ST. ALBANS – The St. Albans Area Watershed Association (SAAWA) reorganized during their annual meeting last week, adding a new vice president to their board before hearing updates from several environment- and water-related projects in their namesake watershed.
The headlining presentation was from University of Vermont Associate Professor Andrew Schroth, a geologist studying algal blooms in St. Albans and Missisquoi Bays with a small array of EPSCoR research buoys.
EPSCoR, or Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, is a division established by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to promote sciences in states traditionally overlooked by federal funding.
In Vermont, EPSCoR research includes Basin Resilience to Extreme Events (BREE), which explores “resilience in the social ecological system” of the Lake Champlain Basin through means that include the buoys Schroth uses in St. Albans and Missiquoi bays.
“What we’re focused on now are extreme events,” Schroth explained, something the geologist said would become increasingly common as the climate continues to change.
“Weather events are happening according to climate models,” he said. “If you look at the long-term monitoring data of [U.S. Geological Survey] gauges, you’d see that flows are increasing and storms are increasing.
“In the northeast, one component of climate change is that storms are going to get stronger and they’re going to be more persistent.”
Those weather events led to spikes of phosphorous loading into watersheds, Schroth explained, citing two specific “500-year events” from 2011 where scientists observed sharp, corresponding increases in phosphorous flows into the watershed.
The events Schroth cited were 2011’s spring melt and Hurricane Irene, which washed a significant amount of phosphorous into both the Missisquoi and Winooski Rivers, according to Schroth.
“Stuff moves as we have these big storms,” he summarized.
Schroth’s data charts listed Hurricane Irene as a tropical storm, as the hurricane had slowed in intensity by the time it swept toward inland New England.
Schroth switched gears toward the small array of buoys BREE deployed in the St. Albans and Missisquoi Bays. Reportedly, when taking samples, BREE will deploy one buoy in Missisquoi Bay and two buoys in St. Albans Bay – one close to the bay’s outlet and another closer to shore.
Those buoys are moved to other points in the bodies of water depending on what the buoy observed, based on tracking the movement of both nutrients and blue-green algae blooms.
Each buoy features a meteorological station for measuring weather and a sensor for vertically profiling the waterbody. Once an hour, that sensor is dipped into the bay, collecting information on acidity, oxygen and temperature, as well as pigments typically associated with algal blooms.
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