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Adventures in Belize!

25 Jun

Coral Reef Ed-Ventures is an environmental education collaboration between Smith College’s Environmental Science and Policy Program and the Hol Chan Marine Reserve on Ambergris Caye, Belize.  This program for local children, which runs each summer on the island in Belize, is currently led by Professor David Smith (Biological Sciences and Environmental Science and Policy) and Dr. Denise Lello (Lecturer and Research Associate in Biological Sciences and Environmental Science and Policy).  Coral Reef Ed-Ventures began 19 years ago with two Smith student teachers and a few children.  This year’s team comprises six Smith student teachers who will engage over seventy children in two education camps!

This year both of the camps (The REEF Program [Advanced] and the Youth Program) are organized around the theme CONNECTIONS: participants will explore the connections between nature, the environment, and the community. The campers will also be introduced to research methods like mapping and coral identification, techniques the student teachers will themselves use when they analyze the data they collect in Belize.

L to R: Aidan Coffin Ness ’20 (SPN/EDC), Katherine Akey ’20 (EGR), Carla Schwartz ’20 (BIO/MSP), Dana Vera ’19 (EDC/MTH), Liz Nagy ’18 (ENV/EAL), Emiline Koopman ’18J (BIO/MSP).

The students are just starting week 4 in Belize. You can see pictures and read more about their experiences on the Coral Reef Ed-Ventures blog.

The Coral Reef Ed-Ventures program could not function without the generous financial and in-kind support of the people of San Pedro, Belize; the Hol Chan Marine Reserve; the Environmental Science and Policy Program; generous alumnae donors; the Center for the Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability; and sources of endowed student support, including the Agnes Shedd-Andreae ’32, and B. Elizabeth Horner Funds. Thank you for your support!

Climate Change and the Bleak Future of My Hometown in Bangladesh

12 Jun

During my childhood, as soon as it turned dark outside, my father would become frantic and check whether all the windows and all the outlets to the outside world were closed. I could hear his voice from across the house shouting, “We cannot let any of the mosquitoes get inside! It takes only one bite to kill you!” Despite my father’s utmost effort to keep the mosquitoes out of our house, one of these sneaky little creatures would sometimes manage to get inside. What ensued then was my mother’s panic as she would cover me in insect-repellent creams.

To an American reader, everything I have described until now may seem unusual, but it was a very ordinary evening at any household in my hometown of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Deadly mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue are common in Dhaka so people live in constant fear of mosquitoes. My family, like any ordinary family, was just trying their best to stay alive.

The sky of Dhaka at evening.

I wish I could tell you that the situation has improved since then, but unfortunately, climate change will increase the spread of mosquito-borne diseases in Dhaka. Bangladesh is one of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change both because of its geographical location and economic conditions (1). It is a low-lying, tropical country bound by the Bay of Bengal in the south, by Myanmar in the Southeast and by India in the North, East and West. A developing economy that is densely populated, its 158,570,535 citizens live in an area of 147,570 km2 (2). As a frame of reference, Bangladesh is approximately the size of Iowa, but has about half as many people as the entire United States.

Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, where I was born and raised, is the most crowded city in the world (3). The impending effects of climate change will surely exacerbate the occurrence of infectious disease and cause potentially significant public health challenges. Infectious diseases spread by mosquitoes, such as malaria and dengue, are endemic to the tropical Southeast Asian region. Dhaka’s poor infrastructure, such as a lack of drainage systems, waste disposal and the abundance of slums, create suitable habitats for mosquitoes and aggravate the effects of climate change on the spread of diseases (4).

Human-caused climate change is responsible for an increase in the global mean temperature, a phenomenon also known as global warming. When I was a child, every summer when I complained of the heat, my mother recalled the time right after I was born in the summer of 1998. She fondly reminisced about the tantrum I had thrown as a newborn in that sweltering hot weather and the trouble she had to endure to pacify me.

Later, my mother would come to find out that the temperature in 1998 was a record high at that time (5). To all my later complaints about the weather, she would say that the heat was nowhere as bad as that of the summer of 1998. However, as I got a little older, and especially during my teenage years, the summers became so unbearable that I never felt like stepping outside of the house. For the first time, I heard my mother say that every summer now reminded her of the summer of 1998 (5).

For the months of May through September, an increase of 1℃ has been observed from 1976-2008 (7). This increasing trend in temperature is causing seasonal patterns to change in Bangladesh (7). Normally, the Bengali calendar has 6 six seasons that last for two months each.

The seasons of Bangladesh in my memory have always changed in such a timely manner that it would make you wonder whether nature was following a clock. In my childhood, summers had sunny skies, an enjoyable warmth and the red hue of krishnachura flowers that brightened all of Dhaka. Summers used to be distinct from monsoon, which followed summer. The temperature used to drop during monsoon. However, nowadays summer and monsoon are converging into one season as monsoon starts earlier than before and the high temperatures of the summer prevail for a longer period of time.

The streets of Dhaka in the summer months lined with Krishnachura.

An increase in temperature generally facilitates the growth of the mosquito population. Warmer environments also speed up the maturity of the parasites they carry, which means that more mosquitoes also means a greater potential for disease transmission. Unfortunately, this increase in mean temperature favors both Anopheles mosquitoes, which transmit malaria, and Aedes aegypti, which transmit dengue fever (6).

Aedes Aegypti mosquito, the carrier of dengue fever.

Anopheles mosquito, the carrier of malaria.

 

 

 

 

 

Lab experiments show that at consistent temperatures of 32-35 ℃, the incubation period of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes is shortened by a full week from its incubation period of 12 days at 30 ℃ (7). As temperatures increase in Dhaka then, we can expect an increase in the incidence of mosquito-borne diseases as the incubation period of mosquitoes decrease. In addition, average temperatures during winter are expected to increase by 1.4 ℃ by 2030 (7). This changing weather pattern will shorten the length of the reproductive cycle of mosquitoes, thus increasing the rate of population growth (8). Mosquitoes are not only helped by the increase in temperature, but also by the increased amounts of rainfall in Dhaka, which experiences the tropical monsoon climate.

I have always had a love-hate relationship with monsoon. Even though the roads were muddy, and sometimes I was stuck inside the house all day during monsoon months, it was still a glorious time of the year. I was always excited about the loud rhythmic rattle of the rain and the clear green of leaves that you could see right after the rain stopped. But monsoon also meant knee-deep water that you sometimes had to wade through to get to school and being stuck in traffic for long hours because the rain water got into a car’s engine.

Life in Dhaka during the monsoon months.

The arrival of monsoon also evokes fear in the hearts of many because it is the season when the outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases occur all over Dhaka. Analysis of rainfall from 1976-2008 showed an increasing trend in the amount of rainfall during monsoon (7). There has been a corresponding increase in outbreaks of dengue from June to August (2). Data recorded over 2008 and 2009 shows that the number of dengue cases increase from around 50 to above 800 following the arrival of the monsoon during the months of June to August.

This increasing amount of rainfall creates pools of stagnant water which become optimal breeding sites for mosquitoes. An increasing population of mosquitoes allows for a faster spread of diseases (8). The increasing amount of rainfall coupled with the increase in temperature will act together to increase the rates of mosquito-borne illnesses in Dhaka.

Monthly dengue cases averaged over 2000–2010, showing seasonal incidence (7). [Img: Sharmin et al. (4)]

Not only are the temperature and level of rainfall increasing, but the occurrences of weather extremes such as floods are also becoming more frequent. Bangladesh is located on a river delta plain fed by 230 rivers. In the north, the glaciers in the Himalayas are melting, while in the south, the sea levels of the Bay of Bengal are rising. Both the water from the melting glaciers and the rising sea levels make Bangladesh vulnerable to frequent flooding.

A severe flood occurs in Bangladesh every four to five years, but this frequency is expected to increase with further climate change (2). A study has found that if total precipitation increases by 5%, an increased 20% of area in Bangladesh is likely to be flooded. In the past, outbreaks of dengue fever have occurred during a flood. Flooding causes water congestion in Dhaka which creates breeding sites for mosquitoes, thus mosquito populations grow which leads to an outbreak of dengue. As frequencies of flood increase with climate change, incidences of dengue fever is also expected to increase (4).

Streets of Dhaka during a flood.

The overcrowding of Dhaka is also another factor that affects the spread of mosquito-related diseases. Being born and raised in Dhaka, I have always known Dhaka as overpopulated. While growing up, I was used to frequently being stuck at red lights for 15 minutes. Whenever we visited our family members who lived 20 minutes away, our rides never took less than an hour. However, lately, it is getting worse as the population in Dhaka has been exponentially increasing because of incoming “climate refugees.”

Climate change has affected the rural agriculture-based economy of Bangladesh as changes in temperature, level of precipitation, and seasonal patterns damage crop production. This adverse effect on agriculture has forced a migration the rural areas to Dhaka, the economic hub of the country. These “climate refugees” live in slums, which lack good sanitation systems, a safe drinking water supply, and proper cooking and health care facilities (9). These substandard living conditions create the perfect condition for the spread of mosquito-borne disease.

A shortage of reliable fresh, clean drinking water results in residents storing what water they have in containers such as drums and earthen jars. Unfortunately, these containers are not sealed, and so the Aedes aegypti mosquito lays its eggs in them, precipitating outbreaks of dengue in the city. As climate change continues to affect agriculture in rural areas more people will migrate to Dhaka. Without an improvement in both Dhaka’s infrastructure and the living conditions in these slums mosquitoes will have the ability to infect a greater number of people (4).

Stagnant water bodies are breeding sites for mosquitoes.

When I have trouble falling asleep at night, sometimes I wonder about the fate of Dhaka. Lying in my college dorm bed in Massachusetts, with not even a single mosquito in sight, I think about what will become of these mosquitoes in Dhaka. Could they wipe out the entire population of Dhaka in the next 20 years? Or are they going to mutate to become some super-mosquito creature which will take over the world?

Sometimes I have a dream, or rather a nightmare, that I am walking through the streets of Dhaka in a quarantine suit and everybody else is dressed similarly. In my dream, I cannot really recognize the faces of anyone because millions and millions of mosquitoes are buzzing in the air. You may say that my dream is too far-fetched, but how much better could the reality be?

-Bushra Tasneem (’20) is a Mathematics and Computer Science double major from Dhaka, Bangladesh. She enjoys reading poetry and taking walks in the woods in her free time. She originally wrote a version of this piece for ENG 119 Writing Roundtable This Overheating World.

Works Cited:

  1. Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.; IPCC;New York, 2013; pp 28-62
  2. Dastagir, M.R.; Modeling recent climate change induced extreme events in Bangladesh: A Review; Weather and Climate Extremes. 2015, 7, 49-60.
  3. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/05/these-are-the-world-s-most-crowded-cities/ (accessed April 13, 2018).
  4. Sharmin, S.; Viennet, E; Glass K.; Harley, D; The emergence of dengue in Bangladesh: epidemiology, challenges and future disease risk. Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 2015, 109, 619-627.
  5. Stevens, W. Earth Temperature in 1998 Is Reported at Record High.The New York TImes, Dec 1998.
  6. Yi, H.; Devkota, B.R.; Yu, J.; Oh, K.; Kim, J.; Kim, H.; Effects of global warming on mosquitoes & mosquito-borne diseases and the new strategies for mosquito control. Entomological Research.2014, 44, 215-235.
  7. 7.Basak, J.K.; Titumir, R.A.M.; Dey, N.C.; Climate Change in Bangladesh: A Historical Analysis of Temperature and Rainfall Data. Journal of Environment. 2013, 2, 41-46.
  8. Bostan, N.; Javed, S.; Nabgha-e-Amen; Eqani, S. Tahir, F. Bokhari, H.; Dengue fever virus in Pakistan: effects of seasonal pattern and temperature change on distribution of vector and virus. Review of Medical Virology, 2017, 27.
  9. Molla N. A.;  Mollah K. A.; Ali G.; Fungladda W.; Shipin O.V.; Wongwit W;  Tomomi H; Quantifying disease burden among climate refugees using multidisciplinary approach: A case of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Urban Climate, 2014, 8, 126-137.  

Controlled Rot: Growing Mushrooms at MacLeish

27 Apr

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” goes the proverbial phrase used to encourage making the best of what one has. At the MacLeish Field Station we have lots of forest that provides much shade. So why not grow food that does not require full sun—such as mushrooms? In April, eight students spent an afternoon inoculating logs with both blue oyster and shitake mushroom spawn. Their work was part of an agroforestry demonstration project being established this year at the Field Station.

Alexandra Davis ’18 and Lilly Williams ’18 drill logs in preparation for inoculation.

Inoculating logs is relatively simple. Holes drilled into recently cut logs are filled with mushroom spawn and then sealed with cheese wax.

Tracy Rompich ’21 inoculates logs with shitake spawn.

Tess Abbot ’20 and Molly Peek ’18 seal the spawn in the logs with cheese wax.

After being labeled, the logs are all stacked in the shadiest part of the forest. Over the 12 months the fungi will grow and spread throughout the logs, becoming well established, and hopefully begin fruiting mushrooms that we can harvest next summer!

 
Preparing hot chocolate for all the volunteers on the beautiful spring day are,
from left, Lily Williams, Molly Peek, Alexandra Davis, and Diana Umana ’19.

Smith Sugaring

27 Mar

Spring is well and finally here! We’ve been celebrating its arrival with students in New England fashion- by taking a bunch of them to a local sugar shack for a tasty breakfast with the locals- and by taking others out to the MacLeish Field Station to learn how to first identify and then tap maple trees so we can gather their sweet sap. As the days slowly get longer and the daily temperature swings signal that it is time for the trees to send food to their flower and leaf buds, the slow and steady drip of sap has gotten faster and faster, filling the buckets easily each day.

Check out the video about this that our intern Ellen Sulser ’18 made and posted on FaceBook.

On Sunday we capped off the season by hosting our inaugural Smith Sugaring event. We brought to campus all of the sap we had been gathering and set up near Chapin House.

It was a perfect day to hang out and watch the water boil off and share with passers by the wonders of making maple syrup.


Some seniors (environmental concentrators, all) stopped by to check out the parklet that we had set up nearby.

And lots of other people (200 or so by our count) stopped in throughout the day to visit, check out our set-up, learn about the process, and taste some fresh maple sap or syrup. We made our very first MacLeish maple syrup here on campus, and a good time was had by all. Sweet success!

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.

IMG_20170320_165114506

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.