CES Summer Grant Recipients Maxine Ng and Sarah Brusini Present at Log Lunch

Pictured: Maxine Ng ’22 (left) and Sarah Brusini ’23 (right) pose for the camera.

BY SARAH JANE O’CONNOR

On October 8, the Log Lunch community was lucky enough to hear about the summer adventures of Sarah Brusini ‘23 and Maxine Ng ‘22, both of whom received CES summer grants. 

Pictured: Sarah Brusini ’22 stands in front of a projection and presents her summer work.

Sarah began her presentation, “Blue Carbon in the Mystic River Estuary: Combating Climate Change in Our Own Backyard,” by underscoring the importance of climate science in the marine context. Deeply passionate about marine ecosystems, Sarah shared a photo from her elementary school career fair in which she dressed up as a marine biologist (complete with a snorkel), being sure to emphasize just how grateful she was for the opportunity to formally study these topics.   

Sarah worked closely with Williams-Mystic Professor Tim Pusack to determine the carbon stocks and ecosystem characteristics of eelgrass beds in the Mystic River estuary, both in the field (or rather, the water) and in the lab. Sarah and Pusack relied on a number of mechanisms to work towards the most accurate carbon stock data, including pH loggers, YSI measurements, Quadrat counts (which required manual counting of eelgrass strands by snorkel!), and loss-on-ignition carbon content analysis, in which they burned eelgrass to determine the amount of carbon in the plants. Sarah and Pusack are still awaiting much of their carbon stock data but were able to conclude that a significant relationship exists between eelgrass density and length. She concluded by noting how this data could contribute to recognizing the estuary as a NOAA coastal carbon area of significance in order to protect the area in the future.

Following her presentation, Sarah fielded questions about the day-to-day realities of marine research, noting how her time was equally spent in the water and in the lab, as well as the greatest threats to seagrass beds, which she described as “the balance between protecting space and letting humans use it.”

Pictured: Maxine Ng ’22 holds her phone and speaks to the audience.

Maxine introduced her project, “Sprucing Up the Spruces: An Ecological Restoration Project” by asking the audience how many of them had visited the Spruces, a recreational area off of Route 2 in Williamstown. After spending the past school year in Singapore and taking an urban planning class, Maxine was eager to work on a project that allowed her to contribute to the Williamstown community. Supported by CES funding, she partnered with the Town of Williamstown and the Regenerative Design Group to investigate current and future uses of the Spruces.

Maxine described the complex history of the Spruces, noting how the area began as a popular mobile home park that offered much-needed affordable housing in Williamstown, but was fully evacuated after devastating flooding during 2011’s Hurricane Irene. After Irene, the town of Williamstown acquired the Spruces through a FEMA grant and named it a community park. Given that 27 acres of the Spruces are in a 100-year floodplain and the remainder of the area frequently experiences small floods, the town is unable to allow any development in the area, so Maxine worked to survey local visitors on how to make the most of an area. She worked to obtain over 150 responses to a survey on the Spruces, asking visitors why they value the area and what feedback they might have to offer.

In response to Maxine’s work, the Spruces will look to develop better parking, better access to the Hoosic River, and will manage the construction of a new bike path from Williamstown to North Adams that will cross the park. Maxine concluded by addressing questions and encouraging listeners to enjoy the beautiful ecosystem that the Spruces have to offer.