Alumni News – Jeff Abrams (’05)

Christoph’s note: Jeff was one of my first research students and probably one of the reasons why I stayed on at Trinity. He was also a heavy smoker, which led to some problems on an inflatable rubber craft …

Jeff in Mudge Pond, Summer 2004

The instructions were to discuss life after Trinity, but since my final semester as an undergraduate was spent abroad studying in the Australian rain forest, it is worth mentioning.  Trinity encourages students to study abroad, and a field study semester is a valuable addendum to the Environmental Science curriculum.  We spent most of the semester evading (usually) the multitude of venomous, spiny, and/or constricting flora and fauna native to the rain forest just inland of the Great Barrier Reef, including potentially aggressive adult-human-sized birds. We did find time to study, among other things, the mating and dietary behavior of the tooth-billed bower bird (Scenopoeetes dentirostris). After graduating I went to Florida to complete a six month internship at Archbold Biological Station. The internship was organized by Trinity Professor Joan Morrison and was primarily a study of the diet of the Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway), a threatened raptor in the falcon family.  After completing the internship, I took a Marine Fisheries Observer position with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) collecting biological data aboard commercial fishing vessels.  Then I worked briefly doing assessment and remediation of petroleum impacted groundwater surrounding gas stations before returning to a Marine Fisheries Observer position.  Somehow I keep finding my career winding back to the marine environment!

In 2010, after four years as a fisheries observer, I enrolled at Humboldt State University in Northern California (think old-growth redwood forests growing down to rugged coastline), and earned a masters of science in natural resources/fisheries biology.  My thesis work involved the study (via hook-and-line sampling!) of fishes associated with rocky habitats along California’s Northcoast.  These fishes, primarily rockfish (Sebastes spp.), are diverse, colorful, slow-growing, and slow maturing – very cool.

Science! Sampling a lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus)


.. and a canary rockfish (Sebastes pinniger) that is suffering from some barotrauma.

When I completed my masters in 2014, I was also fortunate to be able to assist with various field projects, including more hook-and-line sampling, this time as part of a cutthroat/steelhead trout introgression study, and various other salmonid related field efforts that took me to remote and beautiful California and Oregon stream reaches in search of the iconic fish.

This looks like fishing, but it is still science! Cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii), or possibly a cutthroat/steelhead hybrid?

North Fork Smith River. One of many beautiful study locations.

Despite my best efforts to make a career out of hook-and-line sampling, eventually I realized that to make the kind of impact I wanted on fisheries conservation I would need to spend less time in the field and more time with fisheries managers.  I accepted a position with the NMFS in Sacramento with the San Joaquin River Restoration Program (SJRRP).  The San Joaquin River was recently labeled the second most endangered river in the America, and the SJRRP is a valiant effort to restore a 150 mile long section of the river, including reintroducing critically threatened populations of salmon that were extirpated from the basin. But I still manage to get out of the office once in a while.

A non-experimental population Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) that is being prepped to be released into the river to spawn.

The education I received from the Trinity College Environmental Science Department prepared me well to succeed in all of these endeavors.  While all of the professors I met at Trinity College were skilled and caring educators, I would especially like to thank Professors Christoph Geiss and Joan Morrison for going above and beyond any responsibility they had to provide resources and opportunities to their students. As a side note to any current or prospective students who may be reading this: take advantage of the Environmental Science field trips that the department offers.  I was fortunate to go on two of them, and can attest that they are wonderful learning opportunities as well as a lot of fun!

ENVS Students Aid in Maple Avenue Clean-up

On May 6th approximately fifteen environmental science students joined the Maple Avenue Revitalization Group and assisted in their annual spring cleaning efforts.

Our group and Maple Avenue neighbors at the beginning of the event.

Our group and Maple Avenue neighbors at the beginning of the event.

Joining the effort was a challenge, since the event started on a Saturday morning, practically at the crack of dawn (9 AM). The weather was overcast and drizzly but cooperated and the big rains held off long enough to collect a considerate amount of trash.

Jackie posing with some of the collection.

Jackie posing with some of the collection.

A little bit of rain did nothing to dampen the spirits.

A little bit of rain did nothing to dampen the spirits.

We received a big thanks from our old friend Hyacinth Yennie who is already making plans for next year.

Trinity’s Quiet Revolution

solar panels LSCI’ve wanted to write about this for months, but the College beat me to it: over the past few years Trinity has installed quite a few solar panels on its flat roofs. One could not fail to notice the installation on the roofs of Ferris and Life Science – an enormous crane had blocked street access and parking lots for days last summer, but a quick check in Google Earth showed the true extent of the project. Ferris, LSC, Buldings and Grounds as well as Trinity Commons are covered with solar panels. The south facing roofs of the new town houses also have solar panels installed. That’s quite a step up from the few solar panels that were installed many years ago on the roof of the Treehouse.

2009 - the first solar panels go up at the Treehouse.

2009 – the first solar panels go up at the Treehouse.

For the Trinity News article on the most recent solar panels you can follow this link. And if you’d like to see where they are you can see them in the image below on the roofs of Ferris, LRC, Trinity Commons and the Facilities Management building. If you look closely you can see that the building south of the hockey rink is full of solar panels as well.south-campus-1992---2016Interesting enough you have to look for them in Google Earth. Google maps has slightly older imagery, which shows the roofs prior to installation.

Alumni News – Colby Tucker (’09)

This is the latest post in a series of alumni portraits. If you would like to tell us about life after graduation, send me a quick note and you’ll be featured next.

This is not one of the heroic pictures that Colby submitted with his post. This is a young Colby in Iceland, thoroughly enjoying dried fish - an Icelandic delicacy.

This is not one of the heroic pictures that Colby submitted with his post. It shows a young Colby in Iceland, thoroughly enjoying dried fish – an Icelandic delicacy.

In 2009, I emerged from the womb of Trinity ENVS bright eyed and without a clue how I was I going to put ENVS 275 to work (Methods, duh). Three field trips with Christoph and Co. and a semester in New Zealand convinced me that field science was a neat way to understand and view the world. With that in mind, and with the suggestion from fellow bantam, Isabel Gottlieb (’09), I joined a biological anthropology project in Costa Rica as a field technician. While biological anthropology is awfully similar to primatology, the only thing I knew about primatology was a person named Jane Goodall. I was on-board for the adventure and the exposure to a devoted, longitudinal field study. We studied white-faced capuchin monkeys who were as habituated as New York pigeons—important to be able to make behavioral observations and, as a bonus for me, allow me to snap some of my best photos. I lived in very close quarters with six other field technicians and I eventually began to wonder if the monkeys were an elaborate foil for the UCLA researcher to study human behavior. So I made the jump to a different group of monkeys—high schoolers.

Colby's favorite monkey.

Colby’s favorite monkey.

For the next three academic years, I taught chemistry and environmental science at the Pomfret School in Pomfret, CT. I felt at home back in the classroom and enjoyed modifying many of the lessons I received from Trinity professors just a couple of years prior. Also, I now had the summer months to jump back into field research mode. One summer I worked in Wyoming on an ungulate migration study collecting plant samples. Another summer I worked in northern California conducting baseline monitoring for a riparian restoration project. I loved every minute of being out in the field and returning to base at the end of the day. I enjoyed being a part of the niche community of scientists, project managers, and community members who invested themselves in these projects and care deeply about the outcome.

Acidifying samples in Alaska.

Acidifying samples in Alaska.

But then I got the itch. I wanted to have a project of my own. So I returned to school and enrolled in the Master’s program at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (FES). Here my thesis focused on biogeochemistry in Alaskan estuaries, but I, perhaps to the dismay of my advisor, focused on much more than just my thesis. I pursued course work in regulating energy development, methods of land conservation, remote sensing techniques, and more. I met fascinating and motivated classmates from a host of backgrounds with interests varying from Alaskan subsistence rights to palm oil development in the Philippines to the US energy market. With these new skills, knowledge, and connections, I felt I had a duty to protect and manage the environment I had studied and explored since my time at Trinity. Working in government was a logical transition and I pursued the Presidential Management Fellowship. The PMF is one of several fellowships offered by the federal government to develop those with advanced degrees into government leaders. Fortunately, I was accepted and found a placement working for the Environmental Protection Agency in Region 9’s Enforcement Division.

Agent Colby at an undisclosed location off the coast of California.

Agent Colby at an undisclosed location off the coast of California.

I now find myself on the 14th floor of a high rise in San Francisco wearing sunglasses, in part because of the low hanging winter sun and in part to remind me of the earlier days (better days?) working outside. The EPA keeps me in the office mostly, but as a case developer and inspector for Section 402 of the Clean Water Act I sometimes get to travel to various parts of EPA’s Region 9 (CA, NV, AZ, HI, and the Pacific Islands). This travel is to inspect those facilities that have (or should have) NPDES permits, which means I visit some of our dirtiest places. I’ve inspected industrial facilities in Hawaii, oil drilling platforms in southern California, shipyards around San Francisco Bay, and municipal wastewater treatment plants and collection systems in various places around the region. It’s my job to ensure these facilities are properly permitted and that they are following their permit—staying within their effluent limits, monitoring and reporting their discharge, employing best management practices, and whatever other stipulations their permits prescribe. As a case developer, I compile the evidence of non-compliance and work with lawyers to develop an enforcement action to compel these entities to follow their permit. It is indeed a slow process, but the end result protects human health and the environment—EPA’s catch phrase.
As a PMF though, my time in this role is limited. Part of the fellowship is that I have to conduct a “rotation” in another EPA division or another federal agency altogether. While the details of this rotation are still not set, there is a good chance you will find me next at NOAA or NASA or perhaps at the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ), if I am lucky.

2017 Field Trip to Iceland Announced

Who wouldn't be excited to go to Iceland!

Who wouldn’t be excited to go to Iceland!

We are excited to announce our 2017 field trip to Iceland and are even more excited to be able to offer it to current students, just graduated seniors and alumni. The trip will begin and end at Boston airport (alumni could arrange for different starting points), includes two days in Reykjavik and our classic hike along the Laugavegur.

Taking sunset pictures in Reykjavik.

Taking sunset pictures in Reykjavik.

The trip dates are Sunday, June 18 2017 – Friday, June 30 2016. The cost will be between $1750 and $2000 (more below).

While in Iceland we will camp or stay in Huts (at Baldvinsskáli, Emstrur and Hrafntinnusker) that are operated by the Icelandic Touring Association (Ferðafélag Íslands). We’ve been to Iceland many times and the weather has ranged from super sunny and nice to driving rain and utterly miserable with everything in between – most of the time it’s pretty nice! In any case, we supply the tents, but you should bring a good sleeping bag. Every once in a while we throw in some geothermal heat on top of a volcano.

Camping in Landmannalaugar - the worst campsite of the trip, but the hot springs make up for a lot!

Camping in Landmannalaugar – the worst campsite of the trip, but the hot springs make up for a lot!

The rhyolite hills of Landmannalaugar.

The rhyolite hills of Landmannalaugar.

The total cost of the trip (between $1750 – $2000) dollars will depend a little bit on the cost of local transportation and airfare. We’re getting quotes for the bus right now, airfare will be influenced by when we are able to lock in the tickets. That price includes airfare from Boston (if you are an alumna / alumnus and want to meet us in Iceland lets talk), local transportation, all the food on the hike, and a visit to the Blue Lagoon at the end of the trip (overrated, but your fellow folks on the plane home will appreciate it). It will not include food in Reykjavik where you can enjoy the most amazing hot dogs ever or dine in five star restaurants on Arctic char, lamb chops and smoked puffin (supposedly rather salty).

Puffy on the bus. That little guy always had the best seats...

Puffy on the bus. That little guy always had the best seats…

The centerpiece of the trip will be a hike from Skogar (on the southern coast) to the hot springs of Landmannalaugar. Daily hikes range from 8 – 10  miles a day, and we usually are in camp by early afternoon. That leaves plenty of time to hang out, relax, stalk the local flora or just tend that blister on your foot.

Hiking between amazing volcanoes.

Hiking between amazing volcanoes.

Every once in a while we will have to ford a river. It’s exciting the first time, and at the end you’ll think nothing of swimming through glacial streams the size of the Amazon river. Piece of cake! OK, I exaggerate a bit: the rivers are just deep enough to earn some bragging rights (see below).

Most river crossings are bridged. The ones that are not ain't that bad. The water is well-heated and pleasantly refreshing. :-) Yeah, check out Jenna's face.

Most river crossings are bridged. The ones that are not ain’t that bad. The water is well-heated and pleasantly refreshing. :-) Yeah, check out Jenna’s face.

While on the trail we’ll do our own cooking. By now we have it pretty much figured out and we’ll chat with you guys about food choices, menu planning etc.

Chef Jon at work.

Chef Jon at work.


Sunday, June 18th – leave Boston in the evening (around 8 – 9 PM)
Monday, June 19th – arrive in Reykjavik, transfer to campground, time to explore the city on your own (very walkable), check out the dried fish or local hot dogs. The best dogs can be found right next to our campsite (Bill Clinton had no idea)

The best hotdogs can be had right outside the the Laugardalir pool, minutes from our campsite.

The best hotdogs can be had right outside the the Laugardal pool, minutes from our campsite.

Tuesday, June 20 – Like pretty much all tourists, we’ll do the Golden Circle, a tour of Thingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir. Unlike 99.9% of all tourists we’ll spend the night at Geysir so we’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the geysers in the evening sun. That day you’re on your own for dinner. The local restaurant has plenty of choices, and the campground isn’t really great for cooking (a conspiracy ??)

Strokkur, the local geyser going off every few minutes or so.

Strokkur, the local geyser going off every few minutes or so.

Wednesday, June 21 – today our hike begins in earnest: after a morning bus ride to Selfoss to stock up on last minute supplies we head east along the coast, where we might stop at Seljalandsfoss. Here you can walk behind a waterfall  (also last chance for hot dogs, muffins, coffee). Then we begin our hike at Skogar with hundreds of steps straight up from the parking lot, hundreds of waterfalls, and a hut just under the glacier where we will spend the night. It’s steep, it’s long, the weather will likely turn on us halfway up, but once you’re at the hut it is sooooo worth it!

Yes, we all fit, but Jon had to spend the night with a bunch of German girls.

Yes, we all fit, but Jon had to spend the night with a bunch of German girls.

Thursday, June 22 – Today we hike through the pass at Fimmvörðuháls, where we will most likely encounter some snow and ice before we reach the two craters Magni and Modi (named after the sons of Thor), the site of the first eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption. If you’re lucky the earth might still be toasty warm, years after the event.

The steaming Magni crater in 2011. It was still pretty warm in 2014.

The steaming Magni crater in 2011. It was still pretty warm and toasty in 2014.

From there we head down into Thórsmörk, where we camp in a nice sheltered campground near the hut. Thórsmörk, by the way, has the third largest flag in Iceland (according to the warden).

Friday, June 23 – Today we stay in Thórsmörk. There are plenty of little hikes to do (Christoph still wants to explore the famous cave waterfall, which is the star of many German guidebooks, but which has escaped him now twice), you can head over the mountain to hang out at the next bar or just be lazy and relax after two days of hiking.

Hiking into Thórsmörk.

Hiking into Thórsmörk.

Saturday, June 24 – We start the day with our first stream crossing (nothing to worry about) and then hike all day along the river Markarfljót, in sight of one of Iceland’s coolest mountains, Einhyrningur. When we’re almost at the hut as the crow flies we still have to go way down to the bottom of a steep gorge, cross a raging stream (on a bridge) and work our way back up the infamous Botnar Step before we reach our destination, the hut at Emstrur (Botnar).

The huts at Emstrur.

The huts at Emstrur.

Camping here is so-so, and we’ll stay in the hut.

Sunday, June 25 – Today the trail goes through a large gravel plain, where we hike between big moss-covered volcanoes. After a relatively flat hike and a few river crossings we camp at the hut at Álftavatn. The lake is close and if the weather is nice you might consider a swim, but be forewarned: even though the lake is supposedly very deep, the northeast shore is not and you walk for hundreds of meters until you’re in deep enough water for a swim. Going in is not so bad, but going out, wet, in cold wind … :-(

Our camp at Álftavatn.

Our camp at Álftavatn.

So it might be better to go for an evening hike or take a nice hot shower.

Evening at Álftavatn.

Evening at Álftavatn.

Monday, June 26 – Up to Hrafntinnusker! After a nice walk in the valley we climb up the side of a big caldera to go into the Landmannalaugar region proper. This can be a great hike with amazing views if the weather cooperates (with possibly a little side trip up to Háskerðingur, a really cool, but very steep mountain with an even more amazing view). In any case, we’ll stay at Hrafntinnusker. The camping here really stinks and that’s why we stay in the hut.

Out group at the Hraftinnusker Hut - we're still looking pretty good after six days on the trail!

Out group at the Hraftinnusker Hut – we’re still looking pretty good after six days on the trail!

Tuesday, June 27 – Today we have one more ridge to climb before we head over the rolling rhyolite hills of Landmannalaugar, past the first hot springs (too hot, too muddy) and amazing lava flows. Just before we head down to the hut we have to descend a couple hundred meters. Here you can smile at the poor folks who have to crawl up the steep hill on their way to Thórsmörk. Don’t feel too bad for them – they have four or five days of amazing hiking still ahead of them… We head down to the hut, where we set up camp before we jump into the springs.

Its a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Its a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Wednesday, June 28th –  we have the entire day to explore the amazing landscape of Landmannalaugar. You can hike up Bláhnjúkur, a nice little mountain with an amazing view, head out farther into the wilderness preserve, or just take it easy, drink coffee with “ze Germans” in the Mountain mall, hang out in the hot springs, or catch up on sleep. The choice is yours.

Rhyolite hills near landmannalaugar.

Rhyolite hills near Landmannalaugar.

Some of the treasures of the Mountain Mall.

Some of the treasures of the Mountain Mall.

Hiking in Landmannalaugar.

Hiking in Landmannalaugar.

Thursday, June 29 – This afternoon the bus will pick us up and we’ll head back to reykjavik, where you have the rest of the day to shop for presents (Jon is the expert on Icelandic sweaters), take the elevator up Hallgrimskirkja (great view across the city), or soak your bones in the hot tub (and follow it up with three last hot dogs). It’s all up to you.

At the Blue Lagoon

Reykjavik’s skyline reflected in the windows of the new opera house. Yes, that would be another option.

Friday, June 30 – One last chance to sample Icelandic pastries for breakfast (very sugary and delicious) before the bus picks us up for a trip to the Blue Lagoon. Here you can soak in geothermal waters, get a silica mud facial, buy expensive souvenirs and clean up, so your neighbors on the plane won’t hate you. From there it;s only a short trip to the airport and back to Boston.

At the Blue Lagoon.

At the Blue Lagoon.

So, if you want to go and are not on my list yet, drop me an e-mail at: (you know how to change the _at_ into an @

We can’t wait to hear from you!


P.S.Oh, and for all you guys who want to know such details:
Jon and Christoph will be leading and organizing the trip, Amber will chase the elusive Icelandic salamander (Salamandra islandica heklaensis), while we expect Krista to identify every cinquefoil down to the subspecies level.

Cassia Armstrong named Trinity Artist of the Week

Cassia sizing up the red rock - Arches National Park, 2015

Cassia sizing up the red rock – Arches National Park, Utah 2015

We here in the ENVS Program have always known that Cassia is an amazing student, researcher, softball player, and videographer (for her video of our Utah field trip click here, her video on Trinity’s summer research program is here), bit now it’s official: The Trinity Tripod, a highly respected publication in the field, named Cassia Trinity Artist of the Week. We would have named her Trinity Artist of the Month, but, hey, it’s a start.

You can read the Tripod article here. Do I have anything to add to it? hell, yeah: Cassia is not only a “science major” – she’s an ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE and CHEMISTRY major! Those junior reporters – never get the details straight…

Cassia at Newspaper Rock - Utah 2015

Cassia at Newspaper Rock – Utah 2015

Study “Abroad”: Semester in Environmental Science at Woods Hole

ses_2_smtext and images by Sarah Messenger ’18

I am spending this semester at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, MA doing a program called Semester in Environmental Science. Being the first Trinity student to do SES I had no idea what to expect. The answer is SES is amazing. So far I’ve had the chance to learn from scientists who are doing some amazing research on climate change, do some awesome field work, hang out with other science geeks, live on the beach, and eat obscene amount of lobster at the dining hall.

SES_1_smThat’s not to say the program isn’t intense. We’ve done more field, lab, and data work up in the last fifteen days than I’ve done in a full semester. We collect data in both terrestrial and aquatic systems meaning I’ve had the chance to try my hand at some cool data collection techniques and equipment. Already I feel like I have a better understanding of how to design experiments and collect meaningful data in order to answer research questions. Even more important, we spend a lot of time working with our data in excel. As a result I not only know how to collect data but I know what to do with it afterwards. I 100% recommend SES to any environmental science (or biology or chemistry) majors who are interested in pursuing research in the future. If you’re interested in applying or just want to learn more please shoot me an email. I’m having the time of my life and would love to see more Trinity students take advantage of this opportunity.

Four weeks at Woods Hole and already a Nobel Prize!

Four weeks at Woods Hole and already a Nobel Prize!

Oysters behind McCook

Ryan telling us about the oyster harvest

Ryan telling us about the oyster harvest…

The topic of Jon’s senior seminar sounds pretty grim: For several weeks now, our senior have learned about “our dying oceans”. A few weeks ago, on a beautiful, sunny March afternoon, Ryan Birch (’98) who is working as assistant conservation office in Brewster, MA paid us a visit and taught us all about oysters, how to grow them, how to harvest them, and – most importantly – how to shuck and eat them. :-)

... selling us on smoked Tabasco sauce ...

… selling us on smoked Tabasco sauce (with David looking a bit skeptically) …

... and after showing us the tool of the trade ...

… and after showing us the tool of the trade …

... the first oyster is almost ready to be eaten.

… the first oyster is almost ready to be eaten.

Scott is an old pro with the oyster knife...

Scott is an old pro with the oyster knife…

... and Lauren figures it out pretty quickly too.

… and Lauren figures it out pretty quickly too.

Needless to say, there were no leftovers. Thank you Ryan!

bonus video