Divestment from fossil fuels (student guest post)

Over the next month, I hope to post some of the highlights from the journals of EES-28 students.  If students put together a particularly well-written and thoughtful entry, they are given the option of editing it and putting it here for others in the class (and the world) to see.

Divestment from fossil fuels 

College of the Atlantic, Foothill-De Anza Community College, Green Mountain College, Hampshire College, Naropa University, Peralta Community College, Prescott College, San Francisco State University, Sterling College, and Unity College. What do these schools have in common? These schools, along with numerous cities and foundations across the country, have boldly chosen not to invest in any of the 200 largest fossil fuel corporations over the next few years. The campaign for fossil-fuel divestment has been gaining steam since its start a few years ago, and the movement essentially calls for institutions to divest their endowments from the dirty and dangerous fossil fuel industry that has had catastrophic effects on the environment. The fundamental goal of the movement is to have universities and foundations invest in a safe, clean future for current students and generations to come. Nationwide there are approximately 300 colleges and universities engaged in divestment campaigns.

Divestment at Lehigh University

Experts agree that the burning of fossil fuels has and will continue to have catastrophic effects on environment, including climate change, ocean acidification, as well as extraction related disasters, and the recent IPCC report highlights the urgency of these problems.

In September of 2013, Lehigh University joined the nationwide divestment movement. The movement on campus is being led by Lehigh’s premier environmental advocacy group, Green Action. Green Action has called upon President Gast and Lehigh’s Board of Trustees to:

“immediately freeze any new investment in companies responsible for the extraction, refinement, and processing of fossil fuels, and any companies whose sole purpose is to support these aforementioned companies, completely divest within five years from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include public equities and corporate bonds associated with the companies mentioned above and increase investments in renewable energy companies.”

The campaign has also specifically requested that the Board of Trustees ensures that the next university president is truly committed to sustainable development, and is willing to make Lehigh University a model university by divesting from fossil fuels. Currently many students are unaware of the movement at Lehigh, which is why Green Action is actively trying to generate awareness.


Lehigh University’s endowment totals over one billion dollars, and therefore how it choses to invest these funds should be based on BOTH economics and ethics.  The university has recently emphasized sustainability on campus, implementing a nearly 30-page Campus Sustainability Plan that incorporates climate and energy, food and dining services, and building and land use.  However, by continuing to invest in the fossil fuel industry instead of renewables, the present management of the endowment undermines these activities. Most arguments against divestment center on economics, although several analyses reveal that divestment has not resulted in lower returns on investment, and institutions of higher learning should certainly also consider the ethics of investments.  If Lehigh were to successfully divest, they would set a strong example for other schools and become a leader in the effort to slow the rate of climate change. Although Lehigh’s current president, Alice Gast, is on the Board of Directors at Chevron, she will hopefully still be able to lend her support to this campaign.


There is also a petition that allows students to display their support for the divestment campaign. Please support the campaign by signing the petition: http://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/petitions/lehigh-university-go-fossil-free



Testate amoebae from the end of the earth!

Originally posted on From inside the shell:

Contributed by Matt Amesbury

The moss banks on Green Island on the Antarctic Peninsula provide a vivid green splash amidst the surrounding ice caps, glaciers and icebergs (Photo: Matt Amesbury)

The moss banks on Green Island on the Antarctic Peninsula provide a vivid green splash amidst the surrounding ice caps, glaciers and icebergs (Photo: Matt Amesbury)

The use of testate amoebae as a proxy for past changes in the hydrological status of peatlands has become ever more popular over the past two decades. Studies have been carried out over an increasing geographical range covering most major areas of northern hemisphere peatlands as well as in Patagonia and New Zealand amongst other places south of the equator. Despite this pushing of “amoebal” boundaries, there is one place you might certainly expect to be able to rule out moss-based testate studies: Antarctica.

Close up of Polytrichum strictum moss growing on Green Island (Photo: Matt Amesbury)

Close up of Polytrichum strictum moss growing on Green Island (Photo: Matt Amesbury)

Only a tiny 0.3% of the Antarctic continent is ice free, yet in parts of this seemingly minute slither, the climate is…

View original 841 more words

Opening the Pandora box of community ecology – The value of long-term data sets and collaborative research

Originally posted on From inside the shell:

Community ecologists study how communities of plants, animals and other organisms vary in space and time, how they interact and what controls these patterns. To do this they usually either observe (more or less) natural communities or conduct experimental manipulation in the field (in situ experiments) or in controlled conditions (mesocosms, microcosms). Observational studies of natural communities have the longest history and have contributed to major (and often controversial) theories in ecology such as the intermediate disturbance hypothesis (IDH). Starting with the more easily studies taxonomic groups such as vascular plants observational studies of natural communities have expanded to covering numerous taxonomic groups, including microbes and of course testate amoebae.

In order to describe the ecological preferences of species numerous plots need to be studied, typically in the range of 50-100 or more if possible. And even so, most studies end up with a fair number of rare species, which…

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Field work…it’s not just the science

For me anyway.

One of the highlights of being an ecologist is spending time in the field making observations, thinking about patterns, asking questions, and collecting data to answer those questions.  In fact, it is hard to believe that we call this stuff “field work,” because as anyone that spends time in the natural world knows, simply getting out there can be a tremendous source of inspiration and rejuvenation. One of the ways that I reconnect to the splendor of “field work” is to paint. Now that the fall semester is over, I’m looking forward to spending a little time painting with my daughter. In the spirit of the holiday, below I share a few field-site and field-related paintings that have special meaning to me….

Fallison Bog Pond. Oil on canvas.  Located in northern Wisconsin, this small pond is surrounded by an extensive Sphagnum-dominated peat mat and has served as an important site in ongoing studies of peatland development (e.g., Ireland et al. 2013)

October at Fallison Bog. Oil on canvas, 2013. Located in northern Wisconsin, this small pond is surrounded by an extensive Sphagnum-dominated peat mat and has served as an important site in ongoing studies of peatland development. Started with the help of my daughter, and some of her brush strokes are still there.

October at Fallison Bog.  Fallison Bog Pond is a small peatland pond in northern Wisconsin, near the Trout Lake Limnological Research Station. The place is particularly significant for me – for both personal and professional reasons. We have been monitoring testate amoeba communities and hydrology of the bog, and other bogs in the region, every few years since 2003 (see here for more on testate amoebae). Also, we are currently investigating processes controlling peatland development, and Fallison Bog is a critical site in this effort.

The bog was also one of the first field sites that I dragged my future wife into, in a memorable trip in April of 2004. She learned the hard way that sometimes bog mats are pretty thin along the lake edge. Wisconsin water is very cold in April.

Erythrina herbacea. Oil on canvas. Growing on the sound-side of St. Catherine's Island, a barrier island on the coast of Georgia where I did my masters research.

Erythrina herbacea. Oil on canvas, 1998. Growing on the sound-side of St. Catherine’s Island, a barrier island on the coast of Georgia. An interesting plant, it apparently contains toxic alkaloids that induce paralysis (wikipedia).

Erythrina herbacea.  St. Catherine’s Island is a barrier island along the coast of Georgia in the southeastern United States. I was fortunate to spend time on the island in  1996-1998 as part of my masters thesis research on the vegetation history of the area. At the time, I was really immersed in field botany; in fact, most of the time that I wasn’t spending on my thesis research was spent collecting and identifying plants.  This specimen of Erythrina herbacea caught my attention, something about the subtle beauty of the red flowers rising from the chaos of the downed tree, all against the backdrop of the quiet sound behind the island.  I gave this painting to my masters thesis advisor –  a truly fantastic person and one of the most genuine people I have ever met.

Henderson Peatlands A and B. Oil on canvas.

Henderson Peatlands. Oil on canvas, 2002. Two peatlands in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, near the town of Basalt.

Henderson Peatlands.  Peatlands are not particularly common in the central and southern Rocky Mountains, but where they do occur, they offer unique habitat and striking visual contrasts with the surrounding landscape.  I fondly recall the field work for a project in 2002 that required sampling testate amoebae and vegetation in numerous peatlands in Colorado and Wyoming. I was particularly impressed by this vista from near Josephine Lake (3535 m elevation) in Colorado. From the ridge above the lake, two peatlands could be seen to the south nestled in the surrounding deep-green forest.  Informally named the Henderson peatlands, after the nearby Henderson Park Trail, these peatlands contained three species of Sphagnum (S. russowii, S. platyphyllum, and S. warnstorfii) and a diverse association of testate amoebae.

Evening on Au Train Lake. Oil on canvas, 2001.

Evening on Au Train Lake. Oil on canvas, 2001. View from cabin on the edge of Au Train Lake in Upper Michigan.

Evening on Au Train Lake. A portion of summer 2000 was spent in Upper Michigan working with a team of researchers on a project focused on understanding the past water-level fluctuations of Lake Superior, and the impacts of climate changes on coastal wetlands. The peat coring was exhausting, fraught with equipment difficulties and woody peats, and the deer flies were thick. But it didn’t matter….this was Upper Michigan. I have pleasant memories of sitting in front of the cabin, keying out wetland Carex species, and talking ecology and geology with good friends and colleagues. The cabin was only a couple miles inland from Lake Superior, and almost walking distance from our field sites.

Salt marsh and hammock. Oil on canvas, 1998. An area near Cracker Tom Hammock on St. Catherine's Island.

Salt marsh and hammock. Oil on canvas, 1998. An area near Cracker Tom Hammock on St. Catherine’s Island.

Salt marsh and hammock. Another one from St. Catherine’s Island; the location of this scene was very close to where I collected one of the sediment cores used in my masters thesis.  One species of grass, Spartina alterniflora, dominates most of the salt marsh on the east coast of North America.  Although there is low botanical diversity in much of the extensive lower portion of these salt marshes, they are highly productive ecosystems with some very unusual biogeochemical processes.  I can almost smell the hydrogen sulfide when I look at this one.

Tahquamenon Falls. Oil on Canvas, 2000.

Tahquamenon Falls. Oil on Canvas, 2000. A common tourist attraction in Upper Michigan.

Tahquamenon Falls. Another one from Upper Michigan. The Tahquamenon River drains extensive areas of cedar swamp and peatland, making the water dark and humic-stained. During several years of field work in Upper Michigan, this was a nice late afternoon or evening destination when a break was needed. The area is a common tourist attraction, and apparently the location of Henry Longfellow’s “The Song of Hiawatha.”  A nice hike to the waterfalls (there are actually two of them) through hemlock, yellow birch, and white pine forest can be followed by a good beer at the Tahquamenon Brewery.

Canoeing with Clea. Oil on canvas, 2013. Not really a field-site related painting, but a memorable day exploring a wetland along a tributary of Promised Land Lake in the Poconos of Pennsylvania.

Canoeing with Clea. Oil on canvas, 2013.  A memorable day exploring a wetland along a creek associated with Promised Land Lake in the Poconos of Pennsylvania.

Canoeing with Clea. This one is not really a field site but I’ll end with it because it brings back particularly strong positive feelings. It captures a moment spent  with my daughter exploring the riparian wetland adjacent to a small creek connected to Promised Land Lake in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. This was her first time on water, and it was a truly spectacular day enjoying nature.

Happy holidays. Recharge and seek inspiration. Spend some time with family doing what you love.

Save the Tangled Bank!


Nice article Michelle. Too bad the paper didn’t publish it. The site has historical significance and is a great outdoor laboratory for students.

Originally posted on In the Forgotten Forest:

Although I submitted this article to Lehigh’s student newspaper a few months ago, The Brown and White, it never got published (in the paper or online) for unbeknownst reasons. It refers to the upcoming plans to renovate Williams Hall, and my concerns for the future fascinating and historical forest directly adjacent to the building.

The recently drafted Campus Master Plan lays out the administrative vision for future improvements to Lehigh’s Campus. (Check out the whole plan at https://www.lehigh.edu/~inspig/lu_cmp_book_10-4-12.pdf).  I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to attend a graduate student senate meeting focused on aspects of this plan, and was very troubled by the idea to re-landscape the area behind Williams Hall (the building behind Linderman Library that housed Earth and Environmental Sciences before STEPS was built) to allow more pedestrian access. Although plans have not been implemented yet, I worry that the ecological, historical, and educational significance…

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