Watershed-Based Integration of Hydrology, Geochemistry, and Geophysics in an Environmental Geology Curriculum

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Inquiry-based study focused on the campus watershed was initiated at Binghamton University after creation of an undergraduate Environmental Geology Track within the Geological Sciences curriculum. Use of the watershed in environmental geology courses has been implemented to 1) promote active learning outside of the classroom; 2) allow students to work with state of the art field and laboratory equipment and "real world" data; and 3) encourage interdisciplinary thinking. The longer-term goal is to enable undergraduates to conduct meaningful, field based, "capstone" research projects. A grant from the National Science Foundation supported instrumentation of the entire campus watershed into a readily accessible field laboratory; included are groundwater monitoring wells, equipment for measuring and sampling stream flow, a meteorological station, a wet and dry deposition collector for sampling atmospheric quality, and portable environmental monitoring equipment. In addition, geophysical equipment, including seismic refraction and reflection, DC electrical resistivity, and gravity anomaly measurements, is used to determine subsurface structure at various locations on campus. The undergraduates are now able to explore differences in physical and chemical processes between and within the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere on real-time scales. The use of this equipment and the watershed focus has been fully incorporated into three inquiry-based undergraduate courses (Environmental Hydrology, Environmental Geophysics, and Environmental Measurements) to foster interdisciplinary learning about the complexity of watershed-based processes. This manuscript describes the campus field stations, presents examples of field exercises, and assesses the impacts of the program to date.

INTRODUCTION

Binghamton University is located within the Fuller Hollow Creek watershed, an 8 km^sup 2^ basin draining to the Susquehanna River near the Pennsylvania border in southern New York (Figure 1). The headwaters are steeply sloped, primarily forested, and are sparsely developed. Downstream, the main branch of Fuller Hollow Creek is bordered by a suburban residential development to the east and by campus to the west. An 80 hectare Nature Preserve owned by the university borders the campus to its south, and includes forest, wetland, and a 2.4 hectare pond. In combination, the diverse characteristics of the watershed provide opportunities for interdisciplinary study of natural and anthropogenic processes within the confines of a university campus.

Interdisciplinary, watershed-based study was initiated at Binghamton University after creation of an undergraduate Environmental Geology Track within the Geological Sciences curriculum in 1998. This curriculum revision was based in part on pedagogical study that indicates that participating in a laboratory or field exercise enhances students' ability to relate to, analyze, and understand real world data and the process they are testing (National Science Foundation, 1996; Boyer Commission, 1998; McKeachie, 1998); and actively performing work rather than simply taking notes during lectures more than doubles students' comprehension and retention (Felder and Silverman, 1988; Woods, 1989). We incorporated these pedagogical findings within a watershed-based focus during creation and revision of environmental geology courses to 1) promote active learning outside of the classroom, 2) allow students to work with state of the art field and laboratory equipment and analyze their own "real world" data, and 3) encourage interdisciplinary learning about the environment through use of the watershed on campus.

Our efforts to use the watershed as a teaching tool have been adapted and modified from experiences of others. The use of small well fields to provide a field laboratory for students of hydrogeology has been implemented with success in recent years (Fletcher, 1994; Rahn and Davis, 1996; Hluchy, 1997; Hluchy, 1998). …