GENEVA, N.Y.-Hobart and William Smith Colleges have been awarded a $99,771 grant from the National Science Foundation to purchase equipment to investigate the geochemistry of Seneca Lake waters and sediments under the direction of John Halfman, director of environmental studies and associate professor of geoscience, and D. Brooks McKinney, chair and professor of geoscience. The Colleges, which have been active in lake research for nearly three decades, will purchase an automated, dual column ion chromatograph, and an X-ray diffractometer with the funds.
Halfman, said the funding will allow the Colleges to upgrade the equipment currently being used to research lake water. The ion chromatograph will increase the accuracy, precision, and number of chemical analyses of both lake and tributary stream waters. The X-ray diffractometer will replace a recently decommissioned 35-year-old instrument. X-ray diffraction is a well-established and critical tool for identifying and characterizing the mineralogy of fine-grained sediments, both in the lake and in tributary streams, he said.
Research conducted by the department is used to address many of the current environmental concerns of the lake including the impact of exotic zebra mussels, and concentrations of selected herbicides and chloride in the lake. The research may also help to understand the impact that changes in climate have had on the environment. The Seneca Lake watershed data will also serve as a base line for detecting future changes in the lake.
To support lake research, the Colleges own and maintain a 65-foot, steel-hulled research vessel called the Hobart and William Smith Explorer on which much of the research is conducted. The HWS Explorer and research are integral components to the local community. They have been used by other college and university researchers, and high school science teachers and their students. Seneca Lake is vital to the community as it supplies drinking water to over 70,000 nearby residents, and is a major economic resource supporting tourism, recreation, and agriculture.
The grant was awarded through the National Science Foundation's Major Research Instrumentation program, which enables institutions of higher education to purchase equipment that will enhance the research capabilities of faculty and students. The National Science Foundation allows institutions to annually submit up to three proposals to this competitive program. This year, all three of Hobart and William Smith's proposals were successful. The other Hobart and William Smith recipients are Chemistry Professors Christine deDenus, Carol Parish, and David Craig, for the acquisition of an advanced high performance gel permeation chromatography instrument for polymer characterization, and another to Parish, in support of supercomputer workstations for the Northeastern Undergraduate Research Chemistry Consortium, a consortium of seven liberal arts institutions.
“In the context of the already significant scientific resources for lake research at Hobart and William Smith, these instruments will be important parts of a research infrastructure that promotes integrated approaches to complex problems of lake chemistry and history,” Halfman said. “Their impact will therefore extend beyond the data they produce.”