Thursday, August 7, 2014

Stream Safari Spring and Summer 2014

The Stream Safari program is part of “Ecosystems and Society”, an outreach project funded through NH EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research - established by the National Science Foundation-NSF).  The Stream Safari program is designed to reach youth, their adult mentors, teachers and their families, particularly from underrepresented audiences, primarily through informal education settings such as afterschool and summer and youth group programs.  Engaging populations underrepresented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), in particular is a critical contribution towards developing a science literate citizenry and eventually, a workforce needed for the advancement a technologically advanced economy  in NH. Stream Safari investigations include hands-on learning experiences in the field and the afterschool site/classroom, with activities used with permitted use by Project WET/WILD and Monitoring the White River. These will provide opportunities for participants to learn about stream ecology as well as to practice observing, collecting data and analyzing data, while introducing youth to individuals who work in STEM careers.

Stream Safari kicked off the spring season with a very motivated 3rd grade teacher Sara Cantrell from Maple St. Magnet School in Rochester.  Cantrell's class of 20 had been studying water this school year and she wanted to culminate the study with the Stream Safari program.

For the final assessment, Mrs. Cantrell wanted her class to design letterboxes based on research questions they were interested in.  Letterboxing combines navigational skills and scrap-booking into a treasure hunt quest.  Basically it is Geo-Caching without the technology.  The letter-boxes would include the information that students would  learn during Stream Safari.
We integrated the Stream Safari program into the final unit of the year, Mrs. Cantrell would teach some of the lessons in her class and I would visit once a week to do stream field work.

We visited the Cocheco River in Rochester several times to take abiotic and biotic samples, the students created maps of the Hanson Pines park, they conducted research and combined all of their knowledge into neat little letter-boxes that they then hide around the park for people to find.

Our sampling lead us to find an abundance of macro-invertebrates, of which came out of both the intolerant, moderatly tolerant and tolerant groupings and our abiotic tests showed that the Cocheco river stands in "fair" condition.

If you happen to be into letterboxing and would like to check out the 12 or so boxes hidden in Hanson Pines Park and to learn more about water, rivers, watersheds and the Cocheco River, please contact Sara Cantrell, at  

As soon as the Maple St. Magnet School Stream Safari program was wrapped up, I began working with the Nashua Boys and Girls club.  I started with a training of 17 interested after-school professionals who wanted to learn about  Stream Safari, environmental education and how to get involved. 
Final activity on how human development impacts a river, "Sum of the Parts", Project WET.
The training was new to our outreach efforts and was purposeful in making sure we prepared our partner teachers in helping us make Stream Safari more sustainable.  
A group of students receive their 4-H Stream Safari certificates.
The Nashua Boys and Girls Club is hosting Stream Safari at both their club and their camp, Camp Duocet this summer.  At Camp Doucet, the program is run every two weeks engaging all the campers by the end of August.  At the club, one educator is teaching the program this summer and will continue into the fall with a new group. Overall, approximately 50 students will have experiences mucking around in local Nashua streams!

Therese Mehrmann teaching about macro-invertebrates.
Derek Burkhardt teaching a game on adaptations.

Derek Burkhardt, a recent UNH Manchester graduate and Therese Mehrmann, entering her senior year, have joined me this summer as Stream Safari program assistants.  Both have taken biology classes and are seeking to further their careers into STEM education.  I am thrilled to have them part of the program and working with the kids.  It is also a wonderful opportunity for partnerships to build within the UNH student community.    

At first glance, the Salmon Brook, which runs through Nashua, seemed lifeless.  There is a small current, lots of shade, but there was so much mud!  I can't tell you how many times we have lost boots, sneakers, nets and sometimes even have gone for an unexpected dip into the water. 

Students shaking their test tubes for abiotic testing.

But through this we have found many living things lurking on the banks.  Frogs, crayfish, scuds, dragonfly nymphs, mayflies, whirligigs, snails, worms, and even some fish!  The kids, who have little experience mucking about in the water, are enjoying learning about the stream and are beginning to love the smell of stream water on their hands.  

As we continue our program through August, we are fine-tuning the lessons and activities for the variety of learners we are encountering.  The rest of the summer should bring excitement and hopefully more critters to be found!

Brainstorm of what a watershed is.

The Boys and Girls Club, Charlie Collinson is having a thrilling experience bringing his group of 15 kids to the Mines Falls Canal, where again we were very unsure of what we would find.  We trekked through the fields with our equipment only to find a wonderful array of macros and fish.  
Attempting a crossing without losing a shoe!

We conducted our physical testing and found the water to be very low in dissolved oxygen, average pH, and high in nitrates and phosphates.  Which lead us to believe that the water was not as clean as we hoped.  But still, we found many living things lurking among our feet.  The group is looking forward to their next trip to the river next week!
Camp Director, Sam Goodspeed helping students identify macroinvertebrates.

As you can see, we are very busy in Nashua, but with a little planning, collaborative partners and enthusiastic group of kids, we have already learned so much about the streams and waterways in Nashua.  

Posted by Sarah Grosvenor, UNH Cooperative Extension STEM Field Specialist

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Snow Albedo: From the Granite State to Summit, Greenland

There’s nothing like the first big snow of the season. Having grown up in New Orleans, I still get a rush of excitement when I wake up to the blanketed ground and the tree branches heavy under the weight of snow. As this winter season begins, I look forward to the skiing, the ice skating, the snowy woods and even some shoveling now and then. But sometimes, you just can’t get enough of winter, from the thrill of bundling up to go out into the cold to the joy of watching the delicate snowflakes slowly coat the ground. So what do you do when you’re down in the dumps because the last of the snow has melted in New Hampshire and the ice has left the ponds? Well, this past summer, the answer was to travel to Summit, Greenland, a land of perpetual snow and ice! 

Summit, Greenland. An expanse of snow and ice as far as the eye can see.
Through Dartmouth’s IGERT program, I was able to spend nearly four weeks at Summit Station at the top of the Greenland Ice Sheet. While I was there, one of my research goals was to study the snow albedo, which is a measure of the fraction of incoming solar radiation that is reflected off of the ground surface. Thanks to the EPSCoR project and the work that our group has been doing to study snow albedo in New Hampshire, I had a wealth of tools and techniques readily available for this research. While at Summit, I made daily measurements of snow albedo and snowpack characteristics such as grain size and shape, chemical impurities, temperature and density. Ultimately, I hope to compare my snow albedo studies at Summit with those that we have made here at home. 

Left: Making snow characterization measurements in New Hampshire last winter. Note the grass visible in the snow pit! (Photo: Wesley Whitaker) Right: Making albedo measurements using the ASD FieldSpec at Summit, Greenland. (Photo: Christine Urbanowicz) 
My trip to Summit also provided us with the opportunity to interact with the students of the Joint Science Education Project. This program brings together high school students from Greenland, Denmark and the United States to travel around Greenland and learn about the science research that occurs around the country. Thanks to the CoCoRaHS Albedo program, we brought a few snow albedo kits along with us and used them to investigate the snow around Summit Station.

Making albedo measurements with the JSEP students using the CoCoRaHS snow kit! (Photo: Christine Urbanowicz)
We discussed how different types of snow grains and changes in snow chemistry can affect the albedo. We made measurements on fresh snow, snow that had been compacted by heavy machinery and snow that had experienced lots of exhaust from a recent C-130 cargo plane landing. It quickly became clear to the students that not all snow is the same. It was exciting to see the same types of measurements that are being made by schools all over New Hampshire also taking place in the center of the Greenland Ice Sheet!

The JSEP group after a successful day of albedo measurement! (Photo: Christine Urbanowicz)
Traveling to Greenland over the summer was a fantastic opportunity, providing a platform to extend my snow research and to connect and share with a fantastic group of international students. But for now, there’s no need to venture northward, because winter comes to us! Here in New Hampshire, we will dive into a series of new snow albedo measurements right in our backyard.

Let it snow!

Posted by Alden Adolph, PhD Student, Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College

Friday, November 22, 2013

Stream Safari

"If you put a child in water, with strange and unfamiliar critters living nearby, the inner scientist emerges.  No stirring necessary.  It does help if the water is warm, the setting stunningly beautiful and the water clean and diverse - in some places calm like a small pond, in others running quick and smooth over rocks and pebbles." 
 -Julia Steed Mawson, former Emeritus Extension Educator, NH EPSCoR Education Consultant

All those ingredients were there - first re-enacted as best as possible, in a Manchester classroom via guided imagery and hands on looking during a "Dishpan Safari" and then later in the field at the Piscataquog River.

The first time I taught a group of students about macro-invertebrates was a very memorable moment because it was my first time discovering them as well.  I was working at a residential outdoor/environmental education center and one of the many classes that I ran was wetland ecology.  My first group was ten 7th graders.  I brought them to the edge of a pond outflow, in the lovely town of Hancock, NH.  We were all hesitant at first, but the minute we found our first caddisfly case we began a serious searching and digging escapade in the detritus without hesitation.  We had found a plethora of life in that outflow over the course of the fall, examining the creatures with magnifying glasses, poking and prodding the dragonfly nymphs to open their enormous jaws, and watching the backswimmers frantically swirling about in their makeshift home, a plastic tupperware tub.  Most all the creatures survived, as well as my students, some of whom left at the end of the week professional puddle stompers. 

Since that fall, I have taught river ecology to hundreds of middle school students in two different states, 4 different schools, and in many different streams.  I can't get enough!  So, when I joined UNH Cooperative Extension as a Field Specialist in STEM, and found out that I was joining a project with NH EPSCoR focusing on Ecosystems and Society and that there was a pilot program on stream ecology underway, I jumped right in.  "Stream Safari" is a joint project between NH EPSCoR Education Consultant, Julia Steed Mawson, myself, and a 21st Century after-school program at McLaughlin Middle School, in Manchester. Julia had run a 4 day pilot in late July with the Manchester 21st Century Summer Program and it was a great success.  So we jumped in together this fall to begin working with them again with an expanded program, with the intent that we will share it with other after-school organizations.  We are extremely lucky to have middle school social studies teacher, Glenn Bursey, involved in our project as well.  He has taken the reins and led his group of middle school students through the basics of watersheds, stream habitats and stream creature adaptations.

After a couple of weeks of waiting for our background checks to go through, Julia and I were able to join Glenn and his crew of nine students at the Piscataquog River in New Boston, to conduct our first stream sampling, with of course, macro-invertebrates.  The nine students that we worked with came with a diverse background, both culturally and socially.   Some had been to streams before and knew exactly what to expect, some had never stepped foot near a stream.  We provided rubber boots for them to wear, and at first some were very hesitant to wear them, but eventually they all pulled them on.  As soon as we stepped foot into the river, self-consciousness went to the wind.  All nine adolescents were completely engaged, as seen by the tell-tale signs of kids stooped over staring into the running water, some with a cup in hand to get a closer look at the alien creatures that are scurrying about to find a hiding spot, some kids holding rocks with clinging cranefly larva, or desperately dodging a crayfish's quick claws.

Sometimes while doing macro-invertebrate sampling, I find myself so engrossed in searching for creatures that I forget that I am the teacher.  I want to find the next dragonfly nymph that is even bigger and creepier than the last.  But this day, I did remind myself to look up and observe what our group was doing, and, to my delight, I observed all nine kids in waders and rubber boots, bent over, noses nearly touching the water, in search of the next great discovery.  These, are our future scientists.

We have since completed our first 9 week session of Stream Safari with McLaughlin Middle School.  We went to the river one last time to conduct the abiotic field samples, and the day was not as sunny and warm as the first field trip.  Our group was courageous and made great assessments of the river.  I even had one student look up at me in mid-shiver and ask, "Do you think that one day I would make a good Science teacher?"  I nodded and gave him a high five.  

The many lessons we shared with our small group included playing "Oh, dragonfly" an adaptation of "Oh Deer", the favorite Project Wild game, we played in sand while manipulated stream tables, and we also gave out 4-H achievement certificates.  The overall feedback we got from the kids was that they wanted to be out in the field more!  More animals, more rivers, more field-trips!

I have taken that into consideration while revising the curriculum and now have two 12 week sessions to offer, Stream Safari and Wildlife Treks.  Here's to another great session of mucking about.

Posted by Sarah Grosvenor, UNH Cooperative Extension STEM Field Specialist

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Managing stormwater today; a new type of rainy day fund

As we move into November in the Northeast I have begun the ritual preparations for what is directly ahead of us, winter!  The wood is stacked, the oil tank is full, and the outside hoses and spigots stored and turned off.  This is part of life in a cold climate and something that most have done already or plan to do soon to hedge the odds of surviving another winter season with minimal damage.  This type of preparation increases our resiliency to the unpredictability of the season.
In the same way, the towns and cities we live in plan and prepare.  This is part of our culture, our way of life.  But how do we prepare for the unknown and the pressures and challenges of the future?  Is it part of our plan?
In considering this question I am reminded of the old Iroquois tradition as they convened their council meetings.  Prior to the meeting they invoked this declaration:  In our every deliberation we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.
For the Iroquois, this inter-generational format of government codified a direct relationship between policy and ecology.   Today we may not give the same consideration to the needs and survival of those who will be in the same positions of authority 150 in the future, but there is a growing understanding that longer-term planning isn’t just good for the environment, it also makes sense economically and for the human safety of the population now and in the future.

In this respect the word “resiliency” is increasingly becoming part of a new planning strategy.  Community resilience can be defined as the degree to which a community is capable of organizing itself to Increase its capacity for learning from past disasters and bouncing back from future disasters[1].  A 2010 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration identifies “communities that actively engage in hazard and resiliency planning are less prone to disaster, recover faster from disasters which do occur, and endure less economic hardship than those communities that do not.”[2] Preparedness includes an emphasis on non-structural planning controls such as land use planning and buffer protection, as well as stormwater controls like Low Impact Development (LID).  Together these programmatic approaches constitute a Green Infrastructure (GI) approach to controlling stormwater drainage and pollution in a watershed or municipal setting.
Over the past year the UNH Stormwater Center has been involved in a project funded by the NERRs Science Collaborative focused on getting GI and LID into the DNA of local and watershed wide planning efforts.  In this project we have been working with a team of experts that includes an advisory board comprised of representatives from coastal decision makers throughout the area.  In some of the early meetings the advisory board challenged the project team to define what exactly it would look like in the future when a local community had achieved success.  This was a remarkable challenge and something that I had been thinking about for quite some time, but had never thought to put it into writing.  Over the preceding 6 months we tried to define stormwater planning success and the approach became what we referred to as the “complete community approach” to stormwater management.  The complete community approach is an attempt to blue print just what communities with a focus on resiliency should be doing to prepare for the pressures and challenges of the future.  The approach involves six fundamental and linked efforts that include:
1)      Adopt ordinances and regulations with new development that mandate the use of stormwater filtration and infiltration practices for reducing runoff.
2)      Require improved stormwater controls for reducing runoff with redevelopment or other significant improvements such as repaving or building renovations.
3)      Employ conservation strategies such as protecting naturally vegetated buffers and limiting the size or percentage of allowable impervious area.
4)      Reduce existing impervious area through targeted stormwater retrofits in high impact locations. 
5)      Make a long-term commitment to fund and maintain stormwater controls along with an accounting mechanism to track long-term benefits. Consider innovative funding mechanisms such as impact fees or stormwater utilities.
6)      Provide opportunities for outreach by sharing plans and progress with citizens through community newsletters, cable access, and on-site signs that explain what steps are being taken to protect or improve the community’s waterways.
Fortunately, many communities in the area are already well on their way towards implementing the complete approach.  For those just starting to plan there are some great resources available including model stormwater standards that are available on the Southeast Watershed Alliance’s website:

Implementing these standards in your community can be done with very little effort and will check off items 1 & 2 of the list above.   This is all part of a long-term commitment to more resilient communities. Resilience takes time.  We are not used to planning for what is not right in front of us but what may be 5 or 10 years in the future.  In the wake of extreme weather events, and increased pollution from impervious surfaces that have been causing many problems over the past several years we can at least respond that we are planning for the future when asked the question, are we prepared for the next storm?

[1] Adapted from the Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction. 2005. Grand Challenges for Disaster Resilience. National Science Technology Council, Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. Washington, D.C.: National Science and Technology Council.

[2] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coastal Services Center (2010).  Final Research Report: Hazard and Resiliency Planning: Perceived Benefits and Barriers Among Land Use Planners.

James Houle, M.A., CPSWQ., PhD Candidate, Program Manager, The UNH Stormwater Center, Environmental Research Group, Dept of Civil Engineering, University of New Hampshire

Monday, October 21, 2013

Geospatial Science Certificate Program Brings Mapping to Graduate Students at UNH and Beyond

Geospatial technologies are everywhere. Really.

While the use of geographic information system (GIS), global positioning system (GPS) and remote sensing were once confined to a few fields of study (i.e., natural resources), the influence of geospatial technologies are felt in every college at the University of New Hampshire and by many potential employers around the world. Geospatial technologies are increasingly important in a wide range of academic disciplines and in surprisingly diverse group industries. Whether seeking to promote a small business through smartphone navigation apps, using interactive online maps to detail power outages from the latest winter storm, or conducting complex build-out analyses to examine future development scenarios, geospatial technologies provide information that powers many of the decisions we make personally and as a society. 

Example of a GIS buildout map based on CommunityViz 360 software

Do you speak geospatial-ese? You should.   

Having skills and knowledge in geospatial technologies has become a valuable tool in the arsenal of students and job-seekers alike. Geospatial technologies has been identified as a high growth industry by the US Department of Labor with an annual job growth rate of nearly 35%. How can you capitalize on this expanding field? If you are a student, make sure to get as much exposure to geospatial technologies as you can so you will enter the workplace with marketable skills. If you are a working professional, gain skills in geospatial technologies that make you better at your current job and more competitive when applying promotion or your next job.

GPS use can range from social media apps to professional surveying

Graduate students: Get plugged in to geospatial science at UNH

Academic courses involving geospatial science have been taught for years at the University of New Hampshire, providing top-notch education in the many areas of expertise of teaching and research faculty on campus. However, only recently have efforts been made to develop a way in which graduate students could easily discover all of the geospatial-related courses available at UNH. Launched in 2012, the UNH Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Science serves as an umbrella under which all graduate level geospatial science courses are listed and provides a manner for students to attain academic credentials in this important field of study. Unlike most graduate certificates programs which involve a set number of specific courses, students in the geospatial science certificate program are provided with numerous options for nearly all program requirements. This flexibility allows students from many fields of study to take courses appropriate to their area of interest.

Hands-on courses provide a great venue for learning GIS

OK, I'll bite on geospatial science. Where do I start?

The UNH Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Science is open to anyone with a bachelors degree. Consider yourself welcome whether you are a current graduate student at UNH, a graduate student at any other academic institution, or a working professional. Some courses are offered online, some are offered both online and on-campus, and some are held only at UNH in Durham, NH. If you're ready to apply for admission to the certificate program, check out this page for next steps.

If you're not ready to enroll in the certificate yet, you can register for any of the courses listed in the certificate program before you decide. We suggest GSS 800: Elements of Geospatial Science next offered in J-Term 2014 as a starting point for all students (in fact, it's one of the requirements!).  Another place to start would be our newest course GSS 896: Crowdsource Mapping coming up during the Spring 2014 semester. Both of these courses will be offered exclusively online. UNH graduate students should register for courses though Blackboard, while anyone from outside of UNH should contact the UNH Registrar's Office for more details. 

Courses range from introductory to advanced geospatial concepts

How do I learn more?

First, be sure to thoroughly investigate the UNH Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Science website. Next, reach out to any of the three people listed below with your questions.

.....Faculty Lead
.....Michael Palace |

.....Program Coordinator
.....Michael Routhier | | 603-862-1954

.....Shane Bradt | | 603-862-4277

Posted by Shane Bradt, Extension Specialist in Geospatial Technologies, UNH Cooperative Extension and Michael Routhier, GIS Laboratory Manager, UNH Earth Systems Research Center