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!

White Mountain Research at the Science Symposium

Students presenting the results of their summer research at the Science Symposium

Students presenting the results of their summer research at the Science Symposium

Today, during lunch hour, Jon’s summer research students Cassia, Jack and David presented the results of heir summer research to the wider College community. They had three posters outlining their ongoing research on the effects of clear cutting on Mercury, Aluminum and Calcium concentrations in forest soils. This research project, now in its second year, continues research initiated by Justin and Dan.

David presenting introductory information on the ongoing White Mountain research project.

David presenting introductory information on the ongoing White Mountain research project.

Cassia and Jack showed some of the first results. Cassia focused on changes in organic matter and mercury, while Jack presented data on Aluminum and Calcium.

Jack and Cassia explaining the results of their summer work.

Jack and Cassia explaining the results of their summer work.

Just in case you wondered: yes, Cameron’s crew was pretty busy too all summer. Jordyn presented their research in a poster presentation at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) in Baltimore.

 

Grand Unveiling at the Knox Preserve

Gathering at the Knox Preserve under the watchful eye of several ferocious guard dogs.

Gathering at the Knox Preserve under the watchful eye of several ferocious guard dogs.

Members of the Avalonia Land Conservancy and Trinity’s ENVS program spent Saturday morning at the Knox Preserve in Stonington, CT to unveil four interpretative signs that outline the major habitats of the Knox Preserve. the signs were designed by Eunice Kimm (’14) as part of her integrating experience. During her senior year Eunice worked closely with Drs. Cameron Douglass and Joan Morrison, identifying and drawing birds that are common at the preserve and designing the signs.

Eunice Kimm ('14) enjoying the sunset at Fimmvörðuháls in southern Iceland during our 2014 field trip to iceland.

Eunice Kimm (’14) enjoying the sunset at Fimmvörðuháls in southern Iceland during our 2014 field trip to iceland.

The event started with lots of good food from the First and Last Bakery and a few short introductory statements by Beth Sullivan from the Avalonia Land Conservancy and Cameron Douglass from Trinity College. Beth thanked all the volunteers who help to maintain the preserve and  came out at the crack of dawn to install the signs. Cameron told us about the ecological value of the preserve, the Conservancy’s efforts to combat invasive species and, and Connectiut’s unofficial state plant.

Beth Sullivan and Cameron Douglass standing between us and the coffee. :-(

Beth Sullivan and Cameron Douglass (with borrowed hat!) standing between us and the coffee. :-(

The unveiling took only seconds (I almost missed it), but Cameron kept us entertained by introducing us to the various habitats and the management challenges associated with each.

The moment of truth - no, don't tell us about any typos!

The moment of truth – no, don’t tell us about any typos!

We then went on a short walk through the preserve, learning about the history of the site and the ongoing research performed by Cameron, Joan and their students.

In the meadow part of the preserve.

In the meadow part of the preserve.

Trinity crew with one of Eunice's signs. Sarah, Emily, Cameron with Parker (class of '36), Christoph (luriing Parker with some coffee), and saintly Preston (who still acts surprisingly normal after spending weeks with Cameron's all-female research crew)

Trinity crew with one of Eunice’s signs. Sarah, Emily, Cameron with Parker (class of ’36), Christoph (luring Parker with some coffee), and saintly Preston (who still acts surprisingly normal after spending weeks with Cameron’s all-female research crew)

Wildflowers galore!

Wildflowers galore!

You can learn more about the Avalonia Land Conservancy and the Knox Preserve by visiting the Conservancy’s website or reading Beth Sullivan’s blog. You can see Eunice’s signs for yourself by visiting the preserve and hiking the trails. Directions to the site are here – just don’t mess with Cameron’s flagging tape!

 

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.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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)

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.

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.