Aboard the William Scandling, the Colleges’ 65-research vessel that gives students the opportunity to use Seneca Lake as their laboratory, students are studying the aquatic characteristics of the deepest of the Finger Lakes. Taught by Associate Professor of Biology Meghan Brown, students in “Aquatic Biology” spent their second week in class examining the physical, chemical and biological properties of the lake using state-of-the-art equipment – including compound and stereoscope microscopes donated by oceanographer Nathan Hawley, in honor of his wife Christine Roberts Hawley ’70 and her HWS reunion year.
“Our first lab on Seneca Lake is focused on getting students acquainted with the equipment and methods that are used to conduct limnological surveys,” Brown says – referring to the study of inland waters. Over the course of the semester, students’ ability to use equipment designed for innovative research and discovery will improve– offering them a competitive advantage as they apply for graduate programs and begin careers in fields like marine biology and ecology.
Throughout the semester, students will conduct experiments at the Colleges’ Henry Hanley Biological Field Preserve, a 108-acre refuge close to nearby Cayuga Lake that contains more than 40 ponds, as they learn about the general ecology of aquatic systems and the organisms that make up aquatic communities.
During their lab on Seneca, students collected data from the depths of the lake and learned how to operate, read and analyze the information the equipment provides. Using a CTD device, students measured the conductivity, temperature and depth of the water – which can be used to determine a multitude of characteristics, including salinity and primary productivity. Students also deployed a Secchi disk from the vessel, a tool used to gauge the transparency of the water; and a Bongo-net, to capture samples of phytoplankton and zooplankton they then analyzed with microscopes.
“These microscopes give us the ability to see underwater,” April Moffett ’21 says. The compound microscopes on the William Scandling have 5-megapixel cameras that can live-stream HD images to students’ smartphones or tablets; allowing students to capture, annotate, archive and share images of their findings. Moffett, a biology major who intends to become a marine biologist, says the level of clarity and magnification allows her to evaluate the structure and scale of microscopic life.
Nathan’s field of research includes modern process sedimentology and sediment transport, sediment trap dynamics, boundary layer flow, and internal and surface waves. He has conducted research from the William Scandling and published numerous articles through the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.
Since 2015, Nathan and Professor of Environmental Studies John Halfman have deployed a string of sensors in one of the deepest parts of Seneca Lake to monitor long term changes in the lake’s water temperature. The sensors make temperature measurements at 24 depths each hour for approximately one year, before being retrieved and redeployed for further data collection.
The William Scandling is equipped to travel through the New York Barge Canal System to Cayuga and Oneida Lakes, the Hudson River and points beyond. Students participating in introductory and advanced courses use the vessel, as do students conducting faculty supervised independent research projects.