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Another Earthbound Shake Up

9 Feb

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

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

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

Submitted by Paul Wetzel, Environmental Research Coordinator, CEEDS

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

Animal Tracking at MacLeish

24 Jan

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

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

The winter landscape at MacLeish.

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

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

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

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

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

Building a Shelter at MacLeish

27 Oct

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

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

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

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

Lucinda pauses mid-action.

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

Interterm at MacLeish, Day 4

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

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We began our day by continuing to brainstorm for the 6th grade field trip tomorrow. The 6th graders are coming for two hours and it is our job to encourage engagement with the field station.
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We had the help of Oakley, Carol’s adorable yellow lab, who was quite taken with Reid. They had some good bonding time.
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We decided to take the 6th graders, in small groups, to five stations around MacLeish where we will teach them how humans interact and intervene in the natural environment around us. One way we will engage with them is by making weathergrams. We went a little overboard in our preparations and prepped 200 for 37 students…we got a little excited.
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After planning our five stations, we did a dry run of the hike that we’ll do with the sixth graders. While each group will start in a different location, the groups will explore the Living Building, investigate the apple orchards and weather tower, examine the historic cellar of the Waite family, observe the art installation, and play the get-to-know-a-tree game as well as create weathergrams.
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Someone got snow in their boots…
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We then went back to the classroom and reflected on our day. There are so many post-it notes!
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We are so excited to meet the 6th graders tomorrow!!!
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Interterm at MacLeish, Day 3

12 Jan

Caroline Eyman ’18 and Regina Wu ’18, students in the Interterm class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape, are today’s guest bloggers.

Today was fortunately a warmer day with a high of 49°F–a nice change compared to 18°F on Monday. We started off the day with an introduction to the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station. The field station was named after the MacLeishes who were good friends with Smith College’s first woman president, Jill Ker Conway. The field station itself is 240-acres of forest and farmland located in West Whately, Massachusetts. Smith College first purchased the land for an observatory. The college wanted to protect the observatory from light pollution and West Whately seemed to be the perfect location.

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It was fascinating to hear about the development of the MacLeish Field Station which began in the fall of 2008. In addition to the college’s faculty and staff, many Smith students were part of the design process of the liberal arts field station. Students came together from different disciplines (landscape studies, architecture, engineering) and worked with each other to create things such as recreational trails, a solar-powered electric fence, and a fire pit.

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After the introduction to the field station, we made our way outside to the ropes course for some adventure education. In our first challenge, Full House, we had to silently choose a woodland creature to pretend to be. We then stepped onto the wooden balance beams. The challenge was to figure out who was what creature, without talking, and to order ourselves from smallest to largest without falling off. It’s always a fun time to play silent charades while trying to balance on wood beams! On our way from the first challenge course to the next, we divided into groups where one person lead three people who were blindfolded. We all made it safe and sound to our next destination. The next challenge was a low ropes course called the Whale Watch. We were on a large wooden platform seesaw and our goal was to balance the platform while completing different tasks, such as two people switching from one side of the platform to the other or the entire group forming a circle and shuffling in one direction–all while the platform was balanced. It is not as simple as it may seem!

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The afternoon portion of the class was spent mostly inside learning more about the Bechtel Environmental Classroom and the different aspects of the Living Building Challenge. We began by discussing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications for buildings. We discussed how members of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) wanted to make it more difficult to achieve a certification similar to LEED. The members of the USGBC created the Living Building Challenge. The Living Building Challenge has seven main components: water, energy, site, material, health, beauty and equity. We analyzed how each component was used in the building process and use of the classroom.

Before we debriefed at the end of the day, we received a lesson about composting toilets. We went down to the basement and saw where all of the human waste is deposited. We even opened up the chamber where the waste was held, and some of us were brave enough to look inside. The wood shavings covered up the smell!

After our composting lesson, we ended our day by continuing to plan for the sixth graders on Friday. We are excited for them to come experience the magical place that is the MacLeish Field Station.

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.

LEED Gold certification for new apartments

21 Dec

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The Friedman Complex, Smith College’s first new student residence in a decade, was recently awarded LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The certification program evaluates buildings on categories such as sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

The buildings in the complex, located on Paradise Road and designed by the Seattle-based architecture firm of Olson Kundig, are named for five pioneering Smith alumnae: Cromwell House, after Otelia Cromwell, class of 1900, Smith’s first African American graduate; DeCora House, after Angel DeCora, class of 1896, Smith’s first Native American student; Hashimy House, after Sabiha Yassin Hashimy, class of 1937, Smith’s first Middle Eastern student; Machado House, after Salomé Amelia Machado, class of 1883, Smith’s first Latina student; and Ninomiya House, after Tei Ninomiya, class of 1910, the first Asian student to graduate from Smith.

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The Friedman Complex is the most recent green building project on campus. Ford Hall, a science and engineering facility, is also LEED Gold; Conway House, a residence for Ada Comstock students with families, received the highest ENERGYSTAR rating possible; and the Bechtel Environmental Classroom at MacLeish Field Station is the world’s fifth fully certified Living Building.

 

Meet the Interns, Part 3

15 Nov

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Hello! My name is Naomi Forman-Katz and I hail from Newton, MA (right outside of Boston). I’m a first-year student at Smith and I’m so excited to be working at MacLeish! I was paired with this team through STRIDE due to my interest in the environment, biology, and sustainability. I was first turned on to the idea of environmental justice and environmental education during the summer after my junior year of high school, when I took an internship teaching Boston-area children about local marine biology and environmental stewardship. This past summer, I worked at various summer programs, including a nature exploration camp for little kids. These experiences sparked my interest in environmental work and the MacLeish Field Station seems to be the perfect outlet for that. I’m looking forward to getting involved in all the projects going on at MacLeish, starting by maintaining the four miles of trails that were designed and built by students. I’m also hoping to work on the American Chestnut restoration project, as well as the fruit orchard, and maybe starting a project of my own!

Other than this internship, I am involved in the Smith community by being the Eco-Rep for Wilder House. Right now, we are working on implementing compost buckets in all of the houses on campus. I am also a member of the Smith College Jewish Community, Divest, and J Street U. I’m looking forward to getting even more involved as the semester goes on, especially with all the fantastic work happening at MacLeish.

Throwback Thursday to Mountain Day!

27 Oct

Three weeks ago, it was a beautiful, quintessential fall day in New England. Today? The first snowflakes are falling and students are bundled up with scarves, mittens, and hats. Feels like the perfect time for Throwback Thursday–to Mountain Day! Three students from Environmental Science & Policy 311: Environmental Communications share their Mountain Day Adventures.

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I visited a local farm, Outlook Farm Barn & Eatery, which is only a 15-minute drive from the campus. I went apple picking and enjoyed sweet apple cider and homemade baked donuts on the farm. Before I left, I also bought some jams and honey which are all local New England products. I felt so great enjoying fresh apples and foods and having no class today. Although the Mountain Day didn’t come in the week I expected, I think it is still the best day of the semester. — Shuqi Mao ’18

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Rather than going apple picking, I went on a hike to Mount Tom with the chemistry department. While visiting the mountain, I saw some red-tailed hawks playing around in the sky while the sun shining through the clouds. It was a beautiful fall day in New England. After hiking up to the top, we ate lunch and enjoyed the breathtaking view before hiking back down and calling it a day. — Anisha Tyagi ’18

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For Mountain Day this year, Northrop House continued its fabulous tradition of picnicking by Paradise Pond for lunch. The house woke up to bells and an excited email from our awesome HP, coaxing us to get out from under our covers and enjoy the warm and sunshiny day! We sat in a huge circle, munching on our brown bag lunches, giving each other piggyback rides, and admiring the gorgeous view of Smith from our spot by the pond. It’s rare that we can all be together, but Mountain Day is the trifecta holiday that lets us sleep-in, forget homework, and make apple-filled memories together. Shout-out to Northrop for being the best house! — Alexandra Davis ’18