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

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Hydrologic Resilience of Temperate Forests

I have recently returned from 10 months in Tokyo, where I have been studying how hydrologic function (evaporation, transpiration, soil moisture, runoff generation, etc.) recovers from forest disturbance. Fulbright Japan funded me to spend these months with my colleagues at the University of Tokyo to synthesize our basic understanding of the mechanisms underlying hydrologic recovery of forests. Surprisingly, the hydrologic resilience of forests is not well studied. So, we compared U.S. and Japanese examples of forest disturbance due to forest harvesting, storm damage, insect outbreaks, and diseases, and tried to quantify the recovery time. Does a planted forest recover faster than one let to grow back naturally? Does stream flow recover faster in wetter or drier climates? How do hydrologic processes compensate for one another in order to produce hydrologic stability? These are examples of the questions we posed as we dug deeper and deeper into the ideas and data surrounding forest hydrologic recovery.

University of Tokyo Chiba Experimental Forest

Japan is covered by about two thirds forest, and 80 percent of that is plantation of Japanese cedar and cypress which are culturally important trees that make up those plantations. These plantations often exist on incredibly steep slopes (30 percent slope is common), so when stands on these plantations are harvested, a major concern is landslides. Soil water and groundwater increases after forest harvest, which increases the pressure on devegetated slopes to fail, often times catastrophically. Coming from the White Mountains of New Hampshire, this was a wakeup to how relatively tame our landscapes are.

Ashley Hyde, a graduate research assistant from PSU joined us in Tokyo to work on her thesis and gave a presentation on the NH volunteer science river monitoring network LoVoTECS

During my time in Japan, I was hosted in a 'sabo' laboratory at the University of Tokyo. Sabo is a term for erosion control, a major issue in the steep forests surrounding the minimal flat, inhabitable land in Japan. Forest hydrology in the U.S. is pretty diverse; some of us link hydrology with ecology, geochemistry, or geomorphology. It is similar in Japan, but it seemed like all forest hydrologists are aware of the relevance of their findings to landslides. This perspective was new to me given that soils at my local research site, the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, seem to have been largely in tact since the last glaciation. Again, this fact was a reminder of the relatively stable landscape we inhabit in New Hampshire.

Beyond my rewarding research experience, I also had a great cultural experience in Japan. Baseball, shrines, izakaya, jam-packed subways, bullet trains, and many other cultural highlights filled my free time in Japan. Getting to know the culture and building new research idea with Japanese colleagues made this an extremely enriching ten months.

Posted by Mark Green, Assistant Professor of Hydrology, Center for the Environment, Plymouth State University and Research Hydrologist, Northern Research Station, U.S. Forest Service

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Installing sensors in the New Hampshire Environment

                Sensor & communication technology has advanced rapidly, allowing us to monitor the environment in greater detail than ever before. Yet, there are challenges. Before designing and installing any system, it is necessary to understand the physical environment at each location in detail. The system must be adapted to your specific site and able to withstand the local conditions. For instance, extreme weather associated with hurricane season is a concern in our coastal areas and might be an increasing problem. The goal is to ensure that damage to our sensor networks during these periods is minimal and that we still collect reliable data. It is during these extreme events that we might see some of the most interesting patterns in the data. These and more specific challenges require advanced planning and critical thinking.
Building complex sensor systems takes careful planning and is often a collaborative effort between researchers of different expertise.  Programmers write code to control the actions of the system, technicians install and maintain sensors and loggers, and data managers handle the scores of incoming files. All of this has to be planned ahead of time, so that the end product is something that all stakeholders want to use.
Powering the different systems is another universal challenge. Using solar energy to keep battery banks charged can be difficult in remote forested locations.  Dense cloud cover or thick summer tree canopies limit the incoming solar radiation needed.  To compensate, some systems are overbuilt to ensure it can remain running even during conditions that are not ideal.

Soil Sensors

The soil sensor system is fairly complex and built from scratch, requiring a large amount of work in house before it ever sees the field. When fabricating a system with so many individual parts, system installation can be a challenge. One example of this complexity is how the system samples carbon dioxide (CO2) flux from soil respiration chambers by using two independent control subsystems relying on many different parts to direct flow. One subsystem is pneumatic using a compressor to pressurize a device used to open and shut the chambers. The other uses a pump which pulls samples from the chambers to an analyzer to quantify soil CO2 flux.

  With so many inputs and outputs to the system, tube and wire control can be demanding. For each CO2 sampling chamber there are two sample tubes which carry the CO2 sample to the analyzer and then back to the chamber, two compression tubes which operate the actual opening and shutting of the chambers and four sensors wires used to collect soil data. Keeping things organized and well labeled can be a slow process to ensure that all the different sets get hooked into the right part on the system control side.

Working belowground in the granite state can be difficult when locating areas to install soil sensors and soil chamber foundations.  Probing the ground for suitable locations is a good start but sometimes is misleading with rocks of different sizes.  To determine if a location will work before installing a chamber or starting to dig a sensor pit, first a chamber stencil is used.  This involves drilling out where the chamber support legs will go. If all three legs can be successfully drilled to the proper depth the next step is to cut along the inner edge of the chamber to ensure that the chamber will be able to have a good seal with the soil profile without being offset by rocks. 
Once the chamber is in the ground it is then time to dig a small installation pit on the side of the chamber so the sensors can be installed.  If one side proves to be too rocky then the other side must be tried.  Hopefully we get to the required depth for sensor installation but if not then a suitable location as close to the chamber as possible must be utilized.

Aquatic Sensors

Stream flow in headwater drainages can change dramatically from season to season.  While spring freshets or snowmelt events can be very turbulent, during the summer streams can slow to just a trickle.  Deploying water quality sensors year-round in these headwater streams takes careful consideration.  To sample stream waters properly, the sensors should be located in the active flowing channel to get representative measurements.  However, the channel can be a dangerous place for delicate instruments during storm flow, which can transport sticks, rocks and other debris that can damage equipment.   

Aquatic sensors package ready for deployment

Sensors are deployed in a pool at Saddleback Mountain stream, Deerfield, NH

An effective deployment strategy in this type of site involves mounting sensors to a reinforced cage or crate, which is then secured to the stream bed.  Housings or guards are used to protect the equipment from debris carried at high flow.  This ensures the sensors are secure during extreme events, while still able to be easily removed from the stream to be recalibrated when necessary.  Calibrating simply means to adjust a sensor’s measurements based on how it reads known “standards” for each water quality parameter.  This process is important to ensure the data being collected is reliable, and needs to be done routinely.  Weekly stream water samples are also gathered from sites and run in the laboratory.  Comparing samples analyzed in the lab to the data gathered by the sensors further ensures data quality.

Water quality sensors deployed in winter, safe from ice cover, at Dowst Cate Town Forest, Deerfield, NH.
 Water quality sensor deployments during winter months require additional maintenance during times of extreme cold weather.  It is important that researchers are able to examine seasonal winter patterns in water quality, yet these sensors can be sensitive to the physical damage associated with icing conditions.  When stream pools and runs begin to ice over, technicians need to be aware of these situations to keep the sensors ice-free, or ensure that they are safely below the extent of ice cover.
The EPSCoR sensor network can be considered an outdoor analytical laboratory and as such there are many physical challenges that arise in a variable climate ecosystem like that of New Hampshire.  Careful planning and building is required to ensure the most accurate and reliable data is obtained.  The most difficult places and periods of time can yield some of the most interesting data to study, but require us to think critically about how and when to deploy sensors in these environments.

Posted by Jody Potter, Analytical Instrumentation Scientist III; Brian Godbois, Senior Laboratory Technician; Lisle Snyder, Laboratory Technician II, Natural Resources & the Environment, University of New Hampshire

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Land We Live In: Population, Housing, and Land Use in the Granite State

The birth of a child, moving to a new town, finally buying that summer camp on a lake are happy moments in our individual lives.  But, as of July 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are 1,320,718 people living in New Hampshire – and that translates into many  happy moments.  Over the years and decades, all those happy moments don’t just transform individual lives: they transform communities and the ecosystems we live in.

New housing on cleared woodlands in Seacoast NH. The recent recession slowed housing construction, human migration, and land use change, but as the recession wanes growth is likely to resume. [Photo M. Ducey]

Changes in the size of the population and in the way people live have a significant impact on land use and land cover change.  Although land use and land cover may sound the same, to scientists they describe different things.  For example, if a mature forest is cut down and new trees are planted, there has clearly been land cover change:  the physical and biological character of the land surface have been altered as tall trees have been replaced by a mix of grass, shrub species, and the new trees that will form the next generation of forest.  But the land use has not changed:  the land is still being used to grow trees.  If that same land had been cleared to provide a new shopping mall, then we would say that both land cover and land use have changed.  Every one of us, by living on the planet and making choices about how and where we live, is involved in land use and land cover change.  Humans, it turns out, are a land intensive species and 21st century Americans, especially so.

Number of housing units by Census block from the 2010 U.S. Decennial Census.

Recent changes in housing patterns have tended to spread human impacts over larger areas.  Fewer people per household, bigger houses and lots, and greater ownership of primary and secondary residences have all translated into broader impacts.  A trend that demographers call “selective deconcentration” – the tendency for people to move out of densely packed urban areas as well as remote rural areas, and into suburban areas on the urban fringe or to high-amenity recreational areas – has had a significant impact on both land cover and land use. The recent recession has slowed these migration trends, and it is unclear whether this trend will resume as the recession wanes.  Will higher energy prices and transportation costs, and the growing attractiveness of compact walkable communities, reverse the trend?  Or will flexible telecommuting in an information-based economy and the swelling ranks of baby-boom retirees, only cause it to accelerate?

Percent of houses in each Census block that are second homes.  The U.S. Census counts people at their primary residence, so these second homes are associated with impacts that would not be reflected in population figures alone.

The future course of these selective deconcentration trends has particular relevance to land use and land cover change in New Hampshire. Over the past several decades, New Hampshire has grown from a population of 737,000 in 1970 to 1,320,000 today—a gain of 80% in just 43 years. Much of this growth is the result of people migrating to New Hampshire from other states and of the children these migrants have once they settle in the state. In fact, only one-third of the adults living in New Hampshire were born in the state. Some migrants are attracted to suburban areas of New Hampshire proximate to the Boston metropolitan area. Other migrants, including many older adults, are attracted to the scenic and recreational amenities of New Hampshire’s lakes and mountains. Still other people, who aren’t able to live in the state full time, maintain second homes near the lakes, mountains and forests that have attracted vacationers and seasonal residents to the state for 150 years. All of these demographic forces influence both land cover and landscape change. 

Closeup of the map of total housing density, centered on Lake Winnepesaukee.  The high density of homes along lake shores is clear.  The attraction of high-amenity areas for both primary and secondary homes is an important driver of housing density in New Hampshire, and has consequences for local economies as well as ecosystem services such as water quality and the ability of forests to store carbon.  Developing a holistic picture of those impacts requires integrating data from multiple sources and disciplines.

Stepping back and looking at the long sweep of history, the ebb and flow of human communities and economies has had a profound influence on the New Hampshire we see today.  Only 150 years ago, much of the landscape – including the majority of acres now in forests – was in agriculture.  New Hampshire is currently about 80% forested, and that is probably roughly similar to the percent forest cover that was here when Europeans arrived.  But forest cover is on the decline, mostly due to changes to residential and urban use.  In our research, we seek combine our knowledge of past patterns of forest change with data on demographic change to contribute to a better understanding of future patterns of land scape and land cover change in New Hampshire. What the future holds for New Hampshire depends on the choices its residents, businesses and leaders make today and in the coming years.

Posted by Ken Johnson,Senior Demographer at the Carsey Institute and Sociology Professor and Mark Ducey, Professor of Forest Biometrics and Management, University of New Hampshire