ENVS seniors celebrate Earth Day with honors presentations

Dan, Justin and Prof. Gourley in the White Mountains

Dan, Justin and Prof. Gourley in the White Mountains

This afternoon the second batch of senior presentations started off with Bridget, who reported on the Bridges of Hartford and how they affect heavy metal concentrations in the Park River watershed. Bridget was supposed to present last week, but was too busy beating The College of New Jersey in Lacrosse (15-8).

Greg was next, updating us on invasive species work at Knox Preserve in Southington, CT. He investigated the effects of various treatments (mowing, spraying with herbicides) on plant populations, ecosystem diversity and invasive species abundances. His research is part of a longer research effort by Prof. Douglass on invasive species management.

Greg presenting his research

Greg presenting his research

Lia told us about her analysis of soil temperature data that had been collected since 2007. She had some bad news for us: soil temperatures had increased by an average of 0.25C per year, and two of the thermocouples need replacing. Jon and I will get right on it once the semester is over.
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On we moved to the White Mountains: Justin presented baseline data for aluminum and calcium concentrations in forest soils prior to clear cutting. Dan analyzed the same sites for mercury and organic matter concentrations. Their work is the beginning of a long-term study on the effects of clear cutting on forest soils in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Justin explaining some finer points of his statistical analyses.

Justin explaining some finer points of his statistical analyses.

Brooke finished the afternoon on a high-note presenting her mineral analyses of lake sediments from Otsego Lake, NY. Brooke used X-Ray Diffraction to quantify the abundance of terrigenous materials in lake sedimenst and reconstruct storm events. Her analyses confirmed the influence of eralier storms and revealed a period of low lake levels between 2000 – 6000 years B.P.

Brooke's lake-level model.

Brooke’s lake-level model.

ENVS Senior Presentations Show off Wide Range of Research Interests

Ben presenting his research on stone walls

Ben presenting his research on stone walls

Last Wednesdays ENVS students and faculty were treated to a series of senior presentations about our student’s integrating experience. Maria kicked it off with a talk on altruism and organic markets, finding consumers of large-scale organic markets (think Whole Foods etc.) act mostly for selfish reasons (healthier, better for me), while shoppers in a local neighborhood co-op in Spain cited mostly social and community reasons for shopping at the co-op.

Shoppers at a small neighborhood co-op - image M. Wachtman

Shoppers at a small neighborhood co-op – image M. Wachtman

Rose and Kate presented their work performed while abroad with the School for Field Studies. Rose studied water management in the Ambroseli region of Kenya, while Kate told us about skinks from Whakatiwai regional park in new Zealand.

Shaina and Jenna both introduced us to their mapping projects. Shaina presented interactive maps of schools within the Park River watershed, while Jenna showed off her GIS wizardry skills estimating plant biomass based Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI).

NDVI index for Know Preserve, Avalonia Land Conservancy, Stonington, CT. Image by J. Wilborne

NDVI index for Know Preserve, Avalonia Land Conservancy, Stonington, CT. – image by J. Wilborne

Alessandro and Tori presented research on magnetic properties of lake sediments and data from our weather station respectively, while Ben brought us up to date on current animal studies on and around the stone walls (and compost piles) on professor Smedley’s property.

Our senior presentations will continue this Wednesday with five seniors presenting the results of their honors theses. Presentations will be held on 4/22 in McCook 115 from 1:30 until the bitter end.
Refreshments will be served.
(so, please come – Jon orders too much food anyway)

Choose better, choose sustainable!

by guest blogger Vanja Babunski (’18)

electric car charging station on campusThese days we are surrounded by news of global environmental issues, from climate change to concerns about pollution and tropical storms. More and more students around the world are becoming involved in these issues because we see the impacts. Trinity students are no different, and we are tackling these global issues on the smaller scale of our campus. Trinity College supports a spectrum of activities and organizations for students interested in sustainability. Student-run organizations like Green Campus are cornerstones for sustainable practices across campus, including recycling and composting through numerous activities. One of the largest projects this organization is taking on is composting in the largest dining hall on campus, Mather. This group of very enthusiastic students has an ultimate goal to show that sustainability and conservation activities are fun, and as beneficial for Trinity’s environment and students. Students from Green Campus and from the first-year seminar on Cycling, Sustainability, and Hartford – led by enthusiastic professors – are forming a campus-wide Sustainability Committee this semester. Everyone interested in sustainable activities is welcomed to join, regardless of major or position. Let’s spread Green Trin spirit!

2015 Thomas McKenna Meredith ’48 Lecture in ENVS

variousCameron Douglass, our current Thomas McKenna Meredith’48 Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental Science (still the longest title in the program :-) gave his annual lecture on Friday afternoon. Over the past two years Cameron and his students have performed research at Knox Preserve near Stonington, CT, analyzing the effects of various land management practices on invasive and native species. Cameron began by embarrassing all his research students, proudly presenting them to his audience. He then moved on to describing the difficulties one faces when managing invasive species, and presented the effects of various eradication techniques on native and non-native species. From his talk it became clear that invasive species management is a prolonged process: initial treatment requires a commitment to regular follow-ups. His work also shows that one approach hardly fits all and management techniques have to be tailored to the problems at hand.

Brooke Moore (’15) Represents ENVS at Joint Science Presentations

variousThis Thursday Brooke Moore presented the results from her honors research at the 2015 Joint Science Presentations. Brooke used X-ray diffraction (XRD) to quantify the relative abundance of quartz and calcite minerals in a sediment core from Otsego Lake, NY. The watershed of Otsego lake consists mostly of highly magnetic shale, and increased erosion should lead to increased quartz concentrations in the watershed. Brooke’s thesis attempts to identify periods of higher than normal erosion and link erosion patterns to changes in climate through the Holocene.

For more details on Brooke’s thesis you will have to come to her senior thesis presentation on April 22nd.

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.