College’s lake research gets fiscal boost
LAKE CHAMPLAIN — A generation of Middlebury College students has been learning about geology and oceanography on board the R/V Baldwin, a 32-foot Maine lobster boat the college purchased in 1985. It hosts high-tech oceanographic equipment including complex water profilers, sonars and piston and gravity corers that have enabled students and faculty to investigate sediment and boat wrecks on the bottom of Lake Champlain.
But for all its capabilities, the research vessel was large enough to host only a limited number of students at one time and so primarily served a limited spectrum of study.
Now a $1.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation announced this month is funding a bigger, faster, state-of-the-art research vessel that will give larger groups of Middlebury College students in more disciplines the chance to study Lake Champlain up close. Pat Manley, who along with her husband and fellow geology professor Tom Manley, has taught various classes onboard the Baldwin, is understandably excited about the new 45-foot, double-hulled boat.
“It’s a twin-hull catamaran,” she said. “It also has this air-foil/hydrofoil technique with it. When you get up to speed, it lifts the hulls out of the water.”
Two hulls will do more than make the as-yet-unnamed boat faster and more fuel-efficient.
“It will have a very stable platform,” explained Manley, who has been researching a replacement for the Baldwin for about eight years. “A one-keel boat will rock a lot, but with two keels separated by 18 to 20 feet of space, the rocking motion will be minimized.”
The added stability will allow the Manleys to take their students out on the lake to do lab work even when the weather is not quite cooperating.
The current research vessel is being used for classes primarily in the fall, Manley said, and again in the summer for senior thesis work. Because space is limited onboard the boat — the R/V Baldwin has room for only 12 people — it’s been difficult to accommodate everyone at the college who wants to use it. The new vessel will be able to host 18 people at once, which, according to Manley, will allow an entire lab section to be onboard at one time.
With the new boat, the Manleys hope to not only increase their students’ time on the lake, but also to give more time to other departments who have expressed an interest in incorporating Lake Champlain research into their coursework, like chemistry, environmental studies and biology.
“We can offer it for other groups in the sciences,” Manley said, “like Tom Root, who is in biology, has often used the Baldwin for one or two days.”
Over the years, the Baldwin has been home to a number of classes, and has witnessed several great discoveries and insights into the past and present conditions of Lake Champlain.
“Many of the new finds that Tom and I have continued to research on were initially studied by our classes,” said Manley, whose personal research centers around the lake and its currents. “One class was the first to actually identify huge landslide areas, and they would trace very old river channels when Lake Champlain was much lower than it is today.”
The Manleys’ plans for the new vessel go far beyond just expanded class work, however. They hope to set up a program with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, for example, that would be open to the community during the summer, and would combine oceanography with archeology. The plans for this program, though, are still being worked out.
“The new vessel offers a lot more opportunity for the students and faculty of the college,” said Manley, “but also in the local community.”
Though Tom Manley is currently Middlebury’s licensed captain, the college plans to hire a part-time captain to allow for fuller use of the new vessel.
The new boat will be built by All American Marine in Bellingham, Wash., and delivered in May of 2012 to Port Everglades, Fla. From there, the Manleys and two others will sail it to its new home on Lake Champlain. The Baldwin, Manley said, will likely be donated to another educational program on the lake.
“It’s a good vessel … don’t get me wrong,” she said. “It’s a safe vessel — I feel very comfortable on it.”
But Manley says she won’t miss the tight quarters and lack of facilities available onboard the Baldwin.
There is one thing she will miss — the name.
“It was named for Brewster Baldwin, who was a wonderful geology professor here at Middlebury,” she said, “so whenever I go on the boat I see his picture.”
The new vessel will remain unnamed until its arrival at the college, after which a committee will likely decide its moniker.
Though the Baldwin has served students and faculty well for the past 25 years, Manley said it is high time for a change.
“Everybody’s excited about the new vessel,” she said. “I’ve talked to some of our past students who have been out doing oceanography, geology … etc. The impact will go beyond our current students, and I think our alumni are really going to be excited, as well.”