Trip 3 - Northeast
The focus of Trip 3 is on ecology and genetics. Within these broad topics we explore the Maple/Beech/Birch forest type, bogs and intertidal zones. Species interactions, such as competition, predation and symbiosis will be experienced. Photosynthesis and cellular respiration will be covered to the extent that their roles in ecology can be understood but more in-depth coverage of these topics will be saved for Trip 6. All topics within genetics will be explored ranging from Mendelian genetics and the inheritance of traits to molecular genetics and the chemical mechanisms that allow inheritance to occur. Finally, the processes of cell division and reproduction (mitosis and meiosis) will be explored.
Trip 3 is one where the order of the sites is based more on the seasons than on efficiency of travel. It is best to start the trip in mid- to late-August and to end in late September, when the leaves start to change in the Adirondacks.
For this reason, the first stop is at Acadia National Park and the Gulf of Maine. Though Acadia is not the farthest east spot in the U.S., it is said that the sun first rises on Cadillac Mountain within the park, due to its elevation of 1,529 feet, the highest point along the entire Atlantic coast. Along with the park on Mount Desert Island are various towns, one of which is Bar Harbor. It is from here where you can catch a charter boat to go out into the Gulf of Maine to experience whales, puffins and other creatures of the north Atlantic. The Gulf of Maine also has some of the greatest tide differences in the world, which makes it prime for experiencing intertidal organisms. There will be many opportunities for starting discussions on ecology here.
Next, it's down the coast to Massachusetts and Walden Pond. This is the site where Henry David Thoreau spent a portion of his life during which he developed and lived out some of his philosophies and ideas about conservation and living well. It would be difficult to have a trip focused on ecology without discussing the concept of conservation, since one of the goals of conservation is to maintain healthy ecosystems. Thoreau was an early champion of this concept before the Civil War. A later champion of conservation has a site named after her which you would pass on your way from Acadia to Walden. The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge was named for the author of Silent Spring, a book that reignited the environmental movement in the 1970s. The refuge is located along the Maine coast, just north of the New Hampshire border.
The trip continues from Walden to the Lyme, Connecticut area. There is no specific place to visit but the area is infamous for having a disease named after it: Lyme Disease. The discussion here will be on how ecological processes, and human actions against the environment, can influence human disease.
The next stop presents another case of how human actions could affect the environment and ecological processes. At Three Mile Island in 1979, an accident at the nuclear power plant brought nuclear energy and its potential effects on the environment and to people's health to the public's attention. Whether you actually visit the site in Pennsylvania or not, it is another important case-study to discuss.
Love Canal, in far western New York, is the site for a third case-study on the effect of humans on the environment. Again in the late 1970s, this was the scene of an environmental scandal, involving toxic waste leaking into the environment. Very close to Love Canal is Niagara Falls. Besides having the life experience of seeing these magnificent falls themselves, we'll begin a biological discussion of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes will be covered in much more depth in Trip 8, but here we will contrast the organisms in Lake Erie with those in Lake Ontario. These two lakes are separated by the falls. Does this geographical feature have any effect on whether organisms can live on either side of it? We'll find out.
The trip ends in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York. Two final case-studies of human influence on the environment have to do with the effect acid rain had on this area, which has been hit harder than most, and the effects of DDT on the food chain. But this will also be a location where a fully-functioning, complex ecosystem can be experienced. Known as the Adirondack Park, it is very different kind of park than a national park. There are numerous small towns within the park, there is commerce and people make their lives within the park, yet there are large sections of the park that have been designated as "forever wild", and are as wild as any national park. The total land area of the park is almost 3 times larger than Yellowstone! This will be the site where many ecological concepts come together and can be experienced. One classic, "normal" case study involves Lynx and Hare populations. The Adirondacks are also the focus site for the Maple/Beech/Birch forest type. This is the forest type that makes fall foliage in the area so spectacular.
The Adirondacks will also be the focus site for experiencing genetics. Through the classic experiments on pea plants and fruit flies to some of the chemical basis of inheritance, hopefully it will become more clear how you became who you are.
There are also three optional LTER sites in the area: The Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire, the Plum Islands Ecosystem site along the far northern coast of Massachusetts, and the Harvard Forest LTER site in central Massachusetts. For further depth into ecological research, any of these sites would add to your experience.
- August - Whale migration in Gulf of Maine
- Late September - Fall foliage in Adirondacks and Vermont