Geoscience Horizons

Press Release

Hobart and William Smith Colleges

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Oct. 31, 2003

CONTACT:
Darlene Palmer
(315) 781-3540
www.hws.edu

Colleges Students and Faculty Present Research at Geological Society of America

Research on Seneca Lake water level fluctuations, nutrient and calcium content, and coliform and E. coli levels will be presented at the Geological Society of America's annual meeting.

GENEVA, N.Y.-Two William Smith students, a Hobart senior and two geoscience professors will attend the National Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America, Nov. 2 through 5, in Seattle, Wash. Approximately 7,200 geoscientists are expected to attend.

Senior Andrew Baker and Tara Curtin, assistant professor of geoscience, will present research on the fluctuations of Seneca Lake water levels in the Holocene period. Initial lake level compilations for North America show that during the early to mid-Holocene, conditions were drier than present. More recent studies suggest a warm, wet climate persisted during the mid-Holocene in the eastern Great Lakes region, central New York state, and southern New England, but was drier in the western Great Lakes region. Seneca Lake is near the transition between observed arid and wet conditions during the mid-Holocene. Results of their study showed at least two rises and falls of lake levels.

Baker, from Westfield Center, Ohio, is majoring in geoscience and with a minor in environmental studies, and plans to study paleoclimatology in graduate school. He began this project as part of the Summer Science Research Opportunities on campus, and it was funded in part by the Andrew Mellon Foundation. He will also present at the American Geophysical Union meeting, Dec. 8-12. He participated on the Hobart rowing team for two years, has helped with the summer environmental science program for high school students, and was named to the Dean's List. He is studying this fall in Queensland, Australia. He is the son of John and Mary Baker.

Curtin joined the Colleges faculty in 2001. She received her bachelor's degree from Colgate, her master's from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and her doctoral degree from the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Junior Barbara Beckingham and John Halfman, associate professor of geoscience, studied the levels of total coliform and E. coli present in Seneca Lake. The lake provides Class AA drinking water to 85,000 people, and findings indicate continued water quality. Recently, aging municipal and residential wastewater treatment systems and farms have triggered concerns for water quality. The total coliform concentration, which indicates fecal contamination, and E. coli levels were found to be within state regulations.

Beckingham, from Holley, N.Y., is pursuing a B.S. in chemistry and minors in both environmental studies and geoscience. She is currently researching potential sources of total coliform and E. coli bacteria in the Seneca Lake watershed with Professor John Halfman. Beckingham was awarded the American Chemical Society First-Year Chemistry Award, the Trustee scholarship, and received Deans' List honors. She rowed for the William Smith crew team and currently plays rugby and serves on a student judicial board. She is also an active member of Refuse and Resist! and Campus Greens. She is the daughter of John and Diane Beckingham.

Sophomore Suzanne Opalka and Halfman determined a preliminary calcium budget for Seneca Lake. Various carbonate proxies preserved in the sediments of Seneca Lake have revealed a recently tapped record of Holocene climate change. On shorter timeframes, its hydrogeochemistry has significantly altered since the introduction of zebra mussels (D. polymorpha) in 1992 and quagga mussels (D. bugensis) in 1999. Fundamental to both is calcium. Fluvial input and output data indicate that calcium influx is controlled by both stream discharge and concentration. The actual lake concentration suggests that a significant amount of calcium is removed from the water column and deposited on the lake floor as fine-grained calcite.

Opalka, from Hollis, N.H., is a geoscience major with a minor in environmental studies. She is a member of the William Smith swimming and diving team and Campus Greens club. She was awarded the Chemical Rubber Company First-Year Chemistry Achievement Award last semester. She is the daughter of William and Kristine Opalka.

Halfman is also presenting research he did with Sarah Kostick, from Smith College, who worked in his lab as an intern last summer. The two studied the impact of large precipitation events on nutrient runoff to Seneca Lake. Correlations were found between heavy precipitation events (greater than 10mm per 48 hours) and increased concentrations and fluxes, and suggest that isolated precipitation events in which surface runoff is exponentially increased are directly responsible for much of the nutrient runoff to Seneca Lake.

Halfman, who is also director of environmental studies, came to the Colleges in 1994. He holds a B.S. from Miami, an M.S. from Minnesota, and a Ph.D. from Duke University.

The Hobart and William Smith geoscience department encourages students to involve themselves in research projects and paper presentations beyond the HWS campus. Many class and independent study projects result in presentations at national meetings and/or publications in national and international journals. The department prides itself in providing the opportunity for students to become part of the international geological community and for them to experience possible career paths.

Hobart for men and William Smith for women-private, liberal arts and science institutions with a combined enrollment of 1,800-have an ambitious geology curriculum designed for students with a wide variety of interests and needs, ranging from an introduction to a strong preparation for a career in geology. Hobart and William Smith are located in Geneva, in the heart of the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

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