2002 BA/M.A.-ES&P student Emily Shusas takes water samples of Tatnuck Brook

HERO Project and The Tatnuck Brook Watershed

Students of GISDE Professor Gil Pontius wade into the water of Tatnuck Brook, scoop up a water sample, and with a kit provided by Massachusetts Audubon Society, monitor the water quality. They test for nitrate, pH, phosphorus, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and in some cases, turbidity.  Back in the Clark computer labs, the students record their field data and combine it with data from Worcester's Health Department. Through these activities, students participate in the Human Environment Regional Observatory (HERO) project, funded by a multi-year grant from the National Science Foundation. 

The HERO project establishes Clark as a digital data archive for all issues on the human/environment interface in Central Massachusetts, with an emphasis on land-use change and global climate change, according to GISDE Coordinator Gil Pontius.  Professor Pontius, along with Professor Billie Turner, supervises graduate and undergraduate HERO activity, which includes researchers at the doctoral, master's, and undergraduate levels. 

"HERO fellows become responsible for the compilation and analysis for all water quality data for the Worcester area," says Pontius. "We have funding for six undergraduate HERO Fellows to work every summer and throughout the academic year. The HERO fellows are working with geographic information systems (GIS). They all have their own research projects and contribute to the HERO data archive." 

Some of the Hero Fellows are members of Pontius' class in "Introduction to Computer and Quantitative Methods."  In this class, Pontius instructs all students on how to collect field data, enter the data into a digital spreadsheet, perform statistical analysis, interpret the results, and present the results in written and oral forms. For a final project, the students analyze water quality data for the entire city of Worcester.  

Kisco Sinvula, who is an IDCE GISDE graduate student on a government fellowship from Namibia, is working on a master's project in the Tatnuck Brook Watershed that looks at land use effects on water quality, particularly turbidity caused by erosion. "The land cover could be forest, agricultural, commercial, housing or other. Much of data Sinvula is using has been collected by Clark students and volunteers at the Tatnuck Brook Watershed Association and the Massachusetts Audubon Society in Worcester." I have attended meetings of these organizations to find out how I can help them with GIS tools," says Sinvula, "so we can work together toward a common goal to improve the water quality of the Tatnuck Brook. My personal goal is to use GIS tools and a global positioning system to analyze the collected data to see if there is a significant relationship between land use and water quality.  For example, I hope to develop a velocity model to predict the direction and speed of water running off of particular slopes."

Sinvula hopes that his model would indicate not only the direction the water drains but also the amount and speed of sedimentation carried into the brook that, in turn, affect its turbidity.  Another possible outcome of his research could be a workbook for use by planners doing environmental assessments of proposed development in the watershed. 

"The Tatnuck Brook Watershed is a laboratory within walking distance of Clark," says Pontius. "My students collect data first-hand by going to sites along the brook to document the water quality and land use. Their activity is coordinated with the volunteer water-monitoring program of Mass Audubon Society. The local watershed project enables students interested in community planning to get involved as well," continues Pontius, who serves on the Board of Directors of Tatnuck Brook Watershed Association. 

In fact, two students Leah Penniman and Mia Davis are board members of the Tatnuck Brook Watershed Association. Penniman, along with other HERO Fellows, is producing digital maps of the watershed from data collected by Clark students, local volunteers, and government agencies. Penniman received highest honors for her undergraduate thesis, "Sedimentation in the Tatnuck Brook Watershed," which recommend how the local community group could preserve the water bodies. She examined causes, effects, and remedies. She produced a digital GIS database that encompasses land use, hydrography, zoning, development, and other data for the Tatnuck Brook Watershed. She also helped the Tatnuck Brook Watershed Association design and implement a water quality monitoring plan that looks at turbidity and visual changes in land use. 

 "Getting involved with the local politics in trying to discover what the laws are that govern the development process was one of the highlights," says Penniman, and collecting and counting benthic macro invertebrates as bioindicators for the stream. I even enjoyed attending long Watershed Association meetings where grandfathers told stories of how the Tatnuck Brook and the watershed were used when they were boys.  In all, the project was both wonderful and exhausting!" 

According to Pontius, a major problem in the watershed is siltation. Many of the water bodies in the watershed, such as Coes Pond, are being filled in. "There is a lot of development in the Tatnuck Watershed," notes Pontius, "and it affects the siltation. The potential construction at the airport is also an issue."  

Another undergraduate HERO Fellow, ES&P major Emily Shusas, is looking at deforestation by private landowners in Central Massachusetts as documented by their submitted lumbering plan maps. Other HERO Fellows are mapping locations that are vulnerable to deforestation.