River Summer 2011 Photos and Reflections

River Summer Calendar  
Module 2 - Mid Hudson

July 12-16, 2011

Use the calendar to select a date.

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Tuesday, July 12th
Core Participants: Heather Hall, Tom Sarro, Howard Horowitz, Carol Pauli, Tim Kenna, Margie Turrin
Today's Bloggers: Dave Conover and Dean Goddard
Day Participants: Tom Mullane, Debbie Ashley, Peter Groffman, Bob Daniels, Lia Harris, Lisa DiMarza from the Mid Hudson Children’s Museum, Lia Harris, Pat Zolnik and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies summer REU students, Chris Bowser and a group of Marist Summer Program high school students exploring college.

The Marist College waterfront flanked by SUNY Stony Brook University's R/V Seawolf

Urban stream outside K Mart store
River Summer 2011 first day feels almost like a continuation of the amazing work we did last summer. The day began with a riparian buffer assessment with Peter Groffman from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Peter showed us how impaired urban streams, such as the Casperkill Creek in Poughkeepsie, could be restored to a semblance of what they were. The image of rainwater hitting hot pavement and entering a small stream stuck with me since a great deal of urban heat stored in sun baked pavement is transferred to modified streams after summer rainstorms. The morning session concluded with a relaxing lunch and casual discussion of morning observations at Vassar College’s Sunset Lake.

Same urban stream (Casperkill) as it winds through Vassar College


After lunch we traveled back to the boat where we engaged several high school seniors from Marist College summer Environmental Institute program and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies Research Experience for Undergraduates for some sampling of river fish using a beach seine and haul seine on the R/V Seawolf

  We had fish expert Bob Daniels from the New York State Museum with us.  The trawl yielded two large brown carp, several short nose sturgeon  and a juvenile Atlantic sturgeon as well as many hogchokers (Dave’s favorite), white perch, American eel, tomcod, and three species of catfish (white, channel, and brown bullhead).  Our seiners used Clearwater’s Key to Common Hudson River Fishes to identify a needlefish, white perch, spottail shiners, hog choker, tessellated darter, and a sunfish. 
After stowing our gear, we headed over to Cornell Boat House at Marist College for a dinner, refreshments and stimulating conversation with colleagues, many of whom are now old friends since some of us met at River Summer 2010. The dinner was outstanding, and composed of all local/regionally grown foods, part of the Marist College commitment to sustainability.

Our guest speaker was John Cronin, Director and Chief Executive Officer for the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries who gave a wonderful talk outlining the importance of the Hudson River in the environmental history of America and challenging the students to become the next generation of innovators to solve the daunting problems we face today.

All in all, an incredibly full first day.

Wednesday, July 13th

Core Participants: Heather Hall, Dave Conover, Dean Goddard, Carol Pauli, Tim Kenna, Margie Turrin
Today's Bloggers: Tom Sarro and Howard Horowitz
Day Participants: Tom Mullane, Shanan Smiley, Kirsten Menking, Dorothy Peteet, Neil Pederson, Javier Martin-Fernandez, Dario Martin-Benito, Chris Chopp, Mandy Freund
The morning started with a splash as Margie took an unexpected dip into the Hudson while rescuing a catfish from the fish trap off the bank (once again saturating her cell phone). After a drive up to Mohonk Preserve in the Shawangunks, we met with Shanan Smiley regarding the remarkable long-term climatic and phonological records maintained at the preserve. Shannon led the group on a hike from the Mountain House weather station up to Skytop Tower while discussing the Mohonk database.

Mohonk Mountain House
  The Smiley family has kept continuous detailed observational records since 1896, mostly in the form of written information on thousands of index cards. The field observations were exceptionally consistent; in fact, one man (Dan Smiley) did it for 50 years, and that tradition has continued to the present time.

Over the last 115 years, the average annual temperature at Mohonk has increased by 2.8 degrees Fahrenheit, and 8 of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 1990. Likewise, 8 of the 10 years with the most days above 90 degrees have been recorded since 1989.

Growing season has lengthened by 10 days; the last frost is now 6 days earlier and the first autumn frost is 4 days later since the record-keeping began.
Snowfall has increased, but it melts more quickly so overall snow the climatic changes. For example, hepatica blooms 20 days earlier than in the 1930s, and bloodroot blooms 14 days earlier than in the 1930s.

In addition to many such plant observations, bird data has been kept since 1925, and the results suggest earlier arrivals of migratory birds and more frequent year-round residents than 80 years ago. Many species formerly found only in more southerly regions have appeared on the preserve, including red-bellied woodpeckers and black vultures.

This long term data set is an in valuable resource.

Carol and Heather enjoy the view on top of Skytop

The Mohonk Lake

After lunch on the Mountain House veranda, we proceeded to the dock to meet with Kirsten Menking and Dorothy Peteet to observe the collection of lake bottom sediments.

They discussed their research with lake sediment cores, including cores that go back up to 14,000 years from Mohonk Lake and Minnewaska Lake.

They discussed the interpretation of sediment core data; for example, the “percent LOI” (left on ignition after the organic matter is burned) typically averages about 50 percent. Higher LOI values indicate less organic matter, which in turn suggests drought conditions, and evidence suggests that there were prolonged droughts for portions of the sediment record.

Examining pollen and seeds on the veranda of the Mountain House

Hemlock pollen and needles declined during periods of drought; this raises the question of whether drought stressed the hemlocks, which may in turn have resulted in increased vulnerability to hemlock loopers.

Upon return to the veranda, we had a lively discussion regarding the chronology of deglaciation. There is considerable uncertainty about the interpretation of the timeline of terminal moraine retreat based upon different methodologies. The most frequent date for the southernmost terminal moraines is about 15-16,000 years ago, but alternative dates of 26,000 years have been suggested.

Extensive discussions about these dates suggest that resolution of the differences will require more and better data.

We then hiked out to the Humpty Dumpty talus slope to meet with Neil Pederson and his colleagues at the Tree Ring Laboratory at Columbia University's Lamont-Dougherty Earth Observatory.

Neil gave us a brief history of dendrochronology, including the historically important work done right here on this talus slope by Ed Cook in the 1970s.

Because the talus slope is subject to extreme conditions of thin soil and reflected heat, tree stresses tend to be greater, which in turn leads to more dramatic variations in tree ring width. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, the harsh talus slope environment also leads to greater longevity of individual trees, and therefore to longer tree ring records.

On the Humpty-Dumpty talus slope some of the trees cored were more than 360 years old. 


Humpty Dumpty Tallus slope

Among the results from the tree ring analysis was the finding that the most severe drought in the last 300 years occurred in the mid-1960s in this area, although that severe drought was geographically localized between northern Pennsylvania and western Massachusetts.

The last 40 years have been much wetter than normal in this region, with relative mild and brief droughts in 1981 and 2002.  The New York metropolitan area is using more water today than has been available for much of the last 500 years, which suggests that we would be in trouble if and when drought conditions return.

Neil and his colleagues demonstrated the technique of tree ring collection, using white pine and chestnut oak trees, and the group got the opportunity to practice coring.


Tom Mullane takes an oak tree core for the group to examine.
After a nice hike back around Mohonk Lake, the group arrived back at the van just in time for the skies to open up with a downpour. Upon returning to the Seawolf, we ate a delicious meatloaf dinner, enjoyed a scenic transit north to Kingston, and concluded the evening with a lively discussion of the day’s events.

Thursday, July 14th

Core Participants: Dave Conover, Dean Goddard, Tim Kenna, Margie Turrin, Tom Sarro, Howard Horowitz
Today's Bloggers: Carol Pauli and Heather Hall
Day Participants: Emily Hauser, Rich Schiafo, Steve Noble, Julie Noble, Guy Kempe, Chuck Snyder, Sean Bodie, Joe Puetz, Ken Darmstadt, Dan Miller, Zack Steele
Despite yesterday’s plunge, Margie’s cell phone was working again and we were off to an early start, attempting today to "travel in time and see sea-level changes as we go – and put ourselves in the hearts and minds of the people of Kingston."

Across the street from Kingston's sewage treatment plant Dave points out a road sign noting the road may flood during high tides.
  We had the help of Emily Hauser, a Kingston resident who chairs the city’s adaptation subcommittee -- part of its Action Plan as a “Climate Smart Community.” New York State wants to see an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases – from 1990 levels – by the year 2050. “That will be a huge paradigm shift,” she said.

Our task for the morning was to travel into Kingston’s future, looking at the likely impact of rising sea levels and more frequent storm surges. We didn’t have to look far for troubling signs. Already, high water floods the road beside the sewage treatment plant.
We used chalk to mark where water levels are forecast to reach in future years – 2020 and 2060. As expected, the exercise got the attention of folks on the street. Pete and Denise (left, below), from Sea Bright, N.J., have already experienced rising waters. Denise, a nurse, said that getting work sometimes required her to put on hip waders back home, near Sandy Hook. Jonathan Korn, a member of the Kingston Planning Board, said he was open to hearing more about future sea levels.

(left) Pete & Denise talk about their experiences with increasing water levels. 
(right) Jonathan Korn from the Kingston Planning Board.
Sea Level/storm surge lines marked in the street
We spent the afternoon exploring sustainable energy projects already in action in Kingston. We were guided by Rich Schaifo, City of Kingston climate analyst, and Steve and Julie Noble, from the Forsythe Nature Center.

Inside the cool lobby of the historic Kirkland Hotel, we learned how RUPCO, the Rural Ulster Preservation Company, uses geothermal energy – 20 wells 400 feet deep – to cool and heat the building efficiently, while preserving and restoring its old appearance.

Inside Solartech Renewables
At Solartech Renewables, in an old IBM plant, we watched workers making solar panels and preparing for inspections. The company, only one year old, began with seven employees. It now has twenty-eight and expects to open a second manufacturing line.

Shawn Bodie said there are two differences between Solartech panels and imported ones:  These are made here – and the quality control is more rigorous.

Shawn holds one of the panels manufactured in Kingston!

At Benedictine Hospital, the director of facilities, Joseph Puetz, took us to the roof to see solar panels pre-heating water for the boiler.

(left: On the roof of the Benedictine Hospital with solar panels visible behind.)

Solar panels on Darmstadt Doors.

Finally, at Darmstadt Overhead Doors, we met an independent businessman, Ken Darmstadt, working toward getting totally off the grid.  Over the past seven years, his array of 90 photovoltaic panels have powered his 15,000 square-foot building.

Dan Miller from the Hudson River Estuary Program came aboard for dinner to tell us about the Sustainable Shorelines Project.  As we motored down to Esopus Meadows, he pointed out what his project has been cataloging: different shoreline types – man-made or natural, sandy or rocky . . .  He emphasized the importance of diversity along the shoreline to continue to support diverse biological communities, as well as diverse cultural uses.

Dan Miller and Tim Kenna on the deck of the Sea Wolf.
Bald Eagle fishing in the aquatic vegetated shallow beds of the Rondout Creek

Some helpful resources noted today:

To investigate your own flood risk: www.fema.gov and check out “Stay Dry,” an application for use with Google Earth.

To see how New York State may help you switch to renewable energy in your home or apartment:  www.getenergysmart.org

To calculate your solar energy potential: www.pvwatt.org

The moon rising over the Hudson

Friday, July 15th

Core Participants: Dave Conover, Dean Goddard, Tom Sarro, Howard Horowitz, Carol Pauli, Heather Hall
Today's Bloggers: Margie Turrin, Tim Kenna
Day Participants: Tom Mullane, Steve Stanne, Susan Fox Rogers, Stuart Findlay, Laurie Fila, Jean McAvoy
  This morning we focused on breeding bird populations in New York State and the various factors including climate change that may be impacting them.

Steve Stanne (Interpretive Specialist for NYSDEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program, River Summer 2008 alum, and beloved River Rat) joined us on board Seawolf for a brief overview of the subject and introduction to the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas.

The atlas is a compilation of breeding bird populations observed in the state over two separate 5 y periods (1990-1995 and 2000-2005). The dataset represents an impressive effort on the part of individuals ranging from professional ornithologists to amateur bird enthusiasts. Long-term data sets are often hard-won but incredibly valuable with regard to assessing for change.
Steve noted that for a species to be included in the atlas, it must be observed in a particular area and show evidence of breeding. This can be confirmed through multiple metrics that include the presence of a singing male bird over a series of days, birds with nesting materials, and the best evidence - hatchlings.
After covering the basics and doling out binoculars, we were off to Sleightsburgh Spit for some active learning. Once on the spit, we continued our discussion and then spent some time without talking, just looking different birds and listening for their calls – this conveyed a sense of reverence.

During our 1.5 hour ornithological adventure, we identified several dozen species including cardinal (M, F), great blue heron, song sparrow, kingbird, catbird, mourning dove, flycatcher, and nut-hatch.  Everyone got pretty excited when we sighted a kingbird with a juicy insect in its mouth.  Steve encouraged us to watch the bird to see what happened next.  The highlight for the group came as we watched the bird drop down to a nest with four young birds (spotted by Eagle-eye Tom Mullane) – incontrovertible evidence of a breeding kingbird in the area!

Kingbird with food in mouth.

Kingbird feeding her young in the nest.
We returned to Seawolf and worked with the atlas a bit more. Steve noted that the ranges of several species including the Carolina Wren and the Bicknell Thrush have changed between the two surveys in response to climate factors. He cited a recent paper that noted a 1°C change in the annual temperature could eliminate 50% of New York’s small Bicknell Thrush population New York, 2°C could force them from the Catskills and most of Vermont, and 3°C could force them from New England altogether. Dramatic changes in some of the different bird populations over a 10-y period helped to make the effects of climate change more tangible.

Susan Fox Rogers author of ‘My Reach’ leading a moonrise paddle through Tivoli North Bay.


After lunch, we steamed to Tivoli where we met Susan Fox Rogers of Bard College, River Summer 2005 alum, and author of a soon to be released book on the Hudson River entitled My Reach.

Susan asked each participant to select a particular section of the Hudson River as “Their Reach,” that section of the Hudson that they would claim as one’s own.  Some selected small reaches, while others claimed the whole Hudson, others selected areas that suffered from contaminants and challenges – it was fun to share with the group our special connection to a place on the river that we called their own. Susan asked us to write and share a piece about the environmental issues or environmental lessons that we recalled when we were our students’ age. A central theme seemed to be that the focus on the environment was just emerging when we were young and a less formalized connection.

Stuart Findlay of Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies joined us to discuss the important role that marshes and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) beds play in the Hudson River ecosystem and how they are vulnerable to sea level rise. If sea level rises too quickly, marsh plants that need to live at the air/water/land interface may not be able to keep up. Also, many of the marshes are bordered by steep banks, which act as rigid barriers preventing normal marsh succession – if the water rises too fast or the plants have nowhere to go the marsh will “drown.” Although the wetlands themselves occupy only 8% of the river area, they have a large influence on water quality exchanging a water volume that is nearly 3 times the daily input from the Mohawk/upper Hudson.

Stuart Findlay rafting up with the group in Tivoli North Bay.

As water makes its way to the ocean, it spends a fair amount of time flowing in and out of the numerous marshes along the Hudson. The lateral exchange is important in maintaining dissolved oxygen levels.

Stuart showed us data collected over several tidal cycles – it could clearly be seen that oxygen levels in water leaving the marsh on the ebb tide were impacted by time of day and plant community.  The measured oxygen levels are a balance between photosynthesis and respiration. Because plants do not photosynthesize without sunlight, oxygen levels are lower at night.

Further, exchange with areas having large beds of the invasive water chestnut (Trapa natans) also reduces oxygen levels. Water chestnut, in addition to producing seeds that are painful to step on (i.e., devil’s heads), forms a dense mat of floating vegetation that effectively blocks sunlight and limits competition from other aquatic plants, such as the native water celery (Vallisneria americana), which grow and emits oxygen throughout the water column. Although water chestnut does photosynthesize, it emits oxygen directly to the air. In some cases, the oxygen levels in water below the water chestnut can become hypoxic, endangering fish and other aquatic animals. Stuart also presented nutrient data that showed an inverse relationship between dissolved nitrate levels and residence time of the water in the marsh (i.e., the longer the water spent in the marsh, the lower the nitrate levels became). This is a process called denitrification, and yet another example of the importance of marshes to Hudson River ecosystem as a whole.

Paddling in Tivoli Marsh (Laurie Fila and Carol Pauli front canoe left to right)

After our discussion, we headed to Tivoli North Bay to experience first-hand, the ways of the marsh. We met Laurie Fila and Jean McAvoy of the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve for a guided canoe trip. We explored the marsh, identifying plants and using our newly acquired birding skills.

We were able to identify marsh wrens and swallows; a few paddlers reported seeing a least bittern. Stuart also accompanied us in his kayak equipped with a water quality sensor. Making our way through the marsh at ebb tide, water temperatures were consistently around 26.4°C, and dissolved oxygen levels were generally higher in the water celery beds (6.2 mg/L) than other areas we measured (5.6 mg/L). The measurements allowed us to gain first-hand experience with some of the processes Stuart had presented during our discussion earlier in the day.

As we paddled, we continued to discuss the various roles of the marsh including flood control, nutrient trapping, as a carbon sink, and habitat for young of the year fish. We were able re-vist some of the concepts presented earlier in the day. The discussion turned to what we would lose if sea level were to rise thus changing the composition of the marshes. Tivoli, like other Hudson River marshes has nowhere for the marsh to retreat, as it has a steeply sided edge where it meets the mainland. This is characteristic of the Hudson, a carved fjord. The plant communities would be altered with a large reduction, or possibly a complete loss of the graminoid, or reed community. The continued service that the marshes have provided would be severely reduced. Having this discussion in the marsh brought these concepts to life.

Jean McAvoy, showing the group a specimen of water chestnut and describing its impact on the marsh.

We paddled out to the main stem of the Hudson and passed under the train bridge and then began our trip back. On the way we met Susan Fox Rogers, who was leading a moonrise paddle.

Towards the end of our paddle, we formed a flotilla, and Laurie led us through a moment of quiet meditation. This was followed by a beautiful performance of “Back Bay” by Jean that added to the spiritual quality of Tivoli.

As we left the marsh we were thrilled to see a Least Bittern checking through the soil at the base of the reeds.  As we slid by on the water it fluttered airborne, a result no doubt of our disturbance. We wondered what habitat this small visitor will find in this area in 2080… a much more significant result of our disturbance.

Sun setting in the marsh as we paddled ‘homeward’.

Final Post, July 16th
It is always hard to sum up the River Summer experience; words don’t do justice to the wide range of activities, conversations, connections, aha experiences, and friendships that develop and ‘drive’ the modules. This summer as we come to the end of our grants it is especially difficult to put a figurative ‘pen to paper’ to draft the final words that each year say “it’s a wrap”. Instead we offer a selection –including photos showing a range of our experiences this summer, a reflective writing, a snippet of one of our immersion activities, a sample of our climate concept maps, and a few of the participants’ climate action pledges.

Trawling - Juvenile Atlantic Sturgeon

Trawling - American Eel
Canoing with the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve (HRNERR) in Tivoli Bay

Sampling at Mohonk Lake

Dinner at Marist with Geoff Brackett and John Cronin
Kingston waterfront free write on “Climate”:

It is hard to sit on the Kingston waterfront as the breeze moves through and the town seems to be quietly moving around us and consider what the future might bring to this area.  This waterfront will cease to exist - relocated – but at what cost in dollars, anguish, experience? Even if we change our behavior right now – if today we take a stand and decide what changes we can make – Emily reminded us that the freight train of our prior behavior will continue along the track on its current speed.  However, if we make no changes the train will continue to accelerate and it seems will drive us off a precipice. It is a sobering thought.


However I am encouraged by Kingston. I see they are trying to focus on the topic as difficult and as sobering as it may be. The heavy emphasis on mitigation versus adaptation suggests a strong desire to change behavior, change thinking and create a paradigm shift. The key seems to be connecting the science community with the policy makers. It reminds me of an organization I once belonged to with five membership components…business, management, government/policy, homeowners and developers. It seems this same widespread and mutual interest grouping might be an effective way to improve the conversation. Kingston seems to be working to build this model.
Future Coast/Highwaterline Activity – Two different perspectives on a single role:
Role: wastewater treatment operator trying for long time to modernize plant but frustrated by local powers.


Response #1
“Long-held fears are coming to pass, but little to nothing is being done to address them. Technological advances are not being utilized for lack of money or will. I know we need to overhaul the treatment system to an entirely different kind, perhaps one that uses wetland vegetation to filter the wastewater. After large initial outlays, would be cheaper to operate and have cleaner finished output, but can’t get the support to implement it.”

Response #2
“My plant has been challenged by the storm surge and sea level rise and despite my efforts to draw attention to the problem, it is only when it becomes an emergency that actions are taken.  I have proposed reengineering the plant using resources based on the new national initiative to support green infrastructure.  I’m using the plant as an outreach tool, building an education program here that schools can use to show the real world impact of climate change.  I’d like to find a site to incorporate reed beds and artificial wetlands, encourage storm water separation, and promote water conservation. “

Role: I’m a senior citizen on a fixed income living in a senior focused community facility. I have a grown son living locally who is also unemployed.

  Response #1
“I retired over a decade or so ago now. In the early 1990’s boom times came to an abrupt halt as IBM closed its manufacturing facilities forcing at least a couple thousand of its employees to retire, relocate or find new work in an economically depressed area. So, after two decades at IBM I struggled and never actually ever succeeded at again attaining reliable, meaningful employment. Who would have ever believed that IBM would abandon the community and sell off our entire division to foreign interests? Money became tight as my son was in college and was forced to drop out. I no longer could make ends meet, and work was scarce. In a matter of a couple of years I went from gainful employment as a first level manager who started on the manufacturing line right out of high school to the underemployed store clerk of a national chain store found in the Kingston Mall. I was forced to sell my family home and lived in a series of rental apartments, finally ending up in this senior community facility built just a couple of blocks from the old Kingston waterfront. I thought climate change was just another one of those myths back then. Now the reality of climate change and its consequences are lapping at the front doors of or retirement complex, sometimes after several days of rain the community room shared by all the residents becomes flooded and there is talk of the facility, not too many years old, closing. Where will I go next? And, how often, if ever, will I see my son?”
  Response #2
“I am really upset at this situation – why didn’t someone stop this before it got so far – they had to know. All my possessions are in jeopardy – my carpet is ruined, my heirlooms are threatened. I have no money to replace my appliances, my carpet etc. and my kids are out of work and can’t help me. I have been here my whole life. I am really angry that I have been let down by my town and my government. They had to see this coming and they didn’t do anything to prevent it, and now where are they when I need help.

My church was flooded too – it is right on the water. At first I was in despair about this too but my church community has stepped in to help. Although the building is badly damaged, the people are still there to step in and help. Some of the members are coming over to help me get cleaned up and will take me in until a more permanent solution is available.”
Group Climate Concept Map Activity

Group Climate Concept Map: Economics seems to be in control! Greenhouse Gases, Denial and Positive Feedback Loops are causes linking and producing a series of interconnected effects.
Group Climate Concept Map: The evidence is evident and yet we have trouble pulling our heads out of the sand.  Impacts will drive an awakening and then we will begin to take action creating a ‘new lease’ with our planet, but that lease is always subject to human tinkering and change.

Climate Pledges - sampling:

In Teaching

  • Team teach an environmental reporting class
  • Share my ideas and concerns with faculty colleagues
  • The textbook I have chosen for my ecology course has climate as its theme.  I will incorporate many of the ideas from discussion that have taken place here.
  • Try to connect to my students that they have a voice in our society and encourage them to develop and use it

Act with others/Advocacy

  • Advocate for climate change action in neighborhood
  • Push for Local ordinance – light pollution/energy
  • Join the climate committee in our town


  • Telecommute more - Drive less
  • Plan my routes to car pool, bike, walk and consolidate to reduce driving

Audit & Reduce Personal Impact/Consumption

  • Monitor energy usage – 10% reduction
  • Evaluate impacts of different personal actions
  • Chose a utility company – purchase power from renewable energy sources
  • Really study my household energy use and then cut it by 20%
  • Have an energy audit done on my home and make changes as finances permit

Signing off – Module 2 River Summer 2011
River Summer and the Environmental Consortium thank Captain Steve Cluett and the Seawolf crews over the years for all their support and hospitality as we developed and implemented this program.