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Summer at the MacLeish Field Station

17 Jun

Summer work at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station is off to a great start! Interns Molly Day ’19, Casey Hecox ’19, Naomi Jahan ’18, and Rachel Moskowitz ’18 have been working on several projects to keep the Field Station at its best. These projects include maintaining the challenge course, clearing weeds around the rock walls, maintaining the apple and chestnut orchards, and installing the test permeable surface materials in the new experimental parking lot.

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Molly and Naomi treat “The Wall” challenge course element with linseed oil.

The interns have been doing a lot of work to keep the dozen elements in our Challenge Course in great condition. They have treated all of the wood surfaces with linseed oil, removed rocks from the immediate surroundings, and used those rocks to build cairns as trail markers for the paths leading to the elements.

The interns have also begun laying down several different permeable materials on the experimental parking lot at the entrance to the Field Station. The parking lot, designed last summer by then-intern Laura Krok-Horton, ’17, aims to help us learn more about which of several different permeable materials will hold up best in this particular location and to wear and tear (including snow plowing), and what possible effects a permeable surface might have (positive or negative) on storm water run-off and flow in the nearby stream.

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The first six parking spaces are covered with a permeable sheet material through which clover and other plants have already begun to grow.

 

 

One side of the parking lot is covered by a permeable plastic material through which clover and grass can grow.

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Student interns work together to lay the sectional paver material on the parking lot.

 

 

 

 

The other six parking spaces include two each of concrete pavers, gravel, and plastic pavers. The concrete and plastic pavers are being filled with soil and will eventually be seeded.

 

 

-Naomi Jahan (’18) is a geosciences major from Los Angeles, California. She lives in Wilder House and spends her time reading, singing, and looking at rocks.

Fiddles and Folks at the Field Station

16 Jun
— Somehow this post got hung up and never published. We decided to go ahead and share it belatedly anyway!
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On Saturday, April 2 there was a convergence of bluegrass music, dance, faculty, students, and local community members at the MacLeish Field Station. A friendly collection of musicians came together with their guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolin, and stand-up bass, and jammed together (the acoustics in there – amazing) while folks scattered around the cozy Bechtel Classroom sipped tea, sang along, waltzed, and even taught each other some clogging steps!
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  A favorite song was “You are my Sunshine”. The energy was simultaneously gentle and ecstatic. The only question now is, when can we have an event like this again??
-Shelby Kim ’18 is a CEEDS Field Station intern with a love of folk dancing and driving 11-passenger vans.

Marking Up MacLeish

4 Nov

This past week MacLeish has been treated to a bit of spiffing up. If you’ve ever walked the trails there, you surely noticed some colorful trail markers guiding your way. But what happens when these markers start to spend a little too much time on the path? The trees start to grow over these helpful hints, and eventually they get to become one with the tree or fall down, never to be seen or heard from again.

Not the markers at MacLeish though! With the help of CEEDS interns Shelby and Liz, as well as Lucia Delbene, a visiting biologist from Uruguay, the trails at MacLeish are staying well delineated and magnificent!  To keep the trails going these trail rescuers had a lovely walk and spent the afternoon prying out the nails holding the markers up. These markers were put back in, this time with a little more breathing room, to giving the tree some space to grow. What’s left now are freshly marked trails; feel free to check their work by having a walk-through at MacLeish.

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Shelby (l) hammering in and Lucia (r) removing trail markers.

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Shelby(l) and Lucia (r) just being photogenic professionals.

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Lucia (l) and Liz (r) are on the move for some more maintenance.

-Liz Nagy (’18) is a double major in environmental science and Japanese, and hopes this will take her to some fun places in life. She is passionate about invasive species, avocados, Japanese culture and wolves (in no particular order).

Cider Pressing with CEEDS

2 Nov

Over Family Weekend this year students and their families gathered outside the Campus Center to celebrate Fall with CEEDS faculty, staff and student interns by pressing cider, tasting apples, eating freshly made cider donuts and sampling cheese. Attendees got to press their own fresh cider the old fashioned way via hand-cranked cider presses. More apples were consumed at the heirloom apple tasting table where seven very different local apple varieties were available for tasting. Dining Services partnered with us to offer some tasty aged local cheeses to pair with the apples.

Click through the gallery to see some photos from the event.

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– Brittany Bennett is a senior Engineering Science major hailing from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She hopes to educate engineers on how to best create a more sustainable world.

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.

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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.
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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).

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Otters at Paradise

22 Apr

Every year, spring thaw means river otter time in Western Massachusetts.  Just as the ice on ponds and lakes starts to melt, I keep an eye out for these playful aquatic mammals to pop out onto the ice and munch on fish and crayfish.

otter on ice  otter face

This year, nature lovers at Smith were treated to an especially good view of a pair of rivers otters on Paradise Pond for about a week running.  I took these pictures and videos over the course of about 3 days as the otter (or otters — I’m not sure if I was looking at the same one all the time, and I never got to see both at once) ate fish after fish.


Now it’s time to look for otter pups!

-James Lowenthal is a professor of astronomy, co-director of the environmental concentration: climate change, and a CEEDS Faculty Fellow.

Interpreting- Day 4

16 Jan

On Thursday, we spent the morning learning and exploring with the Field Station’s Environmental Research Coordinator, Paul Wetzel.  As we ventured into the woods, he pulled out various thermometers and showed us how the blanket of snow works as an insulator, thus enabling small animals like mice and voles to travel under the snow because it is warmer than above the snow. Plants and animals that have adapted to our Northern climate depend on this temperature differential. As a result, winters without snow are much harder for grasses, for example, than those with plenty of snowfall. Next, we ventured further into the woods and spotted some deer tracks.  As we followed them deeper into the forest along the Porcupine Trail, we found numerous other tracks and used tracking books and Paul’s expertise to determine that squirrels, rabbits, deer, and foxes, had all been through that area.  We even found some deer scat, which Paul excitedly showed us came in piles of small, brown pellets that are green on the inside.

IMG_6616newA student in the class checking the temperature in the air to compare to the temperature in and under the snow.

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There were many different types of animal tracks in the snow, the class identified this one as belonging to a deer.

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Annie Ames, ’15 cracking a layer of ice at the vernal pool.

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The temperature under the layer of ice at the vernal pool was around 40°F.
Even though the weather above the ice might be below freezing, this temperature differential allows fish and other animals to survive the winter under the ice.

As we walked through the woods, Paul also taught us quick and easy characteristics useful in the identification of different tree species. For example, white birch has peeling, white bark and alternating branching and the dogwood lives in damp environments and has opposite branching, where the branches sprout directly across from each other. Besides the conifers, the beech trees are the only trees around the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station that retain their leaves into the winter. Paul presented both tree and track identification as intuitive problem solving processes that each of us could use in the future. Before we ventured too far into the woods, we were offered sticks of black birch and told to chew on them. Though hesitant at first, I willingly put the stick in my mouth. It tasted surprisingly good, like some combination of maple syrup and mint.

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Laura Krok-Horton, ’17 and Reid Bertone-Johnson sample the black birch branches.

– Julia Comeau, ’17
– Anuujin Elbegdori, ’15
– Anna George, ’17
-Pam Matcho, ’17