COA students in Dr. Sarah Hall's Watersheds course investigate Kebo stream in Acadia National...COA students in Dr. Sarah Hall's Watersheds course investigate Kebo stream in Acadia National Park. Their work led to a Best Student Poster Award at the Northeast Geological Society of Maine's student conference held at University of Maine Presque Isle.

Gibson, Gaby Moroz ’19, Mafe Aragon ’19, and Patricio Gallardo Garcia Freire ’18 presented posters and engaged in dialogue with Maine geoscience professionals and students at the conference, held at University of Maine Presque Isle.

Gibson’s research utilizes remote data analysis and field observations to identify where streams begin in a landscape. Along with Sara Löwgren ’20, COA Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Chair of Earth Systems and Geosciences Dr. Sarah Hall, and Dr. Sean M.C. Smith from the University of Maine, Gibson spent ten weeks mapping the Kebo watershed in Acadia. 

COA students (from left) Madison O'Brien '22, Patricio Gallardo Garcia Freire ’18, and Sa...COA students (from left) Madison O'Brien '22, Patricio Gallardo Garcia Freire ’18, and Sahra Gibson ’20 monitoring Kebo watershed in Acadia National Park.
“In order to protect watersheds, we need to better understand them, and this research begins to tell the story of the Kebo watershed,” Gibson said.

The project lays an important foundation for future mapping of MDI watersheds, Gibson said. It also gave her an opportunity to plan and execute a term-long research project combining skills from previous courses such as the ESTEM Professional Development courses, Geology of Mt. Desert Island, Trees and Shrubs of MDI, and Geographic Information Systems. 

Hall has been involved in monitoring the streams of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park in collaboration with Friends of Acadia for the last few years. The research aims to better characterize local watersheds through mapping and building of long-term observational datasets of stream flow and water quality parameters. This information is critical to predicting how streams may behave given different climate scenarios, including the potential size and frequency of flooding, nutrients or sediments the streams might carry with them, or how streams will interact with existing infrastructure. 

Gibson’s project became an important piece to understanding this puzzle, Hall said, and is one of many examples of how COA students can get into the field and learn experientially.

“Field work is foundational in the geosciences,” Hall said. “Not only do students learn transferable and employable hard skills connected to field methods, they also learn soft skills like teamwork, problem solving, and communication.”

COA students (from left) Sahra Gibson ’20, Mafe Aragon ’19, Gaby Moroz ’19 and Patricio Gal...COA students (from left) Sahra Gibson ’20, Mafe Aragon ’19, Gaby Moroz ’19 and Patricio Gallardo Garcia Freire ’18 with their poster at the Northeast Geological Society of Maine's student conference.
Her field-based approach engages COA students in important hands-on research, like Gibson’s project. In Watersheds, a field-based earth-science class taught in spring 2019, Hall’s nine students learned field research methods like measuring stream flow and collecting water quality samples in the streams of Acadia National Park on a weekly basis. 

Monitoring a watershed generates needed data, but, equally importantly, also allows student researchers to form a deeper understanding and connection to the watersheds they live in, said Madison O’Brien ’22. O’Brien said she appreciated getting to know her new home island and understand how human infrastructure like roads and culverts influence where the water can go. 

Sarah Gibson ’20 working in Acadia National Park.Sarah Gibson ’20 working in Acadia National Park.“I’ll never look at streams the same way after taking Watersheds. It gave me a new lens to understand this place,” O’Brien said. 

The students in “Watersheds” also learned to analyze their data and to make scientific posters. Their work, including Gibson’s award-winning poster (and plaque), are on display in the COA George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History. Other student posters from the GSM meeting are on display in the Arts and Science building. 

Gibson’s project included mapping the tributaries of the Kebo watershed, from channel head to confluences with the main channel. She used LiDAR hillshade imagery and ArcGISPro software for visual analysis and, upon identifying potential tributaries and channel heads, walked the area to ground-proof her predictions and look for features like moraines, colluvium, and exposed bedrock. The research will contribute to future planning and resource management decisions regarding infrastructure such as new bridges or culverts and water quality concerns. 

The models that guide natural resource management depend on having good data. With a scarcity of watershed data for the unique small, coastal watersheds of MDI, modelling efforts are not as robust as they could be. Mapping and monitoring are essential aspects of gathering the data needed to model and plan healthy, sustainable water management. 

Hall’s growing watershed-monitoring project continues to bring students together and into the field. The research sites, many in Acadia National Park and many at biking distance from campus, are monitored by students who want to learn experientially about research methods as part of independent, for-credit projects, senior projects, work study, or summer internships. Hall, who has previously brought COA students to Peru and California for field methods intensives, continues to teach aspiring scientists using Acadia National Park as her classroom.  

“In the field, I feel more engaged with the students and teaching feels more intuitive in a place—the field—where I’ve done a lot of my professional work,” Hall said.