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Planning and Piloting

25 Jan

News from Water Inquiry: January 2017

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“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 2

11 Jan

As part of the Interterm class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape, students are writing blog posts about their class activities. Today’s guest bloggers are Rhiannon Nolan ’19, Sarah Netsky ’17, and Caitlyn Perrotta ’20.

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We started our day by tromping off into the snow with Jesse Bellemare, a Smith bio professor, who talked to us about how humans have impacted this area since the post-glacial period–changing the landscape by lighting fires, hunting larger game animals, and changing the natural ecological balance.

In the 1600s and 1700s there was a lot of tension in the hilly area that is now MacLeish as the French, British and indigenous people violently argued over the land. This caused the valley, where Northampton is now located, to become more populated until the hills were deemed safe to inhabit.

Jesse took us to see the stone walls around the field station which, at first, one might overlook, but he explained that the walls were evidence of property boundaries from the 1600 to 1700s. Walls with large rocks indicated that the land had been used as a sheep pasture. Walls with rocks off all sizes indicated that the land had been used as a vegetable garden because people more meticulously removed small stones from the soil.

Next Jesse showed us a depression that was once the cellar of a farm home in the 1790s, where a family of 10 to 12 lived and farmed. This home, and much of the surrounding land, was only inhabited for about a generation. The numerous children of these farm families needed their own land to cultivate and moved westward toward more fertile, flatter land on which to farm. The lack of continuous cultivation caused the forest to reclaim the land, giving us the woody area that we see today. These forests are young, causing them to lack a lot of the features that older forests have, such as large pieces of dead wood.

We went in to the Bechtel Environmental Classroom to eat lunch (and nuts!) and then went outdoors individually to hang our weathergrams from yesterday. Some people used the time to reflect and observe the landscape, similar to our sensory exercise from yesterday, and others used it to go sledding down the slopes.

After lunch, Maggie Newey, a museum educator at Smith, came to discuss visual learning strategies that we could employ both in our own lives and when thinking about how to teach sixth graders about the field station. She had us take a couple of minutes to examine our view of MacLeish from indoors and then do the same with a photograph she provided of Scotland. We did a similar activity again after breaking into groups to look at small objects from nature that we had collected while out with Jesse.

We closed by starting to plan how we would structure our Friday with the sixth graders. We can’t wait to meet them in a few days!

Interterm at MacLeish, Day 1

10 Jan

January at Smith: the campus is coated in a blanket of snow, the students enrolled in interterm classes are dressed in hats and mittens, and professors are immersed in grading papers and exams from first semester.

This week, the interterm class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape, is being held at MacLeish Field Station. As part of the course, students will be writing and sharing blog posts about their experience.

Today’s post is from Hannah Schneider ’18 and Marisa Douglas ‘AC.

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Day 1, Monday

Today was a busy day since we had a lot of ground to cover. After we arrived at the Field Station, we got to know one another and made our own sketchbooks. The first thing we used the books for was an individual exercise: observe the outdoors with as many of our senses as possible and record our observations through sketches, notes and sound maps. We each took about 15 minutes to simply be present in nature and then make our observations in the books. Upon returning to the classroom, we divided into two groups and shared a few highlights so we could construct a spoken poem.

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Using our sketchbooks and chosen words, we created weather-grams using weatherproof ink on recyclable paper to withstand the harsh New England elements. These weather-writings will be placed on tree branches in the places that inspired us or along trails for other visitors and neighbors to enjoy. The idea is that we write a note to nature and, in time, nature will write us a note back!

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After lunch, Paul Wetzel helped us brainstorm a list of possible animal tracks we could find around MacLeish, from field mice to moose. We learned that understanding the anatomy of an animal can help identify the marks they make (e.g. deer have jagged incisors located on the bottom of their mouth, whereas rabbits have slanted incisors, almost at a 45 degree angle, on the bottom and top of their mouth). We then used what we had learned to find fox, rabbit, deer, mouse and porcupine tracks as Paul lead us through the woods on a beautiful (and cold!) hike. We also looked at different types of trees and plants and even had a taste of one.

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On the way, Paul showed us other interesting things such as the weather station and woodland animal “highways.” Upon noticing some hemlock trees, the group also found a popular porcupine hang out spot.

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When we returned to the classroom, we used our new sketchbooks one last time to reflect on our day. To keep track of what we’ve done each day, we posted sticky notes on a map of the station. We’ll use a different color for each day, and at the end of the week we will be able to see our thoughts, questions and memories throughout the week.

Summer Student Update: Sarina Vega ’19

15 Jul

sarina farm.JPGEco-Rep Sarina Vega ’19 is having an incredible summer. She writes: I’m currently in Portugal volunteering my time at an organic, sustainable, no-till farm in a tiny village close to Tomar called Vila do Paço. I’ve been using WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in Vermont for about 6 months now and decided to take the experience abroad. It’s been a humbling experience not knowing Portuguese. I’ve had to find other ways to connect with people, whether through caring for the plants and soil or through shared laughter at the dinner table as we convene over the meal our farm host prepared. Music is everywhere, conversation is abuzz, chicken and goat poop are under my shoes, and I’ve been wearing the same shirt for five days now–but who is counting?! When I left my hometown of San Diego, I left behind an internship at a community garden for the local high school, and when I return home I have another internship at a space called Art Produce, which is a community garden, art gallery, and tostada shop. I’m extremely intrigued with space and how we use it to bridge people, places, and time, and how community comes together. So far, the summer has been the most inspiring and eye-opening yet and I can’t wait to share my experiences with my friends back at Smith!

What are you doing this summer Smithies? We want to hear from you!

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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.

Paradise Pond Symposium

5 Apr

Paradise Pond—the beloved campus and community landmark—is filling with sediment. In the past, the sediment was removed every six to ten years and transported to the Northampton landfill. However, as a result of the landfill closing and concerns over sediment release during excavation, a new sluicing method was proposed. This method allows sediment to continue downstream rather than being captured and removed from the Mill River.Sediment In Pond at 1.49.03 PM

This Friday, April 8th, Smith will host a symposium on the sedimentation issue. The symposium will include a series of talks and poster presentations reporting on the current status of the project. It will also feature a keynote address by Brian Yellen, adjunct faculty at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Join us at the Smith College Conference Center, 49 College Lane, for all or part of the symposium.

Schedule:

10:00 Welcome
10:05 History of Paradise Pond and past dredging operations
10:20 Downstream monitoring: sediment and hydrology
10:40 Downstream monitoring: biology
11:00 Keynote address: Climate Change and Sediment Yield From New England Rivers: Lessons From Tropical Storm Irene
12:00 Lunch and poster presentations
1:00 Analysis of September 30, 2015 sluicing experiment
1:20 Operational plan for phase II
1:40 General discussion and concluding remarks  

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Professor Bob Newton and students Heather Upin ’16 and Emma Harnisch ’18 take sediment samples while working on the R/V Silty.

 

 

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.

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.

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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.

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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.