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Another Earthbound Shake Up

9 Feb

On Tuesday, January 23rd the Pacific tectonic plate slid a tiny amount under the North American tectonic plate causing a magnitude 7.9 earthquake southeast of Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. The epicenter of the earthquake is depicted on the map below from the United States Geologic Survey (USGS). The red line on the map depicts where the two tectonic plates meet, forming the fault line. As the Pacific and North American tectonic plates meet each other they are moving about 59 mm each year. This is why earthquakes are common in the Pacific-North America plate boundary region south of Alaska. Over the last 100 years, 11 other magnitude 7+ earthquakes have occurred within 600 km of the January 23rd, 2018 earthquake. This earthquake is shown as an oval on the map, not a single point. That is because this earthquake was generated when an area of the plates 230 km long and 30 km wide strike and slip over each other.

So why do we care about an earthquake that occurred over 3,600 miles away? Did you feel it? You may not have felt it, but the seismograph at our Ada & Archibald MacLeish Field Station located about 10 miles from Smith College campus felt the shock waves (see below). The seismograph at MacLeish is part of a vast network of stations across the entire country recording earth movements. We may think of the ground as terra firma, but when two tectonic plates rub against each other the ground wiggles like brown pudding.

To get a sense of the ripple effect of the earth from the earthquake, click on the map below to watch the vertical motion video map of the Alaskan earthquake. In this video, red dots represent vertical motion up and blue dots represent down vertical motion of the ground.  It is clear that the clash of the plates sent shock waves across North America and beyond. There was our beloved terra firma rippling like water.

Submitted by Paul Wetzel, Environmental Research Coordinator, CEEDS

With information from the USGS and IRIS DMC (2010), Data Services Products: GMV The Ground Motion Visualization, doi:10.17611/DP/16325361.

Animal Tracking at MacLeish

24 Jan

Hi and happy New Year! My name is Hayley Reifeiss and I’m a senior Biology major who just spent her first J-Term on campus. With graduation fast approaching I wanted to take advantage of J-Term classes while I still could. One of the classes I took was Animal Tracking with Scott Johnson. It was a three-day (two days because of snow) class where we learned how to recognize and interpret signs of wildlife in order to track them. I wanted to take the class to learn a bit more about the local fauna and surrounding environment. I was also hoping to practice some outdoor skills that might be useful for a Biology career doing fieldwork.

The first day of class was primarily spent learning about the different types of tracks and walking patterns. For example, canines and felines walk in an arrangement called “perfect stepping” so their prints look like there’s only two feet because the back ones land in the same place as the front ones. You can tell the difference because a canine print will have four toes in a parallel arrangement with the nail imprint visible while feline prints have four toes more splayed out and no nail imprints. But because the print isn’t always perfectly preserved animal trackers will often rely on how the prints are arranged as well as other signs such as scat and surrounding smells to make an ID. On our first day we used those signs to identify fox activity around the sports fields. While walking by paradise pond we noticed a musky smell and found scat in an obvious placement (in this case on top of a manhole) which is how canines mark their territory. We knew it was a fox by the specific smell and the material found in the scat. There was also signs of its digging.

The winter landscape at MacLeish.

On the second day of class we went to the MacLeish Field Station to test our skills in a more rural environment. MacLeish was full of animal activity and we found numerous tracks in the fresh snow that had fallen the day before. There were signs of squirrels, foxes, and deer, which are relatively common, but the most impressive animal we tracked was a bobcat -whose prints we followed for several hundred meters in order to be positive in our ID. It seems that this particular bobcat has made MacLeish its home because we found tracks almost everywhere we went.

The bobcat track at MacLeish (left) next to my hand print (right) for scale.

We also found a porcupine den -recognizable by the surrounding tree type, scat, and the most obvious sign: the quills. We tracked the porcupines to the trees which they climbed up as evidenced by the urine markings on one of the branches. It was really cool to experience the forest in this way, and at the end of day I think we all came away from the class with a greater appreciation of the animals we share this land with.

The tracking class takes a break in the camp shelter at MacLeish.

-Hayley lives in Tenney House while at Smith. She is originally from Plymouth, MA.

Building a Shelter at MacLeish

27 Oct

Hi there! My name is Tess, and I intern at MacLeish Field Station. I am a soon to be declared Environmental Science and Policy Major with a Sustainable Food Concentration. I live in Wilson House and hail from Brooklyn, NY. Last semester, I was first introduced to construction and building when I got the chance to work in the Hillyer wood shop and help build a wood shed for the Field Station’s fire pit. I found working with wood very rewarding, and as a summer intern, I got to see the woodshed to completion, helping to stain and stock it.

This semester, I’m excited to continue learning carpentry skills with the rest of the MacLeish interns. We work with Scott Johnson, manager of Smith’s Outdoor Adventure Program, and together we are building an Adirondack camp shelter to protect campers from cold, wet New England weather.

Lucinda DeBolt and I working in the roof while Sophia Stouse passes us tools.

The shelter, located in MacLeish’s main campsite behind the Chestnut Orchard, arrived as a pre-cut kit, complete with pine and hemlock boards, fasteners, roofing material, and a step-by-step manual. Of course, putting together a kit is never as easy as the manual makes it sound! As we began construction, Scott quickly realized some notches were not cut correctly, and the frame and siding were misaligned. After several calls to the manufacturer, new pieces arrived and we’ve made great progress.

Lucinda pauses mid-action.

We should have the entire shelter finished before the end of fall! We hope to see you come by and check it out!

A Rainy Day Adventure: Theory into Practice

24 Apr

A heavy April downpour set the perfect tone for our first Water Inquiry Story Workshop, held in the Design Thinking Lab of Smith College. Skilled educators from four elementary schools cast dripping umbrellas aside before digging into the learning adventures of Inquiry Inc. and the Case of the Missing Ducklings, our newly published storybook. Pilot teacher Katy Butler introduced the interactive text as she did with her first graders, saying: “It’s a picture book story with characters… the kind of story where we will stop and talk, stop and think, stop and go. You will get to do the activities.”

Katy Butler reads “Inquiry Inc and the Case of the Missing Ducklings” at the Water Story Teacher Workshop.

Teachers then had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the student mindset, studying images of storm drains and ducklings, discussing the questions: “Where do you think the water goes?” and “Where will the ducklings go?” before working together to show their ideas about drain design and water pathways. In his new book Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions, James E. Ryan– Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education– writes that, “Inquiry… should always precede advocacy,” and it was, indeed, this sense of participatory engagement that characterized teachers’ efforts to “think… talk… and go” in preparation for doing so with their students. Read more at the Water Inquiry Blog

Meet the Intern

23 Mar

 

Breanna

Hi! I’m Breanna Parker ’18 and am an intern in campus sustainability at Smith College. I came to Smith from a small town in Iowa. I chose to study Environmental Science and Policy because I want to work toward a future that supports the economy, the environment and society as a whole.

Smith College is committed to the ambitious goal of being carbon neutral by 2030. To accomplish this goal, the college must reduce its carbon emissions by mitigating the direct use of fossil fuels and by increasing efficiency on campus. However, other sources of carbon emissions, such as travel by students, staff and faculty, cannot feasibly be eliminated, which is why Smith is exploring the option of carbon offsets. A carbon offset is a way to invest in renewable energy, clean technology and efficiency and receive a carbon credit toward achieving full carbon neutrality.

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Currently, I’m working to develop guidelines for Smith’s innovative carbon offset program, the Community Climate Fund. The program is a collaboration with Amherst, Hampshire and Williams Colleges and the Center for EcoTechnology. The goal of the fund is to generate carbon offsets locally in western Massachusetts with co-benefits for the community and the colleges. The research phase was launched in 2015 and now the Community Climate Fund is implementing its first project to assist local businesses and institutions invest in high-efficiency heating systems by providing funding to lower the cost of the units. The additional funding provides an incentive to those organizations to invest in new heating systems. The reduction in energy use from these high-efficiency heating systems does three things: it helps the businesses save money and be more energy efficient, and it generates a carbon offset for the Community Climate Fund, which will help Smith reach its goal of being of being carbon neutral by 2030. It is very exciting to see Smith take action both on campus and in the community to support a sustainable future.

Smith team takes on climate change video challenge

27 Feb

Each year the Environmental Engineering and Science Foundation (EESF) and the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) put out a call to current undergraduate and graduate students studying environmental engineering or sciences worldwide for a video competition.

This year’s theme, “What can individuals do to help reduce climate change?”, inspired Jocelyn Yax ’18 (engineering), Amelia Wagner ’18J (engineering/government), and Jasmine Pacheco-Ramos ’19 (environmental science and policy) to take on the challenge. Assistant Professor Niveen Ismail in the Picker Engineering Program acted as the faculty advisor for the project.   Check out their video on YouTube.

The winning teams will be announced at the Excellence in Environmental Engineering and Science awards ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on April 13, 2017.

eesf_logoMore on the contest rules:
The video should be targeted to motivate 8th grade and higher students to change daily habits that contribute to climate change. The video may also be used more broadly to motivate the general public to change simple patterns that contribute to climate change.

The video should motivate individuals to change daily habits that cause carbon emissions that may contribute to climate change. People have varying views on climate change. Contestants are urged to develop a message that acknowledges the breadth of opinions on this issue but that encourages everyone to make changes that will help with climate change. Because most people do not understand the roles of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, the video should end with brief reference as to how Environmental Engineers and Scientists are working on climate issues.

Planning and Piloting

25 Jan

News from Water Inquiry: January 2017

waterinquiry_jan17

 

“I have too many ideas” was a pleasing lament to hear on an icy afternoon in mid-December. Nestled inside a first-grade classroom at Jackson Street Elementary School, Katy Butler (’12, MAT ’18), classroom teacher and Water Inquirer extraordinaire, guided her students through an exciting encounter with our interactive story, Inquiry, Inc. and the Case of the Missing Ducklings. Collaboration was the modus operandi of our Water Inquiry team this semester.… read more

Interterm at MacLeish, Day 5

23 Jan

Students Zoey Sims ’19 and Rachael Drinker ’20 report on the final day of their Interterm class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape.

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Today, after spending the week learning and preparing, we led the 6th graders from the Smith College Campus School around the field station for two hours. The day started with the students arriving earlier than expected, but this gave us and their teachers time to get them organized into groups. We collected our students and moved to our designated first activity. The groups rotated between the stations (weathergrams and the living building, Dan Ladd’s tree art sculpture, the blindfold tree game, the cellar hole and hike, and the orchard) so the students could see everything. 

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Playing the blindfolded get-to-know-a-tree game!

Zoey: Several students in my group found ways to bring humor to each of  our activities which helped get the other students more interested and involved. When we asked questions, the 6th graders usually responded with well-thought-out answers or guesses, which was encouraging. A few times, when they were done giving serious responses and ready for us to just tell them the answers, they gave sarcastic responses such as “aliens” as an explanation for the stone walls on the sides of the path. At some points while we were explaining things, it seemed like the students were just goofing off. I was happily surprised when they were able to answer questions and recall information that I thought they hadn’t paid attention to, such as how to differentiate between a white and a red pine by counting the needles in a bundle.

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A beautiful weathergram by one of the students

Rachael:  I was intrigued by the process of figuring out how to tailor the day to each of the students’ learning styles while also being on the move and teaching about multiple topics. My favorite times were when I could see something piqued the interest of a student who had previously seemed sarcastic and unenthusiastic. One such moments was at the cellar hole. I noticed one student liked to do hands-on things and so I hinted at the idea that, hidden under a big pile of leaves on one side of the hole, there might be bricks from the old collapsed chimney. The student almost immediately stopped goofing off and asked if they could try to find the bricks. It turned into a sort of treasure hunt during which they asked a flurry of questions and tried to date the pieces of brick they found. This made me curious about what I could do to interest the other students and I experimented with this throughout the day. Other highlights included the students teaching me how to whistle with an acorn cap, intentional yelling in the woods about nature, and discussing whether or not a track the students found was big enough to be from a bear (they eventually decided it was from a domesticated dog).

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Our debrief after the students left

After the 6th graders left, we regrouped to eat lunch, reflect, and debrief. There were a few experiences that several groups had in common, such as a struggle to get everyone involved during the first activity and a surprising enthusiasm for the blindfold tree game. Many of our classmates recounted specific challenges and successes; every group had a few things that went particularly well and a few which they would have changed if they had the chance to do this again. All in all, it seemed like we had mostly enjoyable experiences but we were also relieved when it was over.

The Future of Sustainable Livestock Farming

17 Jan

We are students from Professor Washington-Ottombre’s ENV 101 class. For our final project in December, we made a short video about the future of sustainable livestock farming, which explores the current state or “regime” of the U.S. livestock system, and possible improvements the industry could make to move to a more sustainable regime. Our video is a mixture of animation, footage from one of our farms, and system models we learned to make in class. The models show where the livestock industry is now and where it could go from here based on a few variables.

Take a look at our video here!

The main idea in our video is a hypothetical non-profit organization we created called F.A.R.M. which stands for Farm Assessment Re-envisioning and Maintenance. The organization helps already sustainable farms stay sustainable and gives them a grade based on their level of sustainability, similar to LEED certification, but at no cost. In addition, the organization helps farms that don’t meet the requirements of sustainability transition to being more sustainable at no cost.

We hope you enjoy our video and that it sparks ideas and interests surrounding today’s agriculture system, perhaps even on the way toward re-envisioning a more sustainable future.

photo-4Emelyn Chiang ’20, Kimby Davis ’17, Tori Greco Hiranaka ’19, Elsbeth Pendleton-Wheeler ’19 and Claire Rand ’20

Interterm at MacLeish, Day 4

13 Jan
Interterm students Ruby Kohn ’19 and Maya Salvio ’18, from the class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape, are today’s guest bloggers.

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We began our day by continuing to brainstorm for the 6th grade field trip tomorrow. The 6th graders are coming for two hours and it is our job to encourage engagement with the field station.
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We had the help of Oakley, Carol’s adorable yellow lab, who was quite taken with Reid. They had some good bonding time.
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We decided to take the 6th graders, in small groups, to five stations around MacLeish where we will teach them how humans interact and intervene in the natural environment around us. One way we will engage with them is by making weathergrams. We went a little overboard in our preparations and prepped 200 for 37 students…we got a little excited.
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After planning our five stations, we did a dry run of the hike that we’ll do with the sixth graders. While each group will start in a different location, the groups will explore the Living Building, investigate the apple orchards and weather tower, examine the historic cellar of the Waite family, observe the art installation, and play the get-to-know-a-tree game as well as create weathergrams.
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Someone got snow in their boots…
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We then went back to the classroom and reflected on our day. There are so many post-it notes!
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We are so excited to meet the 6th graders tomorrow!!!
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