Lexy Fowler '09

Lexy Fowler is a senior at Hartwick College

It was almost 20 years ago that Lexy Fowler ’09 discovered her love of geology. She was 2, her mother had taken her to the American Museum of Natural History, and she refused to leave the dinosaurs. So it comes as no surprise that Fowler turned her early love of paleontology into a Geology major at Hartwick, where off-campus study has taken her to the Adirondacks, Vermont, Canada, Hawaii, Colorado, California, Texas, and Egypt.

But it was during Fowler’s work last summer on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas—and the subsequent Senior Thesis research she continues on campus—that her Geology studies took on more of an environmental focus. Together with Associate Professor of Geology and Environmental Sciences David Griffing, and partially funded by a 2008 Angelo Tagliacozzo Memorial Geological Scholarship, Fowler traveled to the Bahamas last June to photograph, study, and collect samples from both a modern coral reef and ancient corals in a fossil reef.

“I’ve always wanted to help the environment,” Fowler said. “I love both paleontology and environmental science, so I really wanted to do a project that would allow me to combine the two.”

Using resources at the Gerace Research Centre (a research and education facility frequented by Hartwick January Term programs), the project picks up where 1993 and 1998 reef surveys left off—re-mapping the same coral colonies on Telephone Pole Reef in order to track changes in the percentage of surviving Porites porites coral. Today, they estimate more than 90 percent of these corals have died off in the past 15 years—the second time the reef has undergone a major transition since the 1970s.

Fowler also is comparing samples of the dead modern coral to fossil Porites porites corals found in a 125,000-year-old reef on San Salvador, in order to determine if such die-offs also occurred before the effects of human civilization. She is continuing her research on campus and completed her Senior Thesis this year, which Griffing expects will be published. The pair also hopes to present their findings at the national Geological Society of America conference this October in Portland, Oregon. View a photo gallery of Fowler's research in San Salvador. View a photo gallery of Fowler's field research.

Fowler’s research reflects a mainstay of Geological and Environmental Sciences studies at Hartwick—experiential learning from professors dedicated to getting students out of the classroom and into the field as often as possible. The competitive Tagliacozzo scholarship Fowler received last year also funded the research of Hartwick Geology and Environmental Science majors in 2006 and 2007.

“Scientific experiences involve the senses. There often are things you can see and hear and touch and taste when examining an active lava flow or seaside fossil reef,” Griffing said. “Geology is a very tactile science. You can sit down with a sample and learn something very quickly. When you’re trying to teach science at an undergraduate level, you’re trying to teach the very basics—you can talk about facts and concepts in class, but the only way to impart the scientific method is to do research.”

For Fowler, experiencing her major firsthand, whether in the Catskills or abroad, connects her to what she’s learning in the classroom. And when she leaves Hartwick in the spring, she plans to continue her work in paleoenvironmental studies in graduate school. From there, she hopes to make museum research her life’s work.

“If you stay in one place all your life, that’s all you’ll ever really know,” she said. “You can read all the books you want. You can even sit through the thousands of pictures I’ve taken. But until you’ve seen the color of the ocean in the Bahamas for yourself, you just don’t understand what blue is.”

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