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Watershed Moments

Watershed Moments

The students in Professor Antonios Marsellos’ geology class had spent the past several months studying a problem that has vexed scientists for centuries: how to help communities predict and prepare for flooding along the Mohawk River in upstate New York.

But it was a chance encounter during a trip to a conference to present their research that drove home the value of their work.

Group Picture

“When we were driving to the conference we stopped at a diner near one of my study points and the owner began talking to me – it was then that the research really came full circle,” said Lauren Mahoney ’20, an environmental resources major. “Knowing there are real people behind what we are learning always makes it so much more impactful. Whenever you are working with the environment, there’s always a human connection. There are always people involved. That’s why I love it so much.”

Student working

During the course, Geohazards: Analysis and Prediction, students worked in teams to analyze different parts of the region and sets of data, using technology such as Google Earth, Geographical Information Systems (GIS), Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), and atmospheric and hydrologic sensors.

Geology major Scott Lakeram ’18 was part of a team focused on the city of Schenectady. “We looked at water discharge data and weather data from local stations around the area,” he said “We ran stats on the data and found ultimately that the information can help us predict future flooding events.” The ultimate goal, he said, would be developing an app for predicting flooding in the area.

Mahoney and Sally Louise Roscoe ’19, a sustainability studies and geography major, were on a team that used GIS and LiDAR technology.

Student giving a presentation

“One particular flood we studied was caused by an ice jam,” Mahoney said. “This is when you have a very cold period that causes the river to freeze over, followed quickly after by a warm weather event that unfreezes it. This has become more common in recent years, so we thought it would be interesting to study it and see how that data could be used for future research.”

Student giving presentation

“Doing research and presenting research – those are two different things,” said Professor Marsellos. “Producing data and writing and presenting the data and making it understandable – this is essential. It’s important for their CV (curriculum vitae) and important for interviewing.”

“I’d never been to a conference before and I’d never done my own independent research. It was an amazing experience,” Mahoney said. “I enjoyed talking to different professors and professionals in the industry and seeing what research they are working on.”

Lakeram also valued the experience. “I’m in the process of applying to PhD programs, so an event like this helped me to network with other professors and employers,” he said “We also talked to people who live in the area and business owners told them about our research.”

Watershed Moments

The group booked a hotel along the river they had spent so many months studying. Marsellos said that interacting with area residents was among the most valuable parts of the experience for the students.

“The students connected with many local people – not purposefully. It just happened,” Marsellos said, “Even while checking into the hotel. They were asked why they were visiting. And when they explained they were there for the symposium, it started a conversation about the flooding. Students could see the reactions from people, that there is a need for what they are working on.”

Watershed Moments