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Megan Fung '10, Katie Giuliano '10 and Ryan Jorrey '10 Study Sedimentology in Oneida Lake

By Laura Bramley
Posted August 21, 2008
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Although Hamilton students have traveled to different sites across the country this summer in pursuit of research opportunities, conducting fieldwork doesn't necessarily involve traveling to a remote area. Some sites are found right in Central New York. Megan Fung '10, Katie Giuliano '10 and Ryan Jorrey '10, working with Joel W. Johnson Family Professor of Geosciences Eugene Domack, are studying a well-known local landmark, mapping the sedimentology of the east end of Oneida Lake.

Setting out with Professor Domack on Hamilton's own research vessel, the pontoon boat RV Continental Drifter, Fung, Giuliano and Jorrey took survey lines and collected samples of lake bottom surface sediments. Along the survey lines, the students used a transducer and echo sounder to determine the lake's underwater topography. By connecting the topographic readings to a GPS system, they were then able to map the lake bottom. The students also analyzed the samples they collected for sediment grain sizes, the ratio of carbon and nitrogen isotopes, and the magnetic sensitivity of each sample area. Studying the geographic distribution of the variables will hopefully begin to reveal trends in the lake's sediment distribution paths and erosion patterns.

One particular issue at the eastern end of the lake is the erosion of Sylvan Beach. By investigating sediment distribution in the area, Professor Domack's team can gain a better understanding of exactly how erosion from the beach is occurring. This research will be useful to the Oneida Lake Watershed Management Plan in determining how and whether trying to rebuild the beach would be a feasible option. The Erie Canal, which runs into Oneida Lake at Sylvan Beach, also affects erosion patterns since it disrupts natural sediment distribution in the lake. However, sediments dredged from the canal might also be used to rebuild the beach.

The students have a large set of data to analyze, with around 15-20 survey lines and over 100 sediment samples, and they say that although they are starting to see some patterns, it is still too early in the project to determine concrete trends. The most difficult part of their work, the students say, is to take diverse kinds of data and combine them into one coherent picture. The research will run over multiple summers, since Professor Domack's eventual goal is to map the sedimentology of the entire lake. Fung and Jorrey anticipate continuing with their work into the coming semester, while Giuliano will be studying abroad in the fall.

All three students are geology majors, and they have previously taken courses from Professor Domack. They say that doing summer research complements their classes by allowing them to learn lab procedures and gain experience with fieldwork. "There's a lot you can learn in a classroom," Jorrey notes, "but when you go out and work with samples, it's a whole different experience." The students also enjoy the chance to participate in the first substantial study on Oneida Lake, which, as a remnant from a glacial lake, is a unique geological formation in the state.

Another of the lake's unique qualities, its east-west orientation, made data collection much more exciting at times, since the team had to look out for fast-approaching storms from the west. "We were out on the lake and the wind picked up," recalls Giuliano. "There were four- and five-foot swells." In a pontoon boat loaded with scientific equipment, staying on track – and on board – was one of the day's challenges. 

 -- by Laura Bramley

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