Susquehanna River Initiative

Bucknell University Environmental Center

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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

From the Chesapeake to the Puget Sound

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Professor of biology Matthew McTammany and students in a new River Initiative course, Watershed systems Science collect and analyze aquatic macroinvertebrate communities in Roaring Creek, an instrumented watershed operated by Bucknell University in agreement with Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
The Susquehanna River is the greatest contributor of fresh water to the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States. The Puget Sound is the second largest estuary, an arm of the Pacific Ocean that extends inland where it meets 19 different river basins. The Bay and the Sound experience tidal flows and there is a changing mixture of fresh and salt waters.

These watersheds have been the home of Native Americans for thousands of years, who relied upon the rivers and forests for their livelihood. But from the earliest European settlements to the 21st century, these regions have undergone vast changes in land use, including logging, oil and natural gas development, coal mining, agriculture, industrialization and urban growth.

Since the 1970s, the overall health of the rivers and coastal areas have been gradually improving in distinct ways, especially as abandoned mine discharge and sediment and pollutant runoff is addressed and reduced. Of great importance is the continued monitoring of the estuaries and regulation of water withdrawals from the basin and the quality of discharges to the estuaries.

Another benefit has been the implementation of best management practices (BMPs) by the agriculture, timbering, mining, and natural gas industries.
The difficulties these watersheds face are complex and the Susquehanna River and Puget Sound face enormous pressure from many different directions.

Additional research and awareness is needed, especially of its hydrology and physical habitat, and how dissolved oxygen fluctuations, heavy metals and endocrine disrupters are affecting aquatic life. Also of concern is the potential impact of the development of natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale, which underlies much of the watershed’s headwater regions.

The mission of Bucknell on the Susquehanna is exacting that: to provide students a life-changing, field-based experience that’s on the river, throughout the watershed, and across the bay and nation.
A sojourn to two major estuaries and watersheds:
  • Study the fascinating history of Native American and early European settlements along the river and visit sites today.
  • Learn about logging on watersheds across the United States and how scientists are documenting its impact on streams over 100 years later.
  • Learn about the legacy of mining - both gravel and coal - on the watershed.
  • Visit Marcellus natural gas well and meet environmental scientists and geologists working in this field.
  • Visit hydroelectric and nuclear power facilities in the Susquehanna and the Puget Sound watersheds and compare.
  • Spend four days on the river, learning about the natural history of the Susquehanna River on a two-day overnight river sojourn. Paddle and snorkel the river to learn about its hydrology, geology, and ecology up close.
  • Visit an active coal strip mine and learn state-of-the-art mine reclamation and AMD treatment technologies.
  • Agriculture is the number one threat to the Chesapeake Bay; visit a working dairy farm within the watershed and learn about nutrient management and trading, and reduction.
  • Learn about engineering marvels in the watershed, including bridges across the Susquehanna, hydropower and nuclear power facilities.
  • Study the aquatic life in the river - from macro invertebrates and mussels in the river bed sediments to fish and plants and how these natural ecosystems are impacted by land use and climate change.
  • Learn about the importance of floods in watersheds, prehistoric mega-floods and the largest historical floods on record, and how they have shaped the landscape, the estuaries, and river and coastal communities therein.
  • Go sea-kayaking in the Puget Sound and learn about urban volcanic hazards surrounding Mount Rainier.
watershed-based courses
The Susquehanna River - A Natural History
FOUN 090 - Section 35
Susquehanna landscape and geology, forest ecology and hydrology glaciation and wetlands, lakes and ponds, rivers and floods, aquatic ecosystems and river scape, human cultures and history, economic development within the watershed, oil, natural gas, and coal resource extraction in the basin, nuclear and hydropower, climate change and the future.
Watershed Systems Science
UNIV 299
Watersheds regulate water flow and ecosystem health on our landscape. Team-taught field course integrating physical, chemical and biological processes in watersheds, using the Susquehanna River and tributaries.

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Stream Restoration
UNIV 298
Scientific principles to integrate physical and biological approaches to stream restoration in watershed management. Team-taught field course highlights developing stream restoration plan of Bucknell's Miller Run.
Water Resources Engineering
CENG 320
Planning, design, and operation of water resources projects with emphasis on hydrology, hydraulic structures, and open and closed conduits; applications in stormwater management and water supply.
Sedimentation Engineering
CENG 429
Mechanics of free-surface flows in rivers; introduction to sediment transport mechanisms; application to river engineering design (bridge crossings, culverts, flood control, river stabilization).

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