While school is out, research continues with hands-on summer program
By Anne Danahy
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Dangling over the side of a 4-foot hole on a forest floor, Penn State undergraduate Kim Schmid spent the better part of a recent day digging in the dirt — or collecting soil samples, to be technical.
The end goal: a better understanding of the seasonal ponds known as vernal pools, how they form on shale landscapes and the best way to manage them. That meant Schmid and fellow student John Schneider took turns with a shovel and a post hole-digger — mosquitos and gnats notwithstanding. Then, starting from the top and inching down they collected samples from each layer of soil. The next step was a ground-penetrating radar survey to unravel the subsurface layers and measure the depth to solid rock beneath them.
“I love it,” said Schmid, who will be a junior in the fall. “In classrooms, you learn about it through a textbook. It’s cool doing it in person.”
Orientation began at Stroud Water Research Center where the group learned about the Christina River Basin Critical Zone Observatory within the Piedmont physiographic province in southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware.
Participants learned about the impacts of land-use change on the global carbon cycle and were introduced to data collection and management and building and deploying environmental sensors.
In week two the group moved to the Susquehanna Shale Hills Observatory in the Appalachian Mountain Valley and Ridge physiographic province. There they looked at the geology, hydrology, ecology, soils, and land use at the SSHO and compared it with that of the Piedmont province. At the end of the two weeks they were ready to launch their own research projects.
Photos: Tara Muenz
Dr. Jim Pizzuto, professor in fluvial geomorphology at the University of Delaware took students on a geologic field tour of the Christina River Basin.
Dr. Holly Michael, professor of geology at the University of Delaware discusses hydrological processes.
Steve Hicks, research engineer at Stroud, teaches a class on sensor building and monitoring, and the important role these play in Critical Zone science.
Field trip to the serpentine barrens
A William Penn tree (White oak) , over 300 years old was a favorite to see during the week at Stroud Water Research Center
Learning about the geology of the State College, PA region. The ridge the group was standing on and the ridges in the distance used to be part of a large anticline.
Examining tree roots
The CZO REUs at the end of orientation, ready to start their research.