A newly funded natural laboratory, designed to understand the interaction between the climate, hydrology, and the Colgate community, is now collecting data, thanks to the recent installation of specialized monitoring stations on campus and in a local creek.
Students working with Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Geosciences Joe Levy and Professor of Geography Adam Burnett this summer helped to install three custom climate monitoring stations on campus. The largest, with the most numerous systems for measuring various climate processes, is located at Colgate’s Harry H. Lang Cross Country and Fitness Trail.
The specialized scientific equipment, which costs about $60,000, was funded by the Colgate Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute, the Geology Boyce Fund, and the Department of Earth and Environmental Geosciences.
“This is research grade,” Levy said, pointing to one of the four the data-collection stations, which is situated near the trails behind Chapel House above Colgate’s campus. “It has sensors to measure energy balance — both ultraviolet and infrared rays, and photosynthetically active radiation — temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, precipitation, and snow depth. And there are even cameras for phenology, so we can capture the timing of when leaves fall and return each year.”
In addition to the monitoring station near the trails, Levy said two smaller weather stations have been placed to better understand campus microclimates — one in the forest above campus and the other in the village center atop the Colgate Bookstore. While the weather stations measure rainfall and snow, special instruments have been placed in Payne Creek to monitor the change in water level, water temperature, and salinity in order to help determine flooding risk. Groundwater and soil moisture sensors are scheduled for deployment in the spring.
The Colgate University Climate Network was created to help researchers better understand the nuances of the local climate on campus and how things like snowfall, rainfall, wind, humidity, and sunshine affect various ecosystems ranging from the top of Colgate’s old ski slope down to the bottom of the hill, where Payne Creek feeds into Taylor Lake and ultimately into the Chenango River. The northeast United States is forecast to become rainier and stormier in future years, putting pressure on communities adjacent to rivers and lakes.
“We can access that data from the cloud, and then we can monitor data that are updated every hour,” said Izzy King ’23, a geology major from Wilton, Conn. “The locations were chosen so we can get a full picture of the watershed, from high elevation to low.”
Geology students Gary Kuang ’23, Tommy Suback ’23 , and Sophie Nailer ’22 also assisted with installing the monitoring stations throughout the summer.
Levy said it will take some time before the data become useful for campus and village planners seeking to understand how the area’s watershed impacts drainage near Taylor Lake and Payne Creek — mostly because this is the first time that Colgate will have regular monitoring of important data points related to climate change and our place in it.
“We don’t really have a sense of what is normal in a year,” Levy said. “Once we have a few years of data, we’ll be able to compare those statistics with other data that have been collected in the region, and then we’ll have a better handle on what might be coming down the pipeline.”