Syracuse Students Explore Seneca – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
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Syracuse Students Explore Seneca

The Post-Standard recently featured a visit by the Edward Smith School eigth-graders to the Hobart and William Smith campus for the award-winning Science on Seneca Program and an outing on the William Scandling research vessel.

The trip was initiated by Linda Kraemer, a social worker at Edward Smith School and parent of Hobart student Samuel Kraemer ’12.  While visiting the Colleges for Family Weekend, she learned of the Finger Lakes Institute‘s (FLI) Science on Seneca Program and decided it would be perfect for the students at Edward Smith School. 

Kraemer and Margaret Clonan, an eight grade science teacher at Edward Smith School, took the Science on Seneca teachers’ training program this past spring and coordinated the trip with Sheila Myers, the education outreach coordinator at the FLI.

“It was a great opportunity for theses students, some of whom have never been on a boat before, to visit the HWS campus and learn about the Finger Lakes,” says Myers.

The full story about their experience is featured below, as is an additional story based on an interesting question Myers presented to the reporter during the trip.

The Post-Standard
Close to home aboard the Scandling

Sean Kirst • June 14, 2009

How a vial of water tells tale of Syracuse

None of it was exactly what Britney Binyard had expected. She stood at the stern of The William Scandling, a 65-foot research vessel, which left behind a rippling wake in Seneca Lake.

Britney is an eighth-grader at the Edward Smith School in Syracuse. Last Wednesday, her science class visited the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith College. The trip included a ride on The William Scandling, where Capt. John Nichols and first mate John Abbott helped the students conduct experiments on water quality.

For Britney, who dreams of becoming a lawyer, the value of the excursion transcended science. In the same way as many of her classmates, it was the first ride she’d ever taken on a boat.

She had assumed the lake would be a vivid blue, and she was delighted by the dark appearance of the water on a cloudy day.
“It’s more like turquoise,” she said.

Sheila Myers, education outreach coordinator at the institute, said those revelations are a key part of the experience. “My emphasis,” she said, “is to try and get the kids interested in where they live.”

She hopes the teens might look twice at hills and valleys they always took for granted, and begin to understand the physical connections between communities. At some point, she said, that larger appreciation might help these students commit their talents to the place where they grew up.

A prime example was a chloride test, conducted by the class on water from the lake. Seneca Lake is the largest of the Finger Lakes, Myers explained. It has relatively high readings of chloride, or salt, for reasons intertwined with Syracuse:
Ages ago, our region was covered by a shallow inland sea. During that time, layers of rock salt were laid down that were eventually covered by shale. When the glaciers came through, they exposed the salt beds. Traces of salt, in the form of brine, still leak up into Seneca Lake. In Syracuse, salt from that vanished sea leaks up into the aquifer.

The salt was coveted by early European settlers. It became an industry that spawned a community, which exploded into a large city once connected to the Erie Canal.

In a sense, each student learned the tale of Syracuse from a vial of water.
The teens from Ed Smith were accompanied by Margaret Clonan, a science teacher, and by Dave Rothrock, an administrative intern. “This is hands-on education with real-world application,” said Rothrock, who watched as the teens labored intently on each test.

For many, the ride itself was the highlight. “This feels like when the elevator stops at Carousel,” said Ty’Nea Breland, referring to a moment when the boat gently rose and fell beneath a swell of water.

With every group that comes through, Myers has high goals. At least 1,000 children from Upstate New York will take a ride this year on the Scandling, a former Coast Guard vessel. Myers often asks those visitors a simple question:
Can you name the Finger Lakes?

Students from Syracuse usually begin with Onondaga Lake. It doesn’t make the official cut, although it was created by the same forces. Yet if the teens see that exclusion an injustice, Myers offers them the building blocks to make a case:
A vial of water, a trace of salt, and a brand-new sense of home.

Contact columnist Sean Kirst at

The Post-Standard
Spooning and the Onondaga Finger Lake

Sean Kirst • June 15, 2009

During the course of working on today’s column, Sheila Myers – education outreach coordinator at the Finger Lakes Institute – raised an interesting point:
The chloride you find in Seneca Lake, she said, is a remainder of the same inland sea that produced the salt that explains the existence of Syracuse. No one, she said, has ever given her a good reason why Onondaga Lake is not considered one of the Finger Lakes.

She suggested I take that question to Bill Kappel, a hydrogeologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Kappel laughed softly when I got him on the phone. He’d clearly been asked for his take on this before. It is absolutely true, Kappel said, that the Finger Lakes and Onondaga Lake were created simultaneously by the same glacial tumult in this region, when “the glaciers gouged deep trenches into the bedrock.” In that sense, you could classify Onondaga Lake as a Finger Lake.

Yet when you get more specific, the lakes have different stories.

Most of the Finger Lakes, Kappel said, “follow the dip of the Onondaga limestone from the north end to halfway to two-thirds of the way down; then usually the bedrock rises again and basically moves away from the Onondaga and rises into the shales above it. Onondaga Lake is different.”

The Onondaga limestone “is breached in Syracuse,” Kappel said, which accounts for the beautiful nature of our city; both Syracuse University and Onondaga Hill, Kappel said, are located high on Onondaga limestone.

“Onondaga Lake just doesn’t follow the same configuration” as the Finger Lakes, he said. “The spoon is reversed. While the Onondaga Valley is spoon-shaped, its spoon is shaped in the opposite direction. The bedrock confirguation of the Onondaga Valley is different than the Finger Lakes.”

Hmmm. What’s your call? Does Onondaga Lake qualify, as one of my colleagues put it, as a kind of claw within the Finger Lakes?