F&M Stories

'Streams are the Canary in the Coal Mine'

Water has a lot to say, if you know how to listen.

"Streams are like the proverbial 'canary in the coal mine' for changes in the landscape," said Andy de Wet, professor of geosciences and program chair of Environmental Science at Franklin & Marshall College.

de Wet is joined by sophomore Sydney Levins in an effort to examine the stream-channel dynamics of Fishing Creek North Nature Preserve in Lancaster County.

"I liked the idea of investigating the effects that humans have on the local watershed. Specifically, I enjoy looking at the straightening of the stream reaches in the 1940s and the recent restoration projects," said Levins, who is majoring in environmental science with a concentration in biology.

Fishing Creek supports a wild trout population and is supplemented by trout stocking every spring. Fish species found in the Susquehanna River also use the creek for spawning, early life stages and seasonal movements.

Many stream reaches (designated sections) within the Fishing Creek watershed were straightened or aligned in the early 1900s, and thus were forced further out of equilibrium.

Using aerial photography and Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping, Levins is studying if the stream reaches are attaining equilibrium over time from the 1940s to now.

"Sinuosity of the streams is heavily impacted by many variables, including land use, man-made structures, straightening and restoration projects. My responsibilities are mainly finding, uploading and digitizing stream-reach imagery using GIS," Levins said.

The impact was one that Levins found startling.

"I was surprised by how long it has taken for the streams to recover from the harmful effects of humans. The streams are still trying to reach equilibrium after the straightening projects that occurred about 80 years ago," said Levins, who plans to attend graduate school and pursue projects focusing on coral reefs.

"Streams respond dynamically to natural and human-induced changes, so observing and understanding stream changes can provide insights into human actions in the past and how the environment is changing now. It is clear that many streams in the Fishing Creek watershed are still changing in response to human actions," de Wet said.

Fishing Creek is one of several watersheds studied by F&M students through Center for Sustained Engagement with Lancaster and Lancaster Conservancy partnerships.

"I liked the idea of investigating the effects that humans have on the local watershed."

– Sydney Levins

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