COA students presented work covering heavy metal presence in regional water systems, the impact of rain events on groundwater, seabird health and activity, intertidal organisms, beaver impacts on local watersheds, and more.
The symposium, in person after several years of COVID-related disruption, focuses on local science conducted in and around Acadia National Park and the issues concerning residents of the area. Much of the science presented each year is connected to questions about resource management and the impacts of climate change, said Sarah Hall, COA Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Chair in Earth Systems and Geosciences.
“It is one of my favorite conferences for sure, because it’s regional, and specific to this place,” Hall said. “Students get to hear about work going on in places they are becoming familiar with as they explore the environment around campus”.
Arsenic in soil due to pesticide use and in drinking water from private wells is a prominent health concern for Maine residents. Lenka Slamova ’24, Ben Capuano ’23, Adam Feher ’23, and Ludwin Moran Sosa ’24 have been conducting research on arsenic content in the Acadia area and presented their research at this year’s symposium.
“I was happy to see that research is becoming more community based. There’s increasingly more collaboration between scientists and those concerned and affected by an environmental problem,” Slamova said. Her research focused on arsenic in the surface soil of apple orchards around Mount Desert Island due to historic use of pesticides.
Capuano’s study on the impact of rainstorms on arsenic levels in private wells was inspired after working with All About Arsenic, a nonprofit project that provides tools for conducting arsenic tests in private well water in Maine and New Hampshire and for education about reducing arsenic intake. Capuano received a Maine Space Grant to conduct this research, and began the research two summers ago, with help from Hall, Madalyn Adams ’23, and Dr. Jane Disney, an environmental health scientist at the MDI Biolab.
“Drought is predicted to be more common in coastal Maine in the future due to climate change, but when it does rain, it’s supposed to rain harder. So, in theory if there was an interaction between arsenic concentrations and precipitation in the summer, it would only get more intense. Luckily, results showed there’s not a ton of variation associated with the rain events in most wells,” he said. “The take home message is you should keep an eye on your well water and understand that arsenic levels could maybe move up or down a little bit after a rainstorm, but generally, you’re pretty safe.”
Feher, who studied arsenic abundance in arugula and kale, Capuano, and Slamova all presented alongside each other at the event. “We had kind of a section of the room that was just for us arsenic people,” Capuano said with a chuckle, “and it was super nice to just talk to people about this stuff. I had a map of where the wells used in the project were, and people would come up to me and point to a location on the map and be like, ‘That’s where my well is, what should I be worried about?’”
Ludwin Moran Sosa ’24 shared research from his study on the water quality from different taps around COA campus. He found that the content of heavy metals inthe water changes from building to building due to different pipes, even though all of COA’s water comes from the same municipal source. The results of Sosa’s study concluded that all campus water is safe to drink, although in two buildings the levels, while below the legal limit for Maine, were above the limit for drinking water in public schools in the state. Sosa immediately contacted COA’s Campus Planning and Building Committee, and remediation actions have since been taken.
“I’m starting to understand water on a deeper level,” Sosa said. He plans to continue to learn about how water can be filtered and cleaned to help figure out solutions for the current environmental crisis in the watersheds of El Salvador.
Eleanor Gnam ’23 presented on the research she conducted on Great Duck Island where she used temperature sensors to monitor microclimates within Leach’s Storm-Petrel burrows, a small seabird that nests on Great Duck every year. Great Duck Island is one of COA’s two islands, located in Frenchman Bay, that COA students can live on during the summer to conduct research, create art, or do other types of projects.
Rosie Chater ’25 and Marina Schnell ’25 presented at the symposium about research they conducted on Mount Desert Rock, COA’s other research island. Chater researched the fledging success of gulls with help from Schnell, who also studied intertidal organisms on the Rock.
“Everything to do with gulls is centered around their decline, because they’ve been in a steep 17% decline for the last few decades in the western North Atlantic. We happen to have the two islands with nesting colonies in the gulf of Maine that have increasing colonies, and so that’s why we’re really interested in looking at what’s going on in those colonies. The fledging of the birds there is really important,” Chater said.
“I think that the opportunities we have with these islands are just unmatched and they’re totally worth partaking in for students,” said Chater.
Joshua Harkness ’25 and Lily Dutton ’25 presented at the symposium about the local beaver dam rupture that happened at Breakneck road in Bar Harbor during the summer of 2021. Harkness, Dutton, Mafe Aragon Orrego ’21, and Sarah Hall worked together to map the flow path of the debris flow that came out of the dam event rupture.
“People were pretty excited to see that mapped because it’s been making news in the town that there was that debris flow and rockfall. And since then, people have been telling us their story of the Breakneck Road. This project is getting into the realm of human history documentation,” Hall said.
Emma Damm ’22, a seasonal employee at Acadia, presented a poster about her COA senior project, which she conducted last spring, surveying amphibians on Duck Brook Road and saving the data for the park.
COA Emily and Mitchell Rales Chair in Ecology Chris Petersen and Bik Wheeler ’09, M.Phil ’18, who is now a wildlife biologist for Acadia National Park, gave talks at this year’s symposium.
Petersen gave a talk as part of a collaborative project with the Town of Mount Desert and Acadia National Park working with the community to assess the health of Otter Cove as well as potential pathways to remediate any problems. There is concern the causeway built on Acadia’s park loop road in 1938 that passes over the mouth of Otter Creek has caused reduced flow through the inner cove and is having a detrimental effect on the environment. This collaborative community science project was started as a collaboration of Acadia National Park and the Town of Mount Desert (including Sustainability Committee chair Phil Lichtenstein ’92), through the Thriving Earth Exchange.
“The science faculty often have active grants that include research stipends for students. Students should be in touch with the faculty members to find out about any opportunities,” said Hall. In addition to grants, COA students have often done internships and received support with the two laboratories on the island, The Jackson Laboratory and the MDI Biological Laboratory.
“Having COA representation, especially students, is absolutely part of the Symposium! COA researchers (students and professors) are one of the most common species of scientist in Acadia, and so it is important that you all participate in the symposium and share your work with the broader community of science in Acadia. Thank you for helping to better understand ongoing change in the park,” president and CEO of Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park Nicholas Fisichelli said via email.