hemlock trees (coniferous), Tsuga canadensis, and black birch trees (deciduous), Betula lenta

I am hoping to write a more comprehensive article about the research going on at MacLeish Field Station, focusing especially on the research surrounding the hemlocks done by those I’ve worked with in Professor Jesse Bellemare’s laboratory. I think that this important research needs to be shared with the public to spread awareness about the impact of the actions of humans on the environment, including climate change and the resulting movement of species to new locations. Furthermore, I believe that this research is an important example of why places like the MacLeish Field Station, are conducive to research and preservation.

Isabella Fielding ‘17 is a rising Junior from Warwick, RI. She is majoring in Biology and English, and she aspires to be a scientific writer

Welcome to Smith Summer Programs!

13 Jul

Last Monday, July 6th, I took the ‘Hidden Lives: Discovering Women’s History’ students out to the Challenge Course. This is one of the Smith’s Summer Programs groups and they came to the MacLeish Field Station for group bonding. I facilitated the group on their first official day together after arriving to Smith on Sunday. We played names games, did trust falls, and and went on the elements for the afternoon. Together we completed several elements- the Full House, Whale Watch, and Around the World (that was their favorite one)- with some time at the end for debriefing in the hanging tree fort. By the end of our time together, we were all laughing and having a dang-tootin’ good time.

The student participants preparing to ascend to the tree fort.

Have fun these next two weeks, ‘Hidden Lives: Discovering Women’s History’ students, and I hope you enjoyed the Field Station and the Challenge Course!

-Laura Krok-Horton ’17 is a summer intern at the MacLeish Field Station where she gets to do a little bit of everything. During the school year she focuses on architecture and landscape studies.

Summer at MacLeish- the Start of a Chapter on Trailblazing, Permeable Pavement, and Barberry Removal

7 Jul

Hello! My name is Laura Krok-Horton (’17) and I am an Architecture major, Landscape Studies minor. This summer I am part of the Smith Summer Research Fellows (SURF) program, and have funding from CEEDS to work at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station with Station Manager Reid Bertone-Johnson. I have been working on a research project to design a parking lot at the entrance of the Field Station, which will be a testing site for the permeability of the materials used.

LauraFrom left to right: Laura, Liz and Reid test out the new camera pole on the proposed parking lot site at the Field Station.

My partner in crime, Liz Nagy, and I started the summer off by cleaning up some of the existing trails and rock walls and creating new trails between the elements of the challenge course. I am a newly trained facilitator for the course, and it has been fun “learning the ropes” this summer.

Hi! My name is Liz Nagy (’18) and I’m pursuing a double major in Environmental Science and Policy and East Asian Literatures and Languages. This summer, with support from CEEDS, I’m working at the MacLeish Field Station as a SURF Fellow, conducting research under the guidance of Reid Bertone-Johnson. My project involves the mapping and mitigation of the invasive plant Japanese barberry, which includes the use of GPS, herbicides, manual labor and a propane torch.

LizLiz (l.) and Laura (r.) all suited up and ready to test some of the proposed invasives mitigation strategies.


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