Storm King School Students Study “A Day in the Life of the Hudson River” (October, 2013)

Written by: Xenia Ferencevych

Ten environmental science students from The Storm King School furthered an ongoing, region-wide study of the Hudson River, a prominent feature of the school’s landscape, as Storm King Mountain sits high above the historic estuary. It was a chance for them to come off the Mountain to conduct real scientific work and contribute to major research about the Hudson.

The students participated in “A Day in the Life of the Hudson River”, an event coordinated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson River Estuary Program, with assistance from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The day focuses on educating students about the changes in the health and wellness of the river. Students and individuals collaborate with environmental professionals to observe marine life, collect and test water and sediment samples and other data at dozens of points along the Hudson — from Troy Dam to New York Harbor. The information is then entered into a designated website, to be shared and studied by students and educators. According to the NYSDEC website, these data create “snapshots” so that students “can better understand how their piece of the river fits into the larger Hudson estuary ecosystem.”

The Storm King School students have participated and contributed their findings to the database since 2009. SKS biology teacher Mr. James Uhlig leads the expeditions and is excited about the experiential opportunity it provides, because the students are doing true environmental science work: collecting and analyzing information in the field. “It’s really neat. I love it. Especially because the professionals are involved. So, they help us. So it’s not just an exercise, it’s a real thing,” says Uhlig.

Mr. Uhlig says that studying the Hudson is a feature of the environmental science curriculum and that the NYSDEC and Columbia University offer lesson plans for teachers to use in the classroom. He says the data collected allows them to discuss changes in the river over space and time. His hope is that students learn to appreciate the river as an essential part of their environment.

This year, the SKS environmental science class was joined at the Newburgh waterfront by NYSDEC fisheries expert Ryan Coulter. The students received a general site description, tested the pH and turbidity (cloudiness) of the water, measured dissolved oxygen, fished for species native to the estuary and tested the tides and currents. “It was very dramatic how the river rose ten inches in less than an hour, so it showed the kids that at that time the river was running north, not south!” says Mr. Uhlig.

Analysis of the data was immediate. Benissa Uwamwiza (SKS ’14) reported that the Hudson at Newburgh was clear for about 34 inches, while the pH was measured at 7.4.  Unfortunately, they did not catch any fish, though the experience of fishing was a first for her and most of her classmates.

Miss Uwamwiza says that overall, “A Day in the Life of the Hudson River” was a positive experience, “It was a cold day, but I actually really liked it…because…we’re trying to help the Hudson River…and by doing this, we improve the water species.”

The Storm King School is already looking ahead to next year and is trying to secure another spot to study along the Hudson. Now in its 11th year, more than 3,500 people participate in “A Day in the Life of the Hudson River”. It takes place in conjunction with National Estuaries Day and World Water Monitoring Day.

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