Middlebury

Laura Kelly and Burch Fisher '05 assist in the most extensive bathymetric mapping of Lake Champlain ever completed

July 28, 2005

MIDDLEBURY, Vt.-Middlebury College senior Laura Kelly and recent graduate G. Burch Fisher were principal student participants on a team of scientists and researchers that has completed the "Whole Lake Survey" of Lake Champlain.  The extensive project resulted in the creation of an eight-foot bathymetric map, the most comprehensive understanding ever made available of the lake's underwater terrain.  The map was officially unveiled by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy and Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz on July 7 in the college's science facility, McCardell Bicentennial Hall.

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Vermont's Sen. Patrick Leahy took a 3-D look at the lake's bathymetry during the map's unveiling at Middlebury College's McCardell Bicentennial Hall on July 7.   Photo by Ari Joseph, courtesy of Middlebury College

Leahy is a longtime supporter of the lake survey project.  "Not only is Lake Champlain among our nation's most precious resources, but historically it may be the most significant body of water in North America," he said.  "The new map will prove to be an invaluable aid to researchers for understanding the role of hydrodynamics in the lake's living ecology."

According to Kelly, new navigation maps and charts will be created from the digital depths recorded during the "Whole Lake Survey," and every recreational and commercial boater that goes onto Lake Champlain will use these charts for a long time to come.  "The significance

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Overseeing the "Whole Lake Survey" during its 10-year progress are oceanographers Pat Manley (far left) and Tom Manley (far right), who unveiled the map on July 7 with the principal members of their research crew: (left to right) Middlebury College Professor of Geology Pat Manly, Middlebury graduate and research assistant Burch Fisher, historian and navigator Peter Barranco, navigator Kathy Bauman, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum Director Art Cohn, Middlebury senior and research assistant Laura Kelly, research assistant Marc Manley, R/V Neptune Captain Fred Fayette, nautical archeology project manager Adam Keene and Visiting Assistant Professor of Geology Tom Manley.  Photo by Ari Joseph, courtesy of Middlebury College

of this project is huge, I can't emphasize that enough," she said.  "For hundreds and hundreds of years, historical, geological, political and environmental research and policy will be based upon the information discovered by the survey."

Kelly further explains that a better understanding of lake current patterns will advance research on pollutant distribution in the lake, aid environmental remediation and affect future policies.  "Understanding lake current patterns will also affect development, as many communities get their water supply from Lake Champlain and the locations of water intake pipes and construction will be affected by ridges and currents," she said.  "Even the political boundary between New York and Vermont could be affected because there is a better understanding of the deepest points in Lake Champlain."

Middlebury geologists Patricia and Tom Manley headed the team of scientists and researchers from the college, partnering with the Ferrisburg-based Lake Champlain Maritime Museum to complete the "Whole Lake Survey."  The survey was initiated in 1996 in response to the zebra mussel invasion that threatened, among other things, a then-undiscovered quantity of historic shipwrecks believed to be resting underwater. When the Manleys began the survey, less than 10 percent of the lake floor had been mapped.  During the survey's eight-year history, 735,000 depth measurements were taken by the research team, bringing documentation of the lake's submerged landscape up to 95 percent.

Significant advances in remote sensing technology made the survey possible.  Depth measurements were taken while aboard two research vessels, Middlebury's R/V Baldwin and the Maritime Museum's R/V Neptune.  The research team used the college's side-scan sonar to collect the images, and two other new marine survey technologies were also employed to complete the map: the Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS), a series of satellites that help to continuously and accurately plot a boat's position; and state-of-the-art computers that collect, process and store vast quantities of sonar, positioning and depth information.  During the process of using tools, expertise and doggedness to pick up and handle hundreds of thousands of underwater measurements, the team not only discovered new terrain, but also more than 70 previously undiscovered shipwrecks on the lake floor.

After collecting the data, the Manleys' research team methodically processed it during the next two years.  Kelly and Fisher helped to put everything together for the actual creation and production of the map.  Kelly, majoring in environmental studies with a minor in geography, joined the project during the summer of 2003.  She surveyed the lake bottom as a member of the side-scan sonar and gradiometer team, controlled and monitored the digital acquisition of research vessel data and assisted in the archeological survey of the American Revolutionary battle of Valcour Island, located in New York's Lake Champlain waters.  While on the R/V Baldwin, she operated hydraulic equipment and ensured that safety procedures were followed.  She produced maps, images and journals for dive-team investigation of submerged objects, and reorganized, reviewed and assisted in the interpretation of seven-years' worth of bathymetric imagery for the final map.

During the 2005 summer, Kelly worked for Garrison, N.Y.-based Riverkeeper, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group that monitors the Hudson River ecosystem.  She plans to return to Middlebury in the fall to complete her senior year.

Fisher majored in geology while a student at Middlebury, and is now finishing, with the completion of the map, a year of post-graduate work with the Manley team.  He has worked on the survey project, both as a student and, after graduating in 2004, as a full-time staff member.  He collected, processed, organized and oversaw quality control of the bathymetric data, and ultimately produced the visual representation of the map.

During their respective first years at Middlebury, both Fisher and Kelly took Tom Manley's course, "Elements of Oceanography," which introduced them to the research world of Lake Champlain.  "I've been lucky enough to have this opportunity to work with Pat and Tom.  To be a co-author on this map speaks to the incredible collaboration and relationships that develop between Middlebury professors and students," said Fisher, whose significant contributions earned his name a place on the map next to that of Tom and Patricia Manley.  "Pat and Tom will be my life-long friends."

According to Kelly, every oceanography class at Middlebury College since 1996 has contributed to the survey.  Some of Middlebury's student researchers on the 10-year project were Dylan Cutler, a 2004 graduate;  Nick Prigo, a 2003 graduate; Anna Cotton and Matt Hommeyer, both 2002 graduates; Billie-Jo Gauley and Bret Tibault, both 1999 graduates; and Seth Haines, a 1997 graduate.  A local high school student, Joseph Coish, also contributed significantly to efforts of the research team, as did research assistant Marc Manley.