Lake Champlain

Out and about on Lake Champlain

One of the dominant narratives of the Lake Champlain basin is the story told by the geology and hydrology of the lake.  This story is one that unfolded over a billion years of continental collision and crustal faulting, but especially over the last 15,000 years as the last glacial ice sheet retreated from the Vermont landscape.  Following the retreat of the glacier — as well as a sequence of freshwater then sea water then freshwater again transitions in the valley, the lake now known as Lake Champlain was formed.

DSCF6314And what a lake it is!  The sixth largest lake in the U.S. in terms of surface area (after only the officially-designated Great Lakes), Lake Champlain offers a complex story of water flow, sediment development, and ecological history, none of which have been completely unraveled.

In addition, the lake has a relationship with the cultural narratives of this region, not the least of which is that the lake receives run-off from several rivers and streams that flow through settled portions of Vermont, New York, and Quebec, carrying into the lake a diverse mix of elements, molecules, and microbes that derive from human action — such as phosphates and nitrites from fertilizers, mercury from fossil fuel combustion, and E. coli from sewage — that potentially have harmful effects on heath and ecosystem function.

DSCF6322How we come to understand this mix, which society is apt to call “pollution,” requires consideration of factors, including sources, transport, quantity, effects, and standards.  And we are just beginning to unpackage these through various means, including direct sampling of water and sediment in Lake Champlain aboard the R/V Folger, Middlebury College’s research vessel.

Yes, data on currents and phosphorus (in particular, unfiltered total reactive phosphorus), were collected.  Consideration of the story these data tell will take place in class throughout the semester.  But on this one particular afternoon, fun was had by all!


Our classroom

Snake Mountain 2One of our activities on the second day of the School was to climb to the summit of nearby Snake Mountain, about 1,000 feet above the floor of the Champlain Valley and with a spectacular view of the landscape that will be the focus of much of our curriculum this summer.  Note the interplay of both cultural and natural forces that shape the landscape: farmland, wood lots, transportation networks, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondack Mountains to the west.  Over the semester, we will be unpackaging many of the narratives of this place, narratives which influence the environmental realities of the present as well as the options for creating a sustainable future.

But for the students on this day, the real pleasure was in stretching our legs, getting introduced to the landscape that will be home for the next six weeks, and enjoying the first day of summer.

And the weather was pretty darn spectacular, as well.

Snake Mountain 1


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