Abbott ’09 Gets to the Core of It – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Abbott ’09 Gets to the Core of It

April Abbott practically grew up on the William Scandling, the Colleges’ 65-foot research vessel. Abbott’s father John is the mate of the vessel and she has been accompanying him aboard for more than a decade. It’s no surprise, then, that she’s currently at the University of Minnesota Duluth, taking a full course load towards a master’s in geological sciences and working in the Large Lakes Observatory (LLO).

Abbott works with a lake surface temperature proxy (TEX86) obtained from the longest core collected from the central basin of Lake Malawi (Malawi, Africa), in 2005, and recently returned from her first trip to Malawi. She spent three weeks in the country, including a week on Lake Malawi using the Malawi fisheries boat, the Ndunduma, to collect samples (filtering water at various water depths) including samples for DNA analysis.

“Since arriving at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, April took full advantage of many opportunities, including a paid summer internship at Wood Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) on Cape Cod learning about mercury, its toxicity, its measurement, and its prevalence in the environment,” says John Halfman, professor of geoscience and chair of the department. Halfman advised her on a number of projects.

In Woods Hole, Abbott began working with trace level mercury in the lab of Dr. Carl Lamborg.

“She brought her expertise with mercury to HWS that fall, where she undertook an independent study project that investigated the occurrence and concentration of mercury in Seneca Lake,” explains Halfman. 

Her results indicated that mercury in Seneca Lake is mostly regional fallout from burning coal and other emissions. She also had the honor of presenting both projects at professional conferences, first her Woods Hole project at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, Calif., and then her Seneca Lake project at the Northeastern Regional annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Portland, Maine. 

“Both efforts were very easy for me to advise because April already knew what to do, from collection of the mud to analysis in the lab and eventual presentation of the results,” Halfman explains. “She was an exceptional student and will do great things wherever she goes!” 

Since working with Halfman, Abbott moved on to work closely with Tara Curtin, assistant professor of geoscience, to look at historical changes in mercury concentrations in the Seneca Lake watershed.  Curtin had already collected a box core that had a reliable chronology, and Abbott ran the mercury analyses back at Woods Hole.  They are presenting their preliminary findings at a special session on mercury deposition at the Regional Geological Society of America meeting this spring (March) in Baltimore, Md.  They plan to submit a paper for publication soon.  Abbott is also coauthoring a paper on mercury in oyster ponds with WHOI researchers. It is based on a project that was started during her summer there and which has since continued.

At HWS, she was a member of the geology club-its president in her senior year. A Geneva, N.Y. native, she volunteered 20 hours a week for a local animal shelter and developed a proposal to the Jimmy Carter Foundation for financial support for the shelter.  She was awarded monies to buy supplies to build new cages for rescued cats in the county to help reduce disease and control cat populations.  

Abbott spent 11 months in Japan as an undergraduate exchange student studying Japanese language and culture while residing with a host family; she also spent a month in Australia, where she became dive certified, and three weeks in China on a sightseeing and cultural tour.

“Knowledge of other cultures and the proven ability to work with collaborators from around the globe is significant to a future in scientific academia,” explains Abbott. “With top laboratories spread around the world, the more scientists work together, the more insightful and progressive the results.”

She graduated from William Smith with a B.S. in geosciences, magna cum laude, and a second major in Asian languages and cultures.