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Below The Surface

Monday, August 6, 2012

Lake Stewardship in the Kingdom

On a recent vacation on Shadow Lake in Glover, Vermont, I spent a great deal of time on or in the water of one of the Northeast Kingdom's terrific lakes.  I did all the things I love to do when visiting the lake- swam, fished, canoed, kayaked, listened for loons at night, enjoyed a campfire or two.  On a walk with my family, we ran across several signs that this lake, like many others in the state of Vermont, is being watched.  Our first sign was this:
This simple, low-tech pegboard graph shows the water clarity (the y-axis) in Shadow Lake over time (the x-axis).  More specifically, it tells us how far down you can see a simple device called a Secchi disc when its lowered toward the lake bottom.  You can see that water clarity decreased as this summer has progressed.  This is a typical summer pattern as microscopic algae in the water become more abundant with warming water temperatures.  A volunteer lake monitor collected this data as part of the Vermont Dept. of Environmental Conservation Lay Monitoring Program.  When these data are collected year after year, they can tell us whether water quality in Shadow Lake is changing over time.  By collecting the same data on many lakes throughout the state, they allow comparisons between lakes and can document trends in water quality across the region.

Given all the recent news about the Basin's most recent aquatic invasive invader- the spiny waterflea- it was great to see this at the public boat ramp:

















The local lake association offers boaters free wash service to remove aquatic hitch-hikers like zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil, and others.  Along with this service, they are a source of information about their efforts on the lake and what actions are being taken to manage the health of the lake.

Another set of volunteers who look out for invasive species are trained and supported by VT DEC's Vermont Invasive Patroller Program.  Last year, their watchful efforts provided early detection of Eurasian watermilfoil in Shadow Lake.  Right now, a set of submerged mats lay on the lake bottom at the site of infestation to smother the plant before it takes hold throughout the shallows of the lake.  This pesky invader can move from one lake to the next on boat propellers, fishing gear, and the like.

These examples of citizens taking on the responsibility for good lake stewardship is not unique.  In fact, these opportunities are abundant in the Basin, and have been around for a long time.  Vermont DEC's Lakes and Ponds Section has a nice Google Earth plug-in to view a summary of their monitoring data in the form of a lake scorecard.  Alternatively, you can also view water quality data for any lake in their database.

If that doesn't float your boat, take a trip to your favorite lake and look around.  You just might see the signs of active stewardship like I did on my trip to Shadow Lake.

Useful links:
Lake Champlain Basin Program Cooperative Boat Wash Program
VT Dept. of Environmental Conservation Lakes and Ponds Section
The Federation of Vermont Lakes and Ponds
NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation Water Quality Monitoring

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Family Scientist Adventures


Usually, when people think about chicken wings, we think about what kind of tasty sauce to smother them in.  

Public Education Manager Bill Elliston, leads a  Science Lab
But instead of eating them, on July 11th visitors of all ages gathered at ECHO to dissected them!  This was the topic for the first of six Family Scientist Labs this summer to complement the OUR BODY: The Universe Within exhibit and our public programming. 


Additionally, a medical expert has been working with me to deepen our understanding of the topics we explore in the lab by lecturing, showing videos and leading a tour through the exhibit.  We have already explored bones and muscles, digestion, the nervous system and the respiratory system.

Exploring and testing the blind spot.


The lab and tours are fascinating in and of themselves, but for me the most exciting aspect is the interest and inquiry our visitors bring into the lab each week. For example, when exploring her sense of sight, one young visitor became super-excited to discover she has a blind spot. After experimenting with the activity for a while she noticed that a gentleman in the lab was having trouble and she jumped in to assist him. “You have to hold it like this”, she said as she modeled how to hold the card and helped him discover that he too had a blind spot where he couldn’t see the dot on the paper. These kinds of interactions have been happening across families – with care-givers helping younger guests, children helping adults, and individuals from one group helping guests from another.

While I know that there are expected outcomes to these experiments I have been psyched to observe real scientific exploration happening. When one group finished dissecting the chicken wing based on my protocol they asked if they could keep going to see “what else is in there.” One might expect this attitude from children but this was a group of four adults asking if they could continue exploring something they admittedly only think about in the context of sports events and frosty beverages. This enthusiasm from our visitors and their willingness to jump right in, examine and test every-day items with new eyes keeps me excited about my work at ECHO. And I haven't even mentioned the fun we had turning sandwich into poop when we explored the digestive system!

What makes a chicken wing work?
Working on understanding digestion.

We have a few labs left to go – 
Please join us at 1 p.m. on Wednesday August 8 or 15.
Great exploration awaits!













Bill Elliston is ECHO's Public Education Manager
Photos: Guests at various Family Scientist Lab workshops. (c) ECHO