George Flowers ’13 digs in to sustainable farming around the world

by Erikah Haavie, Contributing Writer

It didn’t take George Flowers long to realize his connection to the outdoors.

Some of his favorite memories of his middle school years were the weekends he spent fishing and clearing trails on a piece of family land in Alabama first owned by his great-grandfather.

Since then, his love has only grown. Flowers, who is also majoring in political science, is part of the first class at Furman who will graduate with bachelors’ degrees in sustainability science in May 2013. The summer before his junior year, he cultivated an acre of fruits and vegetables on his family land, selling half the produce to a local organic market and donating the other half to local homeless shelters. This summer, he spent time working on organic farms in four different countries: Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, and Tanzania.

"I gave myself to wherever I was," said Flowers, a Columbus, Ga. native who has also been active with the Furman Farm. "You directly see the results of your work."

Flowers’s summer adventure across two continents began with a May Experience course led by professors Bill Allen and Ron Friis, which focused on the slow food movement and included a stay on a sustainably-operated family farm in Sora, Italy. He then went on his own to farms in Fuglebjerg, Denmark, and Eisten, Switzerland, where he worked as a volunteer for the World-Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming Initiative.

Mafia Island off the coast of Tanzania was his last stop, where he spent about six weeks working in a remote village without running water. While the island, home to about 40,000 residents, sees only a few thousand visitors a year, it is known for its rich marine biodiversity.

While there, he communicated using phrases in Kiswahili, the country’s national language, and lived with a local family eating a diet of fried plantains, potatoes, fish, rice, boiled squid, and fresh mango juice.

His work typically began at 8 a.m., and could include anything from tilling cassava with a hoe to mending fishing nets. He learned effective ways to use a machete to cut down shrubbery and became more adept at climbing 50-foot tall trees to harvest coconuts. At the end of the day, he washed, not in a shower, but using a bucket.

"George showed a hard work ethic, deep respect for those he was living with and conducting research, and the ability to adapt to challenging environments," said Betsy Beymer-Farris, an assistant professor of sustainability science at Furman who has conducted research in Tanzania for more than twelve years and supervised Flowers’s research over the summer.

Flowers is compiling the results of his research in his senior thesis, which will compare small-scale sustainable farming practices in the United States and the four other countries he visited. His experience was supported by a Furman Advantage fellowship.

After graduation, Flowers plans to continue onto graduate school to study either ecology or geography, while continuing to dabble in his studies of sustainable agriculture.

"I always want to have a farm going wherever I am," Flowers said.

Photos by Megan Will

Making Sense of Hurricane Sandy?

Image from NASA

There is no better time for this. We are just starting the topic of hurricanes and severe weather in our “EES 113: Natural Hazards and Natural Disasters” class and we got a perfect storm for case study.  Following are some resources that has been compiled to help understand why hurricane Sandy is so powerful and so feared.

  1. How do hurricanes form? – a nice BBC video clip that explains the basics
  2. Hurricane Sandy from Space – Incredible time-series animations of evolution of Sandy from Wired Science
  3. Full moon and Frankenstorm – how moon affects storm surge?
  4. Live – Hurricane track with various hazards marked map
  5. Why Sandy is so dangerous (nice video that goes over good details)
  6. Havoc as storms come ashore – NYT article with lots of photos
  7. Map showing wind speeds along Sandy’s path
  8. NPR News – All things considered
  9. Science of Sandy (NPR piece, not really science that you may be looking for)
  10. Hurricane Sandy and Climate Change – nice article from Huffington Post
  11. Hurricane Sandy swallows presidential campaign
  12. Sandy’s impact on election is uncertain
  13. Obama and Romney respond to Sandy
  14. New York State – a declared major disaster area

Feel free to contact Dr. Suresh Muthukrishnan with any questions or comments.

75th Anniversary Meeting of the Carolina Geological Society held in Greenville

HollandPhoto to the left: Wilbur C. Holland circa 1930, founding father of the Carolina Geological Society.

It was 75 years ago, in 1937, that Wilbur C. Holland, then Geology Professor at Furman University, founded the Carolina Geological Society (CGS) to create an active community of geologists in the area. The main purpose of the society is to promote the Geosciences, encourage the study of Earth Science, promote spirit of friendship and cooperation, and encourage research and publication. At the time of its founding, Holland envisioned a full day meeting with presentations of papers in a morning session and field trip in the afternoon. Currently, the meeting is held over three days, starting with a reception on the first evening, followed by a day and a half of field trips to various localities.

As a tribute to the 75th anniversary of CGS, Furman Earth and Environmental Sciences professors Dr. Bill Ranson, Dr. Jack Garihan, and Dr. Suresh Muthukrishnan conducted the meeting in Greenville. Field trips showcased the geology, geomorphology and landslide hazards in Upstate of South Carolina. A special celebration was held at the Table Rock State Park Pavilion on Saturday evening.

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Students Brooks Bailey, Claire Campbell, Stephen Campbell, Katharine Compton, Elizabeth Johnston, and Ryan Richardson assisted the leaders during the planning stages and during the field trips, ensuring the safety of participants along congested roadways. Apart from these student assistants, 15 other Furman students attended the conference. A total of 156 total participants were present making it a successful event. The edited volume of the field guide in electronic format will be available from CGS website.

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The department wishes to thank all the student assistants and especially Ms. Nina Anthony for their tireless efforts and help over the last several months. We also thank our recent graduate Jay Bridgeman (‘12) for leading a part of the field trip to the Salem ultramafic body on Saturday.

Click here for photos from Carolina Geological Society annual meeting, 12-14, October 2012, Greenville, South Carolina.

Jay Bridgeman’s experience with USGS exploring Mineral and Geothermal Potential

2012_SV_groupJay Bridgeman, 2012 graduate from EES, spent the summer working on an internship with the US Geological Survey western region branch in Menlo Park, CA. He worked with the geophysics unit investigating mineral and geothermal potential in several locations in Nevada, California and Oregon. Jay worked with several geophysical techniques including gravity, magnetic, paleomagnetic and electrical methods to image structures in the subsurface.

He says, “we would spend between 10-15 days in the field locations doing long days of field work, collection and processing of geophysical data, and physical rock property measurements. We even got to do a joint venture with NASA flying a magnetic survey with an unmanned aerial vehicle, which was featured in a Scientific American expedition blog. I really enjoyed my internship with the USGS, and felt that Furman had definitely prepared me and given me the skills necessary to excel.”

Jay is currently working with Unimin Corporation as a Geologist doing core logging and sampling in Wisconsin, Minnesota and a few other Midwest states, primarily with their silica division.

For more information on Jay Bridgeman’s work with USGS, visit the Scientific American blog.

Prof. Angela Halfacre Publishes Her Book “A Delicate Balance: Constructing a Conservation Culture in the South Carolina Lowcountry”

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Description from the University of South Carolina Press: Sustainability of the natural environment and of our society has become one of the most urgent challenges facing modern Americans. Communities across the country are seeking a viable pattern of growth that promotes prosperity, protects the environment, and preserves the distinctive quality of life and cultural heritage of their regions. The coastal zone of South Carolina is one of the most endangered, culturally complex regions in the state and perhaps in all of the American South. A Delicate Balance examines how a multilayered culture of environmental conservation and sustainable development has emerged in the lowcountry of South Carolina. Angela C. Halfacre, a political scientist, describes how sprawl shock, natural disaster, climate change, and other factors spawned and sustain—but at times also threaten and hinder—the culture of conservation.

Since Hurricane Hugo in 1989, the coastal region of South Carolina has experienced unprecedented increases in residential and commercial development. A Delicate Balance uses interdisciplinary literature and ethnographic, historical, and spatial methods to show how growing numbers of lowcountry residents, bolstered by substantial political, corporate, and media support, have sought to maintain the region’s distinctive sense of place as well as its fragile ecology.

A Delicate Balance deftly illustrates that a resilient culture of conservation that wields growing influence in the lowcountry has become an important regional model for conservation efforts across the nation.

Congratulations Dr. Halfacre! 

Dr. Halfacre can be reached at: angela.halfacre@furman.edu

Students receive grant from Piedmont Natural Gas Foundation

Patrick Starr (Earth and Environmental Science and Political Science Major) and Wes Floyd (Sustainability Science Major) are among six students from three Universities that received fellowship from Piedmont Natural Gas Foundation to support and pursue real-world problem solving projects in collaboration with local communities and non-profit and government agencies. 

Floyd will work with Greenville officials to help implement a Sustainability Action Plan for the city.  He will research implementation strategies used by other cities and provide support to the city’s Green Ribbon Advisory Committee, which advises City Council, the City Manager, and other city staff on the development of programs and initiatives regarding sustainability. Floyd, based on his research, will craft a manual for other municipalities about the process of developing a Climate Action and Sustainability Plan.

Starr will work with the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, a Greenville-based foundation committed to advancing sustainable forestry and vibrant rural communities across America. His work will include creating a database of U.S. watershed protection programs and developing a database of all protected forestlands in the 13 Southern states.  He may also work with bioenergy projects.

Furman’s Shi Center for Sustainability is coordinating this grant with Duke and Vanderbilt Universities.

Heimaey–1973 Eruption Site, still Hot and Rocks!

By Jenn Summers

Day 1 on Heimaey

5B7C7108-001We woke up early and drove out to the southern coast to catch our ferry over to Vestmannaeyar. As we sailed across the short stretch of ocean we chugged past skyscraper cliffs made all the more dramatic by the swooping gulls. It wouldn’t be til later that we thought to look for puffins, which breed out on the cliff outcrops that shelter the harbor. We installed at a cute little hostel with a wooden-walled loft room on the third floor. We shared the whole house with just two Danes, friendly and self-contained. Nice thing about the island’s tiny status is the ability to walk EVERYWHERE. We walked down to the end of the island, small and quaint oft described as harboring “10,000 souls” or so. We headed d5B7C7262-001own to the end and ogled the seawater slicing its way through the basalt cliff faces to form a deep turquoise river…mildly breathtaking. Then trotted northward along the coast enjoying the natural sea arches, dead gull on the coast, and frightening precipices plunging into the sea. We were puffin-hunting, but came up short.

The hotel that also owns our hostel had it featured on their menu as an appetizer served with whale but we opted to not eat it because of some threats to its population due to overfishing. What we found instead was the fields of a local farmer’s sheep and a long Icelandic horse which we photographed to death. The sun never sets on Iceland so we ambled along until about 7 or so then returned across the island by road. En route was a construction crew arranging a large boulder in the yard of a house with a5B7C7514-001 spectacular coastal view. A kind tall Icelandic man with a professional film camera insisted we come over and explained the rock was being moved by a senator (who our driver Thor later described as an insane thief who is useless and smuggled into office thanks to his party connections) who believes the elves living in the rock saved his life. To thank them, he moved their threatened home – road building requires gravel – to the island (see the other post). They had an impressive (not) elf-speaking woman armed with a wool-stuffed basket and a jar of honey for the elves installing them there. We smiled and nodded through her explanation and spectacle then continued dumbfounded through the town. Dinner then bed.

Day 2: Conquer the Cliff

Conquer it we did. After breakfast during which we all wished a hearty nifty 50 to professor5B7C7535-001 Andersen, we trekked around the harbor to scale the cliff on the northern edge. The reek of drying fish invigorated us as did the cold air and the hopping lambs bleating fearfully as we walked several hundred meters from their perches far up the slopes. It took forever, but we did eventually reach the top, cracking jokes about what kind of elf might live in the particular rock we were clinging to. At first, the trail is nothing but sandy slopes surrounded by unfriendly rock by we cut across the switchback trail and got a beautiful view of the sea and wind weathered tan cliffs. Therapy has nothing on watching the gulls strafe and arch through the air, 5B7C7579-001steering along the wind vanes we are bind to with expert tilts of the tail. The panorama from the top which we reached leisurely over an hour and a half just blew me away – a grassy ridge pocked with birds and beauty. Ten thousand photos later we descended and walked over to Toppur Pizza, our favorite local place with pizza, burgers, and our newfound favorite – Skyr cake!. After our little meal we headed back over to the hostel then Sarah Hamilton and I walked out over the lava field formed in the recent eruption in 1973. It was quite impressive covered with Lupin, a purple fuzzy stalk flower we 5B7C8150-001were to learn later was invasive, introduced to prevent erosion; just further proof, beauty ha a price! We encountered the birthday boy but played it cool. Suresh had arranged for 2 cakes and a hilarious Roman candle of a birthday candle. We found an awesome beer mitten from icelandic wool at the shop across the street from our restaurant and everyone contributed to Goose’s initial purchase. After everyone had reassembled at the hostel for the celebration after our walk, we sang, drank Amarula (which we convinced Seth to buy) wine, and Tuborg classic beer. Andersen opened his present, we also got him dried fish and Drammur, chocolate covered salted licorice, both of which are traditional Icelandic fare. Everyone got pleasantly tipsy and the party dissolved into side games of Circle of Death while Suresh, Garihan and Seth disappeared until 6 am.

Day 3: Recovery and Bye to Haimaey

We woke up without any definite plan but with several hungover people so I wandered up the street to the hotel’s buffet breakfast. Sluggishly the backstory of Suresh’s expedition fleshed out: they climbed up to the crater from the ’73 eruption and spent the night catching footage of the sunset and rise (which are separated by a very brief period of a few hours). 5B7C8461-001

Their sojourn was warmed by the heat vents fueled by the angry magma boiling below our feet. We finally got everyone organized and ready to go by about 1130 then headed through a 5B7C8608-001backyard to the next street to get some sandwiches and pastries from the local bakery for eating on top of the crater. We walked along the neighborhood streets south toward the “Pompei of the North” which is an excavation site of a street of 5 or 6 of the 400 houses buried in the eruption. It was very interesting, about 20 meters deep ash and other material blown out of the crater – no lava at the point of the excavation. We then hiked back up towards the crater, which is the volcano Eldfell.5B7C8612-001 From the top is an incredible view; the walk up is bleak, crunching along on little balls of volcanic matter gravel that slides off the path down the steep slope clinking along like glass against their fellows. The vents at the top are indeed warm, a nice reprieve from the icy wind. After, we headed down the mountain, to the hostel, to the ferry, to the mainland, on the bus again with Thor. We parked in next to a very random waterfall pouring down from 60  meters up off the edge of a cliff. The cliff belongs to a nearly flat-topped mountain that launches itself out of an otherwise unassuming sandur plain, making the waterfall  stand out with its suddenness and 5B7C8656-001starkness.We continued along the road, stopped off at an amazing view of the glacier which had an unfortunate explosion underneath it in 2010. 5B7C8694-001We examined some ash along the road and then set off again, not stopping for a while until we reached an amazing fairytale like waterfall planted at the beginning of an epic hiking trail that extends all the way up onto the glacier. We just climbed out along the top and edge of the waterfall looking down at the slightly sheltered cove of the falls. Our final stop was the quaint fishing village of Vik – at the local restaurant we tried hombaked bread and the best lamb sandwiches you ever ate. Bed at the hostel, up on a hill, modernly furnished and a little crowded.

See the whole album here

Moving Elves at Vestmannaeyjar Island (Heimaey)

By Sarah Hamilton

While on the Vestmann Islands, we went on a group walk along the coast looking at the rock formations.  When we reached the end of the planned hike, most of us decided we wanted to continue on to look for a puffin colony on the other side of the island.  We walked along the cliffs overlooking the sea, running into sheep and getting the the chance to pet an Icelandic horse.
5B7C7495It became clear that the puffin colony was much farther away than we’d anticipated, and with the puffin site growing no larger, we eventually admitted defeat and turned back.  We crossed over to the road for our walk back and passed what we took to be construction.
A (mechanic) crane sat in the yard of a cute little log cabin, dangling ropes that were strapped to an enormous brown rock.  Men and a tractor pulled at the rock from below, making little progress in orienting it the way they seemed to want. 5B7C7509-001
We stood looking at the rock and the crane for so long that a man emerged from his car in the yard to speak with us. He told us that the rock had been brought here from Reykjavik at the request of the man who owned the house. The rock, which looked ordinary enough to untrained eyes, was actually the two-story home of a three generation elf family.  The elves had saved the owner of the home when he was in a car wreck.  In gratitude, the man had asked them to if he could move them to a lovely place by the sea. After all, the elves’ rock home was marked to be destroyed to go under a road.
The man who owned the house had contacted a "seer", one who could see and speak with elves, who told him that the elves agreed, but only if their windows faced the sea, an admittedly spectacular view. The rock was currently in the process of being moved to face the sea.  We chuckled a bit in appreciation of his story, each of us figuring he was telling a tall tale to tourists, just waiting for him to break character and laugh along with us.
He did not.
5B7C7493Instead, he motioned a woman to get out of a car nearby. He told us to ask the woman if we were disturbing the elves. We asked the woman to relay the question.  I expected her to have no idea what we were talking about, or play along clumsily. Instead, she immediately said that we were not disturbing the elves. She gave us the exact same story that the man originally had.  We learned that she was the Seer, the one who negotiated with the elves, and she told us that the three generations of elves were eating honey in a nearby basket of wool. We peered into the basket, but as none of us were particularly specially sighted, we saw only wool.  The grandfather was very weak, said the Seer, and he, his children, and their three kids were all in the basket eating honey. They were 35 cm tall (they live under the wool in the picture above).
It was becoming clear that this was no joke.  We were not the only ones watching the rock placement.  All around us were men with cameras, including the man who had originally told us the story of the elves.  Some cameras were from the news, and a few were involved in doing a documentary on the man who owned the house, the new host to three generations of elves.
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We spoke with a young man from Greenland who told us that the owner of the house was in a fact an Icelandic Senator, Arni Johnsen. I asked the young man if he was quite serious about this, to which the young man seemed to take slight offense. Of course he was serious. Everyone was deadly serious about this elf relocation project.
Finally, the heavy rock was oriented correctly, windows toward the sea. Gently, slowly, the elf Seer woman brought the basket of wool to the door of the home and one-by-one placed the elves on their porch. The cameras surrounded her solemn ceremony. Though the elves did not allow anyone besides her to see them, we cheered when they were finally inside.
We went on our way with a promise of good weather from the elves, and were not disappointed in the next few days. We’ve also had some excellent luck since.
It could be chance, of course. There are rocks next to me now. They could be basalt.
But they would also make a lovely three story home for any elf family.

Iceland 2012, Day 1: A Warm Welcome to us in Iceland

We arrived in Iceland on our second edition of MayX program.  Here are few snapshots of how our journey and our first day here went.

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Our group at NY-JFK airport killing long hours

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Dr. Thorleifur Fredrikson and Mrs. Thora, our host and travel planner.

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Icelandic breakfast at Thorleifur’s house

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Walk along the shore on the way to the geothermally heated pool.

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A community pool, really awesome way to get introduced to Iceland.  We spent more than 3 hours here enjoying the rainy weather in hot outdoor pool with snow capped mountains in the distant background.

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After walking downtown, we settled for lunch at one of the popular restaurant in Reyjkavik.

We have a packed second day.  Come back and check daily.

Claire Campbell Awarded Prestigious Udall Scholarship

5B7C0720_Claire CampbellClaire Campbell, a Junior Earth and Environmental Sciences major has been selected as a 2012 Udall Scholar by the Udall Foundation.  This prestigious scholarship is awarded to students who “demonstrate commitment to careers related to the environment including policy, engineering, education, science, urban planning and renewal, business, health, justice, economics, and other related fields”.  

Claire, a native of Oak Ridge, TN is among 80 scholars chosen from more than 550 nominations received from 274 colleges and universities.  These scholars are selected based on their demonstrated commitment to environmental or natural resource issues through campus activities, research, or community/public service. 

At Furman, Claire is an active member of Bartram Society and Environmental Action Group and also participated in ECOS program.  She has spent the past three summers working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) as research assistant on various projects related to ecosystems study.  She has made three presentations at professional meetings and published three reports related to her research.

Claire will join the other2012 Udall Scholars in Tucson, AZ in August (8-12) to receive the award.

Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation