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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.

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.

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.