While you were hanging out in Acapulco …

… Professor Christoph Geiss went to scenic Iowa – western Iowa to be precise. Christoph spent a long weekend at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

Now, that's a sky worth traveling for.

Now, that’s a sky worth traveling for.

While many of you got roasted on the beach, Christoph took his field training to study wildfires and become a wildland firefighter. The training started out pretty benign. The class learned about equipment (expensive!), life on the fireline and in fire camp (dirty – no showers for a week), and how to use the various hand tools. The highlight of the morning was a fire shelter exercise: Christoph and his fellow firefighter rookies had exactly 30 seconds to unpack a fire shelter, climb into it and drop to the ground (feet to the assumed fire). The exercise was fun, the re-folding of the practice shelters less so. They seemed to get bigger after every drill.

Yep, that's us under our practice fire shelters. The real thing is made of some space-age fiberglass-aluminum composite, weighs a ton and costs even more. We were only allowed to play with the practice version.

Yep, that’s the class under practice fire shelters. The real thing is made of some space-age fiberglass-aluminum composite, weighs a ton and costs even more. We were only allowed to play with the practice version. The guy in the flannel shirt shakes every shelter to simulate the fierce winds to be expected during a fire storm.

The afternoon was spent on fire fighting tactics and safety (Always keep an eye out for your safety zone and establish a solid anchor point!). The class also got to spray some water as they learned about the ins- and outs of fire engines, hose lays and various nozzles.

This thing beats any super-soaker!

This thing beats any Super-Soaker! It empties a 400 gal water tank in less than 10 minutes.

All lined up to fight some fires.

All lined up to fight some fires.

The highlight of the afternoon came after a short hike (in formation, spaced 10 ft apart, tool held on the side at the balance point on the (non-existing) downhill side – no swinging, hacking or stabbing allowed) to a nearby tallgrass prairie. The big bluestem burned quite nicely and provided just enough excitement.

Chad Graeve, the instructor points out the finer points of a grass fire.

Chad Graeve, the instructor points out the finer points of a grass fire.

The group practiced on several small fires. It took the instructors maybe a minute to extinguish theirs, the class was, well, not quite as practiced, but after a few (very) hot hours everybody had three little grass fires under their belts, and knew how to “enter the fire from the heel”, work “from the black”, and learned that a simple backpack pump can do wonders, but that even 4-ft flames put out quite a bit of heat.

A rookie crew at work.

A rookie crew at work.

The final fire of the day.

The final fire of the day.

Christoph also used the opportunity to sample some recently burned soils, go on a few hikes and watched the pro’s extinguish a “real” grass fire, where he learned that the mighty backpack pump may well be an effective fire-fighting tool, but that even a measly “Type 6” fire engine puts out so much more water…

One of Christoph's sampling sites.

One of Christoph’s sampling sites.

Invasive plants: good, bad or just ugly?

Cameron's study site near Mystic, CT

Can you spot the invasive plant(s)? Cameron’s study site near Mystic, CT

Cameron Douglass, our postdoctoral fellow, will give a research talk entitled “Invasive plants: good, bad or just ugly?” on Friday, April 3rd at 3PM in the McCook Auditorium. I hope you all can make it. here is the abstract to Cameron’s talk:

Invasive plants are thought to cause many negative ecological impacts, but new research suggests that they may also play beneficial roles. The problem is that we know little about how the properties of individual invasive species or groups of them might drive those impacts. Our research focuses on this problem, and uses a nature preserve near Mystic, CT to study whether invasive plants are as problematic as advertised, or rather are just misunderstood.   

Refreshments will be available after the talk.

 

A busy spring …

Fossilized remains of one of the earliest (the earliest ?) feathered dinosaurs. Shreds of Joan's field pants clearly visible around bones from the leg.  Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Archaeopteryx_bavarica_Detail.jpg

Fossilized remains of one of the earliest (THE earliest ?) feathered dinosaurs. Shreds of Joan’s field pants clearly visible around bones from the left leg.
Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Archaeopteryx_bavarica_Detail.jpg

… just because you haven’t heard much from us recently does not mean we haven’t been busy for the last months. The two biggest news first: Joan Morrison will enter phased retirement soon (technically she is already in phased retirement, but I try to ignore that as much as possible) and Christoph Geiss was promoted to petrified wood (aka full professor). We have since requested to hire a new conservation biologist and hope to hire a new colleague next year.

Evolution of tenure track faculty. Left: green wood, center: dead wood, right: petrified wood. Christoph has now proudly reached the petrified wood stage.

Evolution of tenure track faculty. Left: green wood, center: dead wood, right: petrified wood. Christoph has now proudly reached the petrified wood stage.

Our students are busy on several research projects. Christoph Geiss’ students are analyzing sediments from Otsego Lake in upstate New York and a salt marsh at Hammonasset State Park. The salt marsh sediments are probably the smelliest sediments ever cored, and they are stinking up the cold room as we speak. A GPR survey conducted this February yielded – absolute nothing. The salty pore fluids, combined with highly conductive clays ate the radar signal withing a few inches of the surface. Good day to work on our tan, though!

March 2015 - Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey at a Hammonasset State Park Salt Marsh

March 2015 – Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey at a Hammonasset State Park Salt Marsh

Cameron Douglass’ students are busy analyzing soils and invasive plants at a conservation area near Mystic, and we will erect a few interpretative signs at that introduce visitors to the various ecosystems encountered at the site.

March 2015 - Ground Penetrating Radar Drawing of a song sparrow to be featured at one of our interpretative signes. Drawing by Eunice Kim

Drawing of a song sparrow to be featured at one of our interpretative signs. Drawing by Eunice Kim

Jon Gorley’s students are still crunching the soils data numbers from their sites in the White Mountains.

Lia Howard (’15) shows off her research at AGU

Lia at the AGU conference

Lia Howard presenting her poster at the annual AGU meeting in San Francisco

In a packed poster session where Jon had to stay clear to make room for all the interested visitors, Lia Howard presented her on-going senior honors thesis work to the masses of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, California.  Her poster entitled, “Analysis of hourly temperature ground data on the Trinity College Campus, Hartford, Connecticut USA” was part of the “Global Environmental Change” theme session that focused on quantifying temperature change distributions.  Lia showed how the temperature probes, which are located in a well between the soccer and football fields, measured an increase over a seven year span of approximately 0.25⁰C/year. Lia received some excellent feedback on her work and will be exploring some suggested statistical tools that could be used to the over 300,000 temperature recordings from the well.

 

2015 ENVS Field Trip is Taking Shape

Utah_hikeProfessors Morrison and Geiss met yesterday and hashed out a tentative itinerary for our upcoming trip to Utah. It will include two days in Arches National Park, hikes across slickrock landscapes, a two-day rafting adventure through Westwater Canyon and so much more that we don’t want to tell you yet. Yes, we will be camping in some awesome spots. Yes, we will have great food. Everything else – we’ll see.

To go on the trip send a brief e-mail to Christoph Geiss telling us why you want to go and why we should take you.

Chickadee Marathon

chickadee marathon 10_28_2014Today Prof. Morrison and her students, including ENVS majors Isabelle Moore and Adam Hammershoy successfully banded 6 Black-capped Chickadees.  The little black and white noise makers were captured at the Mary Hooker Environmental Magnet School in Hartford.  This activity was part of Prof. Morrison’s bi-annual bird banding program that includes 6th through 8th graders at several Hartford schools.

Summer Research Roundup – Part 2

Justin in the White Mountains

Justin in the White Mountains

White Mountain National Forest clear-cut soils project
Jon Gourley and his research students entered year two of monitoring soils in the White Mountains of New Hampshire after clear-cutting.  Two of the three sites have now been completely cut with hopefully the third cleared by this fall.   Justin Beslity and Daniel Hong (both thesis students of the class of ’15) travelled to the Hogsback site on the western slopes of Blueberry Mountain and found what was once a thick transitional forest of birch, beach, spruce and fir to be completely cleared (see photo).  Samples from the O and B horizons were taken and are currently being processed for nutrients as well as mercury.  The team’s site on the eastern side of the forest in Maine, which was the first to be cut last fall, has the first set of pre and post cut results.  They recorded  some slight decreases in calcium and aluminum, two critical soil nutrients for new forest growth.

Summer Research Roundup – Part 1

The weed lab crew in the field.

The weed lab crew in the field.

Four months ago the summer 2014 field season started for the Weed Lab crew, and despite what the picture shows (Tracy and Dr. D not pictured) we got a ton of work done at the Knox Preserve in Mystic. All told 850 soil samples were collected, an especially mean feat considering that half the site is densely forested. Most of the summer was spent analyzing moisture, salinity and carbon levels in the collected soils. But twice during the summer we re-visited sampling plots established last fall to monitor plant community responses to the removal of invasive plants by measuring plant species diversity, abundance, canopy cover and changes in the morphology of specific species. We worked hard, had some fun too, and now have a ton of data to start sifting through!

ENVS kicks off the semester with a pre-orientation program

At Riverside Park

At Riverside Park

For the first time the ENVS program offered a pre-orientation program centered around the water quality in Hartford’s public parks. However, students will not only explore Hartford’s rivers, they will also get an opportunity to sample some of Hartford’s restaurants. As it turns out, our program was the only one that did NOT treat their participants to delicious Mather food, but took them to Riverside Park for a nice little barbecue. Joan forgot the veggie burgers, but luckily she was the only vegetarian of the group, and we fed her plenty of watermelon and potato chips.

Members of the Class of 2018

Members of the Class of 2018

Some of the younger members of the Class of 2018

Some of the younger members of the Class of 2018

Tomorrow the students will explore several of Hartford’s parks, hike up to Heublein Tower for lunch, and take the first water quality measurements.

2014 Iceland Pictures

at Alftavatn

at Alftavatn

Just before he went off on his (very well deserved) vacation to Maine and New Hampshire, Christoph managed to get most of his pictures organized and put them on-line.

Go and check them out here.

If you would like to share your pictures – either send them to me (and I’ll turn them into a web gallery) or, even better in this cloud based day and age: add a comment to this post which includes a link to your images._30