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Lummi Island may soon have a new recreational park thanks to a radar that can peer down below the earth’s surface. Western’s geology department is helping the Lummi Heritage Trust perform geophysical research on a quarry the trust bought on Lummi Island. The project involves the restoration of an armored shoreline and conversion of mined area into a recreational park on the Aiston Preserve, a 105 acre piece of land on the island’s southern flank. Studies will be conducted using a ground-penetrating radar, a device purchased by the department last summer.

Professor Jackie Caplan-Auerbach teaches her applied geology class how to navigate the new geological radar system. The radar can sense tens of meters deep and accurately show what lies beneath the surface. // Photo by Harrison Amelang
“This is an awesome example of how we like to train up students and interact with the community,” Jackie Caplan-Auerbach, an associate professor of geophysics, said. The department is working on the quarry to restore original coastline previously covered by a gravel-mining operation. The radar releases electromagnetic energy into the ground, which determines where the original coastline was so excavation can begin. The quarry was previously used for mining gravel, but was shut down due to inappropriate operation and inconsistent records and remained inactive until the trust purchased it last year. Elizabeth Kilanowski, a member of the Board of Directors for the Lummi Heritage Trust, said the trust chose to work with Western because it was less costly and it provided an opportunity for student researchers.

“It’s important to make Western as much of research institution as possible.”

William Callebert
“I saw students actively engaged in learning and also in understanding that what they were doing was a benefit to this important mine restoration project and to the larger community,” Kilanowski said  said in an email. With the addition of the radar to the department’s inventory, students have the opportunity to operate geophysical technology, while reinforcing the importance of community aspects, William Callebert, a geology department graduate student, said. “It broadens the scope of research we can do,” Callebert said. “It’s important to make Western as much of research institution as possible.” Past studies the department has done with the community involve clients on both a city and local scale. A case of this was when students used a radar to get an underground mapping of the Lynden cemetery, which revealed that some caskets were incorrectly placed in relation to their headstone.

A similar case study was an instance where the radar was used again to determine whether or not there was an underground storage tank on some property a local was looking at for purchase. “We have a long-standing relationship with city organizations, like the Public Works Department, who know they can reach out to us,” Caplan-Auerbach said. “[The trust] is a new nonprofit organization that we get to work with, so having that opportunity is really exciting.” Caplan-Auerbach said her biggest hope is that they continue to have opportunities to do projects that benefit both the local community and the class.


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