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Below The Surface

Friday, April 29, 2011

Flooding Redefines VT's Green Up Day

I have been taking photos everyday--sometimes twice a day--of the mind-boggling flooding, along with what seems like half of Chittenden County that has been pouring the down hill to take photos of the waterfront--even ECHO's parking lot. I've been watching people snap the classic landscape flood shot, the artsy drift wood close-up, and the "I was there when it happened" photo but no one seems to be looking at all of the the garbage that has also colored our waterfront. The mix of natural materials with manufactured garbage will make cleaning up after the flooding expansive, very expensive, complex and I fear smelly as the days warm.

There is garbage mixed in with all of the driftwood. I did a quick inventory while policing ECHO and aside from the random broken flip-flop and old leather shoe, most of the trash was plastic. This is no surprise since plastic floats, it is made into nearly everything and takes forever to break down--almost literally. But where is all of this garbage coming from? Neighborhood streets, yards, parking lots, river banks...you name it. Wherever trash is not thrown in a garbage can or recycled, it gets carried by the rain and snow melt into rivers, streams, creeks and makes it's way into Lake Champlain. Now with the record shattering flooding, it is coming back to haunt us like ghosts from an earlier time. Unlike watching a scary movie, we can change the ending of this ghost story.

Daily we all can make purchasing decisions to buy products with less packaging or with biodegradable packaging, and simply buy less stuff. We can make sure we recycle all that we can and make sure our garbage and recycling is secured so that it does not blow away and add to the problem. And we can also participate in Green Up Vermont Day on May 7, 2011, visit www.greenupvermont.org for more information. I've been cleaning up garbage with family and friends along road sides, in parks and on the Burlington waterfront for almost as long as Green Up Day has been around, but this year the flooding throughout Vermont will really change this years events. But will it change people's behaviors?
Photos by: Julie Silverman/ECHO (C)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

ECHO is getting closer to the Lake

If you work or live on the shores of Lake Champlain you are getting closer to the lake -- uncomfortably close for many. Today Lake Champlain surpassed all records official--April 27, 1993 of 101.86 feet above sea level in Burlington and unofficial, 102.1 feet set back in May 4, 1869 recorded at Rouses Point, N.Y. At 2:45p.m. today the USGS Lake Champlain gauge at ECHO recorded 102.18 feet.

ECHO sits on the shore of the largest bathtub or basin in the region—with a total area of 8,234 square miles—from the tops of the Green Mountains to the east, to the western reaches of the Adirondack Mountains. When rain, snow, sleets or hail falls in the basin, much of the water travels down to Lake Champlain—this year causing record breaking flooding.

I’ve worked on the waterfront since 1995 and I’ve experienced my share of floods—I’ve even filled a sand bag or two— ­but nothing like this. The Lake is claiming waterfront parking lots, cars, homes, businesses, playgrounds, bike paths, and anything that was built below record high water. If it isn’t the heavy rain, record breaking snow melt, or ground saturation, it’s the driving wind that adds to the damaging affects of the rising water.

ECHO is surrounded by a steel retaining wall that usually holds back most of the water, but today the wind is driving the waves up and over this first line of defense. ECHO has a backup plan to defend against the rising water, elevation. Thanks to the great foresight of a team of architects, engineers and community members, ECHO was designed with this type of flooding in mind. ECHO’s foundation was built in 2003 at 105 feet above sea level. Let’s hope that this will be high enough to weather the next couple of days or…

Photos: (right) ECHO roof top Lake view, Julie Silverman/ECHO (c); (left) Lake Champlain Transportation and Champ, Julie Silverman/ECHO(c)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Champlain on the Rise: Flooding Cam Added @ ECHO

We've added a new, temporary second webcam at ECHO today, pointing south over our parking lot. While that wouldn't be the most exciting vantage point on the average day, recent weather conditions have had us all looking out the windows a bit more than usual the past week, and we wanted to share the view.

Visit the Lake Weather section of our website to check out both our standard ECHO Cam, which runs year-round and looks out over the lake, plus our new Waterfront Flooding Cam, which we'll keep in place until the water recedes. Click on the thumbnail of the camera to open it up full-screen and get a detailed view. The new camera looks south from ECHO, over our parking lot, and toward the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum shipyard, Burlington Ferry dock, and Perkin's Pier, all of which are currently experiencing flooding. As of this writing, the water has filled the back-most section of ECHO's lot, and is rising in the low area of the lot in the bottom left corner of the webcam, where a storm drain is located. (But don't worry, there's still plenty of dry waterfront parking available, if you want to come down to ECHO and see things for yourself!) Check out the below photo to see the initial shot when the webcam first came online this afternoon, and then compare it to the current live image on the webcam.

On the Lake Weather page, you'll also find links to the USGS Lake Gauge at ECHO. This gauge is located on the seawall, about 100 feet west of the camera position, and offers data like current Lake temperature and level. As of 7PM EDT on 4/27/11, the level is being reported as 101.61 feet. The National Weather Service Flood Stage for the lake is at 100 feet, so we're already a foot and a half above that. According to the National Weather Service, Lake Champlain is forecast to continue rising to near 102 feet by early Friday afternoon, and additional rises may be possible thereafter.

If the lake does actually reach 102 feet, it will have set a new historical lake level. As you can see in the graph on the right, showing the historical Lake level in Burlington from 1907 to 2005, the current record high was set at 101.86 feet, 18 years ago today, on April 27, 1993.

With thunderstorms forecast for tonight, tomorrow, and more rain on Friday, plus additional rain forecast all of next week, additional rises are likely. Keep an eye on the cam and the Lake Gauge, and you might just see history in the making.

Pictured: Champ goes for a swim as the Lake rises by the Burlington Ferry Dock, (C) Julie Silverman/ECHO; Waterfront Flooding Cam at ECHO on April 27th; Lake Levels at Burlington, Courtesy of USGS.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Frogs in Spring: A Water-driven Symphony

In the Basin, we call it Mud Season. Winter's freeze loosens its grip on the water on the waters around us. The dirt road that I live on becomes gooey, ice fishing is done for the year, roadside snow banks slowly disappear, and water flows into the low spots all over the landscape. If you are like me, you wait for even warmer weather before really being active in the outdoors. But for our local amphibians, there's no time like the present to getting moving & shaking; and for male frogs and toads, calling for a mate!

So why the hurry? Why not wait until warmer weather, when cold-blooded animals like frogs should be more active? For some frogs, it's all about the water. Specifically, how long will water be there to support their tadpoles? For wood frogs, as soon as their vernal pool breeding habitats (like in the photo to the left) start holding water, the clock starts ticking for eggs (see photo below) to hatch & tadpoles to grow up to adulthood.

If the males aren't out making their distinctive "quack" that signals the start of breeding, there is a good chance that no wood frog tadpoles will emerge from their ephemeral woodland pools before they dry up for the season.

For other frogs like Spring Peepers (pictured below), whose cricket-like call surrounds us in Springtime sound, there is a longer time window to get out and make some noise. They are less picky about their breeding habitats and will use shallow wetlands and pond edges that may never dry out, or at least be around for many weeks. And because they are in less of a rush, you might hear their calls throughout spring.
But don't expect to hear each frog species singing alone; often they will be heard along with other early-breeding species like American toads and Gray Treefrogs. Who you might hear depends both on the time of year as well as the habitats for both the tadpoles and the adults that are available in the immediate area.

So why should we care? Well, besides helping us out by consuming a large number of insects, amphibians are thought of as proverbial "canaries in the coal mine"- indicating when environmental conditions are changing... and sometimes for the worse. Their skin is thin and permeable so chemicals move easily into their bodies, they are directly tied to ecologically important wetland habitats that are disappearing world-wide, and their life-cycles are relatively short (3-7 years) so large negative changes will affect their populations relatively quickly. Finally, it is the noise that they make that makes it relatively easy and cheap to monitor their populations over time- even if you just do it for fun in your own backyard.

For more information about monitoring amphibian populations, see the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Big Night Hanging With the Herps

Sunday night, April 10th, was a great night for hanging out with herps in Chittenden County. The weather was perfect: plenty of rain and temperatures in the 50's.

At the west end of Sherman Hollow there were Spring Peepers and Wood Frogs crossing.


West of Sleepy Hollow on Sherman Hollow Road there were more Spotted Salamanders crossing than I'd ever seen before. A local resident came over to share her enthusiasm about the crossings and her fondness for the herps. She also thoroughly enjoyed the increased visitation by Barred Owls coming around to partake of the amphibious buffet.


video

It was pouring, it was foggy and there were spotted salamanders crossing the road from the Sleepy Hollow area almost all the way to the west end of Sherman Hollow. I very slowly and carefully drove out of there then headed over to Pond Road south of Shelburne Pond.

On Pond Road, there were far more Spring Peepers than on Sherman Hollow, but the best sighting for me on the road were these two:A Northern water snake and a Toe Biter.









Back home at midnight, walking the dog on Taft Road, came upon this Pickerel frog; a nice way to end a great night out with the herps.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tonight (April 10th): Forecast good for Big Herp Move

Tonight's forecast (April 10th) calls for rain until around 9PM with temps in the 50's. If the rains come, I'll be checking out Sherman Hollow and Shelburne Pond Roads looking for the emerging amphibians on the move. I'll be out at dusk until the rain stops, the amphibians stop or my camera battery and I run out of juice. Grab your rain gear, a good flashlight, some coffee and come on out!

Spring Peeper attempting to 'not be seen' ("If I don't move, they won't see me"): often look like pebbles on the road (small enough to set on a nickle).







Spotted Salamander making a road crossing.









Male Wood Frog: males have huge thumbs for grasping females during 'significant' rites of spring. (Note: hands were dipped in pond before picking up frog to avoid harming him with any chemicals on hands.)








Wednesday, April 6, 2011

NanoDays at ECHO!

On Saturday April 2nd, staff and students from the UVM Physics Department partnered with ECHO for Nanodays! Dave Hammond, Scientific Electronics Technician, Professor Dennis Clougherty, and eleven undergraduate physics students spent the morning entertaining and explaining, with hands-on activities, to our 400 or more guests some of the wonders of the science of the very little: nanoscience. One cool experiment the students demonstrated was Exploring Size - Scented Balloons; letting visitors use their sense of smell to explore the world on the nanoscale. Guests learned that we can smell some things that are too small to see, and that a nanometer is a billionth of a meter. There was a hands-on activity called Sand, Plants and Pants where guests explored how the application of nano-sized particles or substances can change a bigger material’s properties. Visitors investigated the hydrophobic properties of nano-fabric pants thatcouldn’t get wet and magic sand and plants that repelled water. Another activity encouraged you to measure your hand in nanometers (your hair strand is ~80,000 nanometers) or watch with fascination how the ferrofluid appeared to dance on the pulsed electromagnet. The Van de Graaff generator was supplemented with “dancing” foil which demonstrated static electricity. It was an exciting day of events that kept the young and the young at heart learning in a hands-on way. A couple of highlights during the day were some science “tricks” demonstrated by Dave. He demonstrated, with help from liquid nitrogen, how to float a paper cup above magnets and shoot a metal disk into the air. Educating us through several small experiments, Dave shared interesting facts about how conductivity works; like the way cold objects conduct currents better and how conductive metals generate more powerful fields when a strong magnet is nearby. His finale can be seen on the side photo where a super-cooled metal disk, when repelled by the strong magnet, went flying from the main floor of ECHO to the third floor by the geese! At the end of the day, we were sad to see them go but the UVM Physics Department will be back with us another day with more fun and knowledge to share.

Co-authored by: Patrick Brien, ECHO Intern, Champlain College and Linda Bowden, ECHO’s Lifelong Learning Coordinator

Photos by Patrick Brien, ECHO intern. Top right: Viviana Marie Kennedy with UVM student Isabel Kloumann. Bottom left: David Hammond, UVM.