Postcards from the field: Nicole Ward is working on linking people and water in Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire

August 9, 2018
Postcard from Nicole Ward

 

Hi! I am writing from Sunapee Harbor on Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire, USA. My field season is wrapping up now, but I’ve been here for three months!

My research is aiming to improve water quality monitoring to ensure local residents have good drinking water and recreational water value into the future. A major issue today is that most water quality monitoring protocols only collect water quality samples in one location of a lake, often near the middle or deepest location in a lake. Often, changes in water quality occur over many decades, which means that when even a small change is detected in the middle of a lake, it is likely too late to avoid a drastic decrease in water quality. My goal is to understand how targeted monitoring in different locations of a lake may indicate impending water quality changes earlier than classic monitoring protocols.

I have been collecting water quality samples in the lake and in the streams that flow into the lake, and have deployed water quality sensors in 4 locations in the lake and automated water samplers in the two largest inflow streams. By linking in-lake water quality measurements with stream measurements, we may be able to target water quality management to specific locations in the watershed that will be the most effective for achieving overall water quality goals for years and decades to come.

Checking sensors and replacing batteries before heading back to VT!

Filtering a water sample to be analyzed for dissolved organic carbon.
Filtering a water sample to be analyzed for dissolved organic carbon.

In several of these photos, you can see some of the buoys in the background or featured in the photo—we have two orange, one black, and the LSPA (Lake Sunapee Protective Association) has a large yellow buoy. All of the buoys have chains hanging in the water with various water quality sensors attached, including dissolved oxygen, temperature, and light sensors. There is also a photo of one of the automated water samplers in a large plywood box near one of the streams. I also included a picture of two loons! There are a number of loons on the lake, and it was quite fun to hear them calling all summer long. The coolest is being able to see them swimming/hunting underwater, which is only possible because the water is so clear!

Additionally, I have been working to integrate my research with local community needs. I am working with the Lake Sunapee Protective Association (LSPA; http://www.lakesunapee.org), which is a local non-profit devoted to maintaining the environmental integrity of the watershed through education, outreach, and research. They support citizen science in the watershed and maintain a water quality buoy as a part of the Global Lakes Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON; http://gleon.org). The LSPA is currently writing a watershed management plan, and my work will help inform the implementation of the management plan.

Nicole (right) meeting with stakeholders of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association

My research is part of a larger interdisciplinary and multi-institutional project, the CNH-Lakes project (https://www.cnhlakes.frec.vt.edu). As a group of ~20 researchers representing the disciplines of economics, hydrology, agronomy, limnology, and social science, we are working to understand both how humans influence water quality and how changes in water quality may alter human decision-making. By examining this two-way relationship between people and water, our major goal is to better understand how to achieve water quality goals while avoiding the unintended consequences that often plague environmental decision-making.

This field study was funded by the College of Science Roundtable Scholarship and the Lake Sunapee Protective Association. Thank you so much to logistical, field, and lab support from the LSPA, the Kathy Cottingham lab at Dartmouth (especially post-doc Jennie Brentrup!), Kathie Weathers at the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, and Lake Sunapee residents Midge and Tim Eliassen.

Nicole Ward (left) and Jennie Brentrup (right) posing with a buoy.

LSPA buoy in the middle of the lake with water quality sampling equipment on the boat.

Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire

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