Student research tracks changes in environment

 

BY SHIRA KIPNEES ’15
Staff Writer
Evan Anway ’13 recently conducted a research project to study changes to the local environment by studying sediment from the West Branch Conestoga River. Anway began his research as the result of a Hackman Scholarship during Summer 2011 before resuming work as an independent study this year.

 

An environmental science major, Anway focused on reconstructing changes to the environment of the West Branch Little Conestoga River, a tributary of the Conestoga River near Millersville. In order to do this, he analyzed the river’s sediment and concretions, which are round, layered masses of calcium carbonate. By examining the composition of the concretions, Anway was able to gain insight into changes to the environment of the West Branch Little Conestoga over time.

“The concretions are similar to a pearl in that both are slow-growing, concentrically layered calcium carbonate,” Anway said. “When each calcium carbonate layer is deposited, a record of the environmental conditions — such as rainfall, temperature, or sediment in the water — is stored in the form of elemental signals. This part of my research looked specifically at how the elemental signals changed in the concretion layers, which is related to how the environment changed.”

Anway’s research began with reading literature on the topic and collecting samples, such as gathering sediment and concretions from the site being studied. After that, Anway conducted preliminary tests before going out to gather more samples and marking their locations.

He then analyzed the sediment with the help of professors and equipment at F&M before going to conduct tests with equipment at the University of North Carolina (UNC) with Justin Ries ’98.

The project revealed that approximately 5,600 years ago, the research site was formerly a marsh with slow-moving water and access to sunlight, allowing concretions to grow near springs. About 1,000 years ago, however, enough sediment washed downstream to bury the concretions and stop their growth. During the settlement of the area 300 years ago, a road was built over the marsh and a dam was built downstream, which flooded the area. When the dam breached, a stream formed and incised into the sediment, exposing the sediment and concretions.

Anway wanted to conduct this research because it combined biology, chemistry, and geology within the sphere of environmental science.

“I love the intricate connection between these disciplines, and this project illustrated that relationship very well,” Anway said.

However, that also posed challenges, as he had to use his knowledge from across all those fields of study.

For their role in helping his research project, Anway thanked Dorothy Merritts, professor of geosciences, and Robert Walter ’75, associate professor of geosciences, among others.

After graduating in May, Anway hopes to earn a graduate degree in environmental studies and continue his research.

“My goal is to improve the relationships between human and natural systems, and a very important part of that process is to further our understanding of how these systems work,” Anway said. “However, there are many other career paths that might also be interesting, and I’m just excited to start exploring!”

Questions? Email Shira at skipnees@fandm.edu.

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