Summer Sustainability Efforts on Campus
(**The following is an excerpt from Emily Aronson's article on Princeton News. Click here to see the original article.**)
'Along streams and lakes and inside offices and classrooms, Princeton students, faculty and staff could be found working this summer to help the University meet its long-term sustainability goals.
For four students in the Princeton Environmental Institute's (PEI) Summer Undergraduate Research Training Program, days were spent sampling and analyzing water from the Washington Road stream, which flows into Lake Carnegie. For others, introducing a cell phone recycling program, implementing tray-free dining at Rockefeller and Mathey residential colleges, and launching a sustainability ambassador program were some of the other projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving resources and supporting environmental research and education.
The summer season made the campus a perfect laboratory for students and faculty to conduct research and test new ideas -- one of the key components of the Princeton University Sustainability Plan adopted in 2008.
Led by Eileen Zerba, a senior lecturer in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton, undergraduates in the PEI summer program finished collecting baseline measurements before the ecological restoration of the Washington Road stream begins this fall.
"Our principle strategy is to gather baseline data before initiating major University innovations to protect campus water resources and then track the effectiveness of sustainable practices," Zerba said.
This summer's work builds upon PEI's multiyear environmental monitoring program to help improve water quality and ecological balance across campus and within the surrounding Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed.
"Many of the projects connected to the PEI undergraduate Program in Environmental Studies have to do with long-term monitoring -- tracking the impact of the University's land use and sustainable practices on water quality of the regional watershed over the next 10 years," said Zerba, who directs the environmental studies program's laboratories. "Lake Carnegie acts as a natural drainage basin for the campus, so the lake and its tributaries are an important indicator of the environmental impact of campus improvements."
The restoration of the Washington Road stream will involve widening the stream, reducing its existing slope through the use of step pools, reconfiguring the flood plain and placing plantings around the Washington Road valley. The work is aimed at decreasing the velocity of the stream to stop erosion and eliminate the constant deposits of sediment into Lake Carnegie, overall improving water quality of the stream and lake.
During one humid morning, Zerba and her students stood knee-deep in the stream near the corner of Washington and Faculty roads, dipping long probes into the water and netting or hand-picking from rocks macroinvertebrates, which are indicators of water quality. Later on, the summer interns -- rising juniors Garnet Abrams and Alana Tornello, rising sophomore Sarah Bluher and Elon University student Rob Hackett -- brought their samples back to the lab for testing, followed by a discussion of their results.
Eileen Zerba (left), a senior lecturer in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton, works with PEI staff member Nejma Piagentini (top), Elon University student Rob Hackett (center) and Princeton undergraduate Garnet Abrams to gather samples from the Washington Road stream, which flows into Lake Carnegie.
"Field studies are often time-consuming and involve travel to distant field locations," Zerba said. "So if you have the resources right in your backyard and can get a number of students involved in the research, it's really a worthwhile endeavor that gives students a great hands-on learning experience with real-life applications."
From their analysis of the biological, chemical and physical characteristics of the stream, students could draw conclusions about the water's health and habitat. For example, students examined nutrient concentrations, and measured dissolved oxygen and water turbidity to determine the health of the water in relation to the diversity of the organisms living in the stream.
They also used the summer to analyze water from Lake Carnegie and study the vegetation around the watershed.
Tornello said she became interested in the summer program after taking Zerba's class "Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Solutions," where students also use the wealth of campus resources to further their studies.
"I was intrigued by the idea of researching solutions to real and ever-present issues within the campus watershed. The convenience and access that we had to these water sources was really wonderful," Tornello said. "My labmates and I were kayaking, wading through mud and occasionally even braving drainage pipes, and yet doing so on the campus that is our home throughout the year."'
Click here to see the original article on the Princeton News page.