River Summer 2010 Photos and Reflections - Module 1

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Module 1 - New York Harbor

July 8-12th

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Read committments to sustainability participants made.

Thursday, July 8, 2010
Core Participants: Michael Koch, Meredith Davis, Liz Barry, Rosemarie Sanders, Roy Arezzo, Margie Turrin, Tim Kenna
Day Participants: Jeremy Fisch, Karen Johnson, Stacey Szewczyk
     
River Summer 2010!

Boarding the SUNY Stony Brook University's R/V Seawolf with great anticipation, we settled in for a brief meet and greet.

Sea legs will have to wait because we disembarked and headed inland across the Island to South Street Seaport. We got a brief reminder of sea-fairing life as we were rocked on the subway to our destination.
 
Sea Wolf
Seawolf parked at Pier 40, New York City
South Street Seaport
Roger Panetta addresses the group noting the ships in the background are not native to this seaport, rather they are ships from the period – like a museum set up.
  Roger Panetta of Fordham University lead a lively discussion of Preservation, Reuse/Recycle/Community and how this relates to the Story of the South Street Seaport.

After a tour of this historic section complete with history, we discussed an area in search of an identity… is it a historic district? is it a maritime museum? Is it a community? Inevitably the discussion of preservation is tightly linked with continued funding.
 
Next we walked southward to the Battery home of the Hudson River Foundation.

We arrived at the office with a beautiful view of the mouth of the Hudson; New York Harbor. We could hardly tear ourselves away from the distraction of the water traffic to listen.

Dennis Suszkowski presented a riveting lecture on Hudson resources and management and the challenge of trying to protect the health of this dynamic harbor system. Discussions included the varied pressures and the impact on economics, usage, and wildlife.
 
View of the Battery
View from Hudson River Foundation showing the varied focuses from recreational boating to the heavy cranes in the New Jersey skyline
  Click the image on the left to view a video of River Summer in action, and read posts by Stacey Szewczyk at Hudson River Stories.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Core Participants: Michael Koch, Meredith Davis, Liz Barry, Rosemarie Sanders, Roy Arezzo, Karen Johnson, Margie Turrin, Tim Kenna
Day Participants: Jeremy Fisch, Sonia Cairo, Meryl Nadel, Natalie Jeremijenko
A river runs through it…. really?
YonkersParking lot covering the Saw Mill River which will be daylighted through the redevelopment plan.

  In Yonkers, we met Vernan Brinkley, Director of Community Development for Groundwork Hudson Valley, who gave us a tour in the area near the train station. He described a project in the works to restore access to a segment of the Saw Mill River, which still courses down the hill toward the Hudson River but is not to be seen, because it is covered over with a parking lot. The plan is to “daylight” the portion under the parking lot by removing the structure over it so that the people of Yonkers can enjoy its beauty and connect to this natural element, which has long been out of sight.

A park will be built around this newly uncovered stream and, while they will not be able to put their toes right into the water, Yonkerites will be able to see and hear the stream flow by. Imagine what it will be like to step off the train, head toward the erstwhile parking lot and instead be able to reconnect with part of Yonkers’ natural history right before them.
We also had a chance to hike up the hill a bit to a place where the stream is visible today. As we wound our way down the dirt path behind an old building, we heard the stream rushing over the rocks below even before we saw it. When we got close, the moist fresh air from the stream rose up to greet us.

The project to "daylight" a segment of this rushing stream right downtown is part of Yonkers’ goal of reintegrating parts of the historical landscape that have been lost to urbanization and give their townspeople a chance to enjoy this lovely stream right in their midst once again.
 
Groundwork Hudson Valley

Groundwork Hudson Valley is modeled after Groundwork UK, an initiative that first sprung up to reclaim brownfields for use as parks and community gardens. Five years ago, Vernon relocated to Yonkers from San Diego. During his tenure, which included ongoing work towards daylighting the Saw Mill River, Groundwork Yonkers was requested to become Groundwork Hudson Valley.

Vernon Brinkley from Groundwork Hudson Valley addresses the group.
  Vernon led us on a tour around Yonkers pointing out the parking lots and buildings which are built over the Saw Mill River, and brought us around a back alley where we could actually scramble down and touch the rushing river as it rushed under hundred year old arches. There were some obvious rat warrens. Vernon related community processes which clearly told the park designers that they were not interested in an Antonio style River Walk with hardened edges, but instead interested in a more restorative design which may be able to support the river’s predevelopment ecosystem functions.

Groundwork supports a massive network of community gardens. Support seems to encompass advocacy, volunteer organizing, hands-on construction and sometimes funding for community gardens – the sum of which yield sizeable amounts of fresh produce. One of our discussions centered around their current distribution model (donation to the Women’s Shelter, and other groups) versus more commercial strategies which could increase access to fresh produce in under-resourced neighborhoods but might cause competition with existing Farmers Markets where family farmers sell.
Social Entrepreneurship

The Freemium model provided the jumping off point for our discussion of social entrepreneurship. This former financial analyst recapped his personal experience of cognitive dissonance due to juggling hedge fund investment strategies that required disaster to yield profit while simultaneously becoming a father who was "banking" on a positive future. Social entrepreneurship became a way to take not only profits, but also people and the planet into financial calculations. He further defined entrepreneurship not only as any start-up business venture, but one which added value to an industry through innovation.

Within software, the Freemium model as prototyped by LogMeIn proved that you can give away software and still bring in profit through paying clients that want more support, service and features. His business model features only 7% paying clients at this time, with the other 93% of his company’s efforts going towards supporting non-profit organizations pro-bono through IT services. He did mention that software distribution isn’t much different whether you are distributing 1,000,000 or 10,000,000, and that the Freemium model depends on scalability.
The Greyston Bakery - Yonkers, NY
We visited the Greyston Bakery whose social mission is as important as it economic bottom line. Their motto is: "The bakery doesn’t hire people to bake cakes, it bakes cakes to hire people."

The building was designed by Mya Linn, designer of the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington DC, as a green building. It’s beauty lies in its transparency: a welcoming entrance and a clear view of all the nuts, bolts, and steel elements, as well as easy viewing down to the production floor.

The bakery has an open hiring process that passes on background checks but insists upon punctuality, reliability and hard work. Every other Wednesday, anyone from the community is invited to apply. Its goal is to provide a place for the chronically underemployed to develop job skills. Over the years, many of these employees have found out what it means to hold a real job, which is why the bakery is run as a business with a social commitment and not a charity.

There is a Buddhist element at work here. Bernie Glassman became a Buddhist priest and founded the non-profit Greyston Foundation. He parlayed his profound belief in giving back into a compelling philosophy that guides the day to day practice of this wonderful bakery. The bakery maintains their commitment to the community by donating all their profits to the foundation which, in turn, provides jobs, healthcare, and affordable housing in Yonkers.

We also got a chance to taste their scrumptious brownies.
 
Hastings Planning

  Dedicated planner Meg Walker and Bruce Jennings brought us to the ARCO site to orient us to the 10 year (and counting) planning process in Hastings. Presenting ecological information about the cleanup of North America’s most polluted site alongside economic feasibility studies, they led our entire crew through a participatory planning process. Many of us on the tour, including the organizers, have experience with particular town planning processes, and the fact of local rule was sorely evident in the anecdotal stories that were traded about so many individual frustrating experiences with local physical planning decision- making. There was a brief discussion over dinner about the dream of regional, watershed development guidelines or regulations.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Core Participants: Michael Koch, Meredith Davis, Natalie Jeremijenko, Rosemarie Sanders, Roy Arezzo, Karen Johnson, Margie Turrin, Tim Kenna. Day Participants: Stacey Szewczyk, Frank Nitsche, Janelle Batta, Rodrigo Prugue, Salima Bahri, Sanpisa Sritrairat, Cleo Chou, Argie Miller, Max Perez, Dorothy Peteet, Zhehan Huang, Sriya Sundaresan, Khoi Nguyen, and Peter Isles.
Its Alive!!

Up late last night and up early this morning – shipped out of the Hudson, past the narrows and into open water for a taste of the sea. The transit to the Rockaways was “swell” but pleasant with a full crew of new folk including undergraduate and graduate students from Columbia and Barnard, all of which survived the trip albeit a little green along the way. Over the course of the day we did a bottom trawl, a plankton tow, explored the marshes of Jamaica Bay, grabbed a marsh core sample, and finally met with officials responsible for the restoration of the Jamaica Bay marshes before a lovely sunset cruise back to Pier 40. After dark we analyzed our core sample and learned about a different Seawolf project, sturgeon tagging. Each of these experiences allowed us to confront, consider and wonder at the natural life of the Estuary, and reminded us of how interconnected each of these are with human activity.

The highlight of the day involved a benthic trawl in about 40 foot deep waters of the New York Bight. After a short 10 minute drag, the net was hauled back with over 14 species from a 5-foot thresher shark to a 5 inch squid, and also including butter fish, anchovies, 2 species of skate, 2 species of flatfish. Most of the catch was made up of 2-4 foot dogfish, sometimes called “sand sharks.” They all got sent back to the ocean right away, while a representative of each species was put into a tank for everyone to examine. The whole experience was thrilling, and made the bottom of the ocean come alive on deck.

The morning catch

Thresher Shark from the Morning Trawl

Sand shark (dog fish) from the trawl
On a smaller scale, we pulled a plankton net alongside and came up with equally rich diversity, with evidence of an intact food chain including diatoms, copepods, polychetes and evidence of spring recruitment with fish larvae thick in the lens. Natalie, our resident Engineer/artist, is taking some of this soup home, surely to appear at the Guggenheim or Whitney very soon, along with some mud from the marsh, seaweed and other relics of the day.  

Setting up for the plankton tow
  After lunch we took the zodiac to the beach to examine one of the few remaining intact marshes in NYC   - on Big Egg Island. We saw a rare example of a swath of spartina (Salt hay) but also signs of encroaching  Phragmites. In the Marsh, we took two core samples, for analysis later. 
With the fieldwork behind us it was time discuss environmental concerns at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Center. NYC has a tradition of filling in wetlands. Despite the cessation of this activity, we learned that the Jamaica Bay wetlands are disappearing at a rate of about 30 acres a year – for reasons that are as yet undetermined. An Army corps of Engineers representative gave an informative talk on dredging, wetlands restoration and future projects. The main scope of the project is to use dredged materials to shore up and expand existing wetlands. The amount of native plantings was impressive but we were disturbed by his descriptions of current practices for the ‘treatment’ and use of contaminated fill from dredging.
After a spaghetti dinner, it was time to examine core samples taken from the Jamaica Bay marsh, using XRF technology. Tim Kenna introduced the group to X-ray fluorescence, which can be used to get a baseline understanding of a core sample in a relatively short time. The XRF instrument looked like the kind of radar gun that police use when giving speeding tickets. Our core was around 140 centimeters and revealed an interesting past. The XRF, placed on top of the core sample at 10cm intervals, measured parts per million of elements such as lead and zinc. Concentrations of lead in particular can help us to date a core sample, since elevated concentrations are associated with leaded gas use as well as other twentieth-century industrial activities. The amounts revealed the contemporary layers rich in lead from the last 30 years. The older layers had a significantly lower ‘background levels’ of lead concentration helping us to age some of the layers.  

Using the XRF to look for metals in the core

Although we were all prepped for a discussion on the latest chapter of our assigned readings we were happy to be sidetracked into the galley before 11PM to hear from super mate Mark about the Atlantic Sturgeon tagging project which the Seawolf has been involved in.

As far as our theme of sustainability goes, there was certainly a lesson to be learned from diverse activities of the day. Every place we went, we talked about human impact, or even its formative role, in the contemporary environment – commercial fishing, nitrogen runoff, lead deposits on sediment all reminded us of hom the Hudson and the bay are shaped and reshaped by human activity, whether that activity be restoration, management, commerce or other.

July 11, 2010

Core Participants: Michael Koch, Meredith Davis, Natalie Jeremijenko, Rosemarie Sanders, Roy Arezzo, Karen Johnson, Margie Turrin, Tim Kenna. Day Participants: Kelsey Jordahl, Rodrigo Prugue, Salima Bahri
Another early-ish morning on the R/V Seawolf. We’ve gotten used to waking to the sound of the engine. We can’t bear a grudge against the crew for starting us like that, considering how good the coffee and breakfast has been.

Henry Bokuniewicz showing the display the ADCP data
  For the second time in two days we sailed southward this morning; down the Hudson along the Battery, past the barges and tugs, the pleasure boaters and tourists making a Sunday morning visit to Liberty Island, under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and out into the mouth of the Harbor.

On board, a few miles past the bridge, we set up 3 stations. Henry Bokuniewicz, an oceanographer from SUNY Stony Brook showed us how the ADCP, a high tech machine, can detect the ongoing movement of sediments between the mouth of the Hudson and the George Washington Bridge, and we are to track that in real time on the computer display.
At our second station, we also tested the turbidity using a secchi disk and took a water sample from the surface to test for enterococcus, which would be evidence of contamination from sewage.

Then, we used a high tech CTD monitor to test for salinity, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, fluorescence and turbidity. Heading north, we repeated these tests at 5 mile intervals all the way up to the George Washington Bridge.
 

Michael and Rose preparing our water sample for the enterococcus test

Michael Koch discussing the transportation piece of NYC’s bid for the 2012 Olympics
  On the return from our final testing station just south of the George Washington Bridge, Michael Koch led a discussion on the vision of urban development promoted by the organizers behind New York City’s bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. That bid, forged in the early 2000s and defeated in 2005, might be consigned to the dustbin of history in the minds of many. But a look at the transportation plan created by the organizers (dubbed the "Olympic X") shows how getting around the city was identified as a problematic issue in the recent past – in other words, a pressing need. Water transit was emphasized by Olympic planners as part of a "green" alternative; like the other developments and facilities envisioned in the bid,, this would have been part of the Olympic legacy.

Even though the bid lost and a New York Olympics will not happen in the near future, several of the ferry routes traced out by the bid organizers have since been attempted, with mixed results. Certainly some routes have been successful, reconnecting the city with one of its historic resources. But others have not flourished, raising questions. Our travels over the past few days have taken us to places like Yonkers and the Rockaways – places where ferry services were tried and then eliminated. Having spent a few days on the city’s waterways, what do we think of them as being – borders and dividers, or pathways and conduits? Can ferry travel truly be considered (and advertised) as being “green”? What are the limits and possibilities of ferry travel as a part of New York’s transportation network going forward?
Sunday afternoon, Kelsey Jordahl, a geophysicist from Marymount Manhattan College, took us all on a geology field trip. You might think we'd head off to Central Park, where schist outcroppings abound. Instead, we headed into the West Village! Armed with hand lenses and photos of four kinds of stone commonly used for buildings in NYC, off we went. Just a few blocks into our walk on Morton Street, we found four examples right in front of us: a slate facade, marble steps, and a sidewalk comprised of both schist and shale. Not far from that we found a brownstone with an elaborate carved facade that showed signs of weathering, which Kelsey explained can happen when sandstone is quarried from beneath the water table but not cured – dried – before it is used. At one intersection, we noticed that one piece of a wall at about eye level had a distinct reddish tinge.  

Kelsey explaining that the reddish tint comes from oxidizing iron
Not far down Christopher Street one of the students who was examining a decorative stone pillar beside the front steps of a building called out, "I see a shell!" Sure enough, Kelsey identified this a kind of limestone made from fossil fragments, most likely bryozoans, crinoids, mollusks, and other shell fragments.

We were surprised to discover the bedrock of Manhattan has very little variety. Most of the stone used for building is not from here at all. It is brought in from elsewhere, even across country. Despite the enormous effort it takes to quarry natural stone and transport it into the city, that takes less energy that is does to produce many of today's building materials, including brick, glass and steel. Stone is also a good insulator. Who knew that building with natural stone, even when it comes from afar, can reduce the carbon footprint of building construction!

James Van Nostrand (center left) leading our discussion on energy alternatives
  After a brief walk along the High Line linear park, we returned to the Seawolf.

The evening centered on a dinner of herb encrusted salmon with rice, broccoli and salad – and energy policy. James Van Nostrand, Executive Director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center, led a spirited discussion on the politics of energy use and technology.

July 12, 2010

Wrapping Up Module 1
Core Participants: Michael Koch, Meredith Davis, Natalie Jeremijenko, Rosemarie Sanders, Roy Arezzo, Karen Johnson, Liz Barry, Margie Turrin, Tim Kenna
It has been an exceptional time here at River Summer 2010. Module 1 is now completed and as we look back at the new friends, new insights and new education we are dumbfounded to realize how much has actually occurred in the last few days.
Today, we tied together the experiences of the Module 1. We began by making sense of the data we gathered yesterday in the water sampling survey we had collected as we transited the Hudson from the Atlantic to the George Washington Bridge on the R/V Seawolf. We had gathered this information using a CTD, a device to measure the conductivity, temperature and density of the water column. The conductivity works as a function of the properties of saline water.

We set out to make three-dimensional models of the data. It is a task that can be difficult without first visualizing the data. Roy Arezzo, Karen Johnson and Meredith Davis tackled the visualization of salinity from the transect, while Michael Koch and Rosemarie Sanders looked at temperature variability along the same stops.
 

The group examines data from the CTD casts
One of the most profound lessons in this exercise was being a student and reading the directions. We had depth and distance in which to create a data field displaying isolines. Our results gave us an “A-ha” when we could unequivocally see the salt wedge moving in from the Atlantic and the temperature variation with depth. As you see on the right, Salinity and Temperature displayed in isolines the field values are defined and colored to provide a visualization of the water structure.  

Salinity and Temperature displayed in isolines
  In our second exercise, we looked at the growth of enterococcus in the samples that had incubated overnight. The sample from just outside of the Verrazano Bridge showed a small presence of enterococcus, and the one from the Lower Harbor showed an even smaller growth. No other sample showed a representation of enterococcus. The bacteria is measured in units called MPN (most probable number) based on the concentration in the Sample of enterococcus showing growth in only two of the cells.

Our samples were all well within what is designated as acceptable levels. It was somewhat surprising as one might expect to have a greater concentration of these bacteria near the harbor not the larger ocean.
We ended our day with a wrap up focusing on what we can do to move towards being more sustainable as individuals and in a broader sense as a community of teachers and leaders. This is a complex topic. Can an individual in their actions ever do enough to make a difference? Do we need to make radical changes? Are small actions enough to make a difference?

It has taken humanity a long time to get where we are today but we are optimistic that by building involvement through people who are committed to participating in their communities and making changes in their everyday lives that we can make a contribution, and a difference. We have a long way to go but are encouraged by the creative energies of the participants.
 

Wrap up discussion
 
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