Morton Centre - The Present



Two to three Introductory Environmental Science labs are held at the Morton Centre during the fall semester. These enable the students to get hands on experience outside of the traditional laboratory setting. Various experiments have been set-up so first year students can collect data which is stored over time so that they can compare their results and monitor long-term changes.

Some of the labs conducted in the past have been:

A Beach Sweep: Groups of students walk the shoreline of the property. Any trash found along the walk is identified, recorded, and a GPS reading is taken for its approximate location, then added to the trash bag. After the coastline sweep all of the groups combine their data and begin to process it. Back at school, the students research the various materials found, what they are made of and how long it would take for the material to break down. Colour coded GPS coordinates are marked on an aerial photo of the property and trends, areas of heaviest contamination, and possible sources are identified.

Exclosure Excursion: Last summer four 5 metre x 5 metre exclosures were built: 2 in a closed canopy area, with mossy groundcover and predominantly softwood trees, and 2 in a relatively open canopy area, with leafy groundcover and mixed softwood-hardwood trees. Each of the exclosures also has a control plot which is located close by which was not fenced in. Small groups of students collect data from the controls and exclosures to identify the impact of large herbivores (porcupines and deer) on the forest ecosystem at the Morton Centre. The students investigated tree species, canopy cover, abiotic variables and percent cover (for moss, fern, fall plants, and seedlings). Students also learned about primary and secondary growth, natural and anthropogenic disturbances and their impacts, the forest type at the Morton Centre, Acadian coastal forest, and the most common species on the property: red spruce, white spruce, Balsam fir, white birch, and yellow birch.

Soil Toil: This lab is a continuation of the exclosure lab. Small groups dig small soil pits near the four types of exclosures and take soil samples from each of the top three of the 4 horizons, O, A, B, but not digging deep enough to reach C the soil horizon directly above bedrock.. The soil composition and colour is compared between the types of exclosures as well as the various horizons and reasons for differences are discussed.


Preliminary Baseline Data Collection and Analysis for the Creation of a Monitoring Plan at the Morton Center, Heckman’s Island, Nova Scotia – Justin Dollimont, 1999

A statistical analysis of the shoreline of the Morton Center property, including surveys of physical rock size distribution and plant life abundance and distribution, allowing for future studies to have a preliminary study to compare to. The shoreline is very similar to that found along much of the North Atlantic coastline. The two most abundant species along the shoreline were two seaweed species, Fucus vesiculosus and Ascophyllum nodosum.

An Examination of the Hydrological, Geophysical, Geological, and Geochemical Properties of the Aquifers at the Morton Centre for Environmental Study, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia – Peter Morse, 1999

A detailed look at various aspects of the geology underlying the center. The property geology is made up of a large glacial formation called a drumlin overlain by Hartland Till and Lawrencetown Till. It was determined that the ground water in all of the wells on the property was acceptable for drinking. The current salt water level was found to be 40.8m below the bottom of the drilled well supplying water to the Morton Centre. The study recommended further analysis of whether increased use of the centre would cause a significant enough drawdown in the well that there would be an influx of salt water contaminating the fresh water in the aquifer.

Strategic Environmental Assessment, A Tool of Sustainable Development: The Morton Centre Model – Christopher Greene, 2003

Performed a SEA evaluating the ecology, geomorphology and hydrogeology of the center. The SEA identifies sensitive environmental areas, potential impacts and cumulative effects early in the planning of future projects at the Morton Centre. Created a GIS grid of the property, created an in depth terrestrial flora species list used to create the digital herbarium with information on each species as well as digital photos of in situ plants and photos of all dried samples. The study also included an analysis of water chemistry, hydrology, geomorphology, and the external influences acting on the property. It was determined that largest area of concern on the property was water as there is a limited supply and salt water contamination is possibility if large volumes of people are using the Morton Centre facilities. Areas of ecological and physical sensitivity were also identified including the salt marsh, bog, and water recharge area.

Special Project – A Sustainability Framework for the Morton Centre – Leon de Vreede, 2003

A conceptual diagram of how sustainability should be considered at the Morton Centre, includes steps to follow into the future as the Morton Centre evolves and develops future plans. The framework includes a Sustainable Design Mechanism which integrates the project stakeholders, the Morton Centre vision and the student research. The Sustainability Code lays out guidelines for sustainable property use. The Sustainability Resource Data compiles information on sustainable practices which can be drawn upon when brainstorming future projects at the Morton Centre.

The Morton Center Bird Survey - Janice Flynn, June 2003

Determined avian species richness on the property and provided base-line data for future studies using the Habitat-Based Point Count Protocol for Terrestrial Birds from the Forestry Division of USDA. A total of 753 vocalizations were recorded, representing 56 known species and 26 “unknowns”. The species that was recorded the most over the survey period was the Black-throated Green Warbler, followed by the American Robin and the Northern Parula. Species richness was found to be evenly distributed over the areas surveyed. The study recommended that a bird survey be conducted for species abundance so that population trends can be determined and monitored over time particularly in correlation with the forest restoration projects as they develop. It was also recommended that future bird surveys include the shoreline and the feeders, which were not included in this survey.

Renewable Energy Framework and Feasibility Study for the Morton Centre – Adrian Beck-Oliver, 2004

A study of the possible use of microclimate variation, wind, solar, and tidal as energy sources for the Morton Centre. Of these options, only solar and wind seem feasible sources to generate electricity, while solar would be the best way to meet the property’s heating requirements. Microclimate variation was not deemed suitable to meet the needs of the entire property because of the small temperature gradients present. Tidal energy was not deemed feasible because of the associated environmental impacts, and because such a system would not have a large enough generating capacity to make its construction economically viable.

The Sensitivity of Shallow Marine Environments to Physical and Meteorological Changes Associated with Climate Change - Karissa Belliveau, 2004

An assessment of the physical characteristics of the shallow marine environment was surveyed to determine relative temperature, bottom substrate flora and sedimentology. The survey collected baseline data on the rate of erosion and sediment transport, current and tidal dynamics, and bathymetry of the intertidal and immediate offshore zone at the Morton Centre It was found that the environment is highly susceptible to climate change and will be effected by rises in sea level and increase storm activity. The data will be used as a reference to monitor changes in coastal dynamics over time, and will provide a valuable resource in understanding how changes in these variables will impact coastal communities and ecosystems in the Maritime region. The study recommends more permanent monitoring in the area in all seasons, particularly during the winter when there is an increase in storm activity.

Forest Monitoring at the Morton Centre: Introduction of On-Site Weather Station and Recommendations of Important Indicator Variables – Molly Patrick, 2004

Describes the methods and the importance of monitoring variables within the Morton Centre forest in order to follow long-term change. The study included the set up up of a new remote-accessible climate monitoring station in the forest. The study recommends that the forest be managed to obtain maximum biodiversity thus working towards an Acadian Old Growth Forest and that monitoring should follow Canadian standards, namely the EMAN (Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network) protocols. It also suggests that future research should include a survey of forest arthropods and lichens as both are excellent tools for forest monitoring and management evaluation.

Intertidal Survey of Marine Benthic Invertebrates at the Morton Centre – Ric Grant, 2005

Assessed the intertidal and sub-tidal marine species composition, distribution and abundance, as well as the general water temperature, salinity, and substrate classification to identify the patterns of spatial distribution among the marine species. The study found that most biologically diverse and abundant area was the lower littoral zone, with species diversity and abundance decreasing towards the shore with the high littoral zone being the area with the least species abundance and prevalence. The reason for the decline in species is most likely the extended exposure to air during low tides creating extreme condition difficult for benthic marine invertebrates to adapt to as well as an increase in exposure and predation.

The roles of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) populations within a human dominated landscape – Joe Mudge, 2005

Estimated the deer and porcupine populations moving on the Morton Centre property, investigated the extent and the effects of deer and porcupine feeding habits on Acadian forest ecosystem dynamics and the local residents, and created a long-term study of specific effects of deer feeding habits on the structure and composition of the understory and future overstory layers of Acadian forests to be monitored by the 1st year environmental science class. The documented behaviour of the 2 radio-collared porcupines suggests that porcupines do exhibit territorial behaviour and occupy different home ranges. Deer population densities were estimated to be between 31 deer/km2 and 36 deer/km2 in the forest at the Morton Centre during the winter of 2003/2004, while porcupines were between 2 to 5 on the 40 hectare property. It was found that porcupine feeding actually enhances forest diversity, while high deer densities will decrease forest diversity and species richness.

Morton Center Project

In 2002 a research initiative was launched by Professor Linda Lusby in the Environmental Science program to develop a comprehensive database of the environmental characteristics of the Morton property. In its first season, student researchers established over three hundred forest diversity plots to map out the distribution of tree species on the property. They also created a digital catalogue consisting of high-resolution images of more than 220 species of plants found on the property, and compiled a preliminary bird and mammal inventory. This information formed the core of a strategic environmental assessment of the Centre.

The Morton Centre Project is a multi-year project designed to promote:

  1. Continuous research and learning in environmental science at Acadia
  2. Field trips for ENVS students, honours research, baseline and monitoring studies, special research studies
  3. A sustainable field centre in Environmental Science for Acadia University.

Objectives (originally set in 2002):

  1. To permanently establish a baseline grid system for mapping the Morton Centre property in order to maintain sampling consistency over time. Although future projects may group or subdivide grid cells, the initial structuring will determine the baseline for future sampling
  2. To complete a broad overview of the diversity of flora, fauna, geological elements and ecosystem structures present within the boundaries of the property and determine a procedure and sequence for detailed data collection and characterization.
  3. To conduct a general assessment of the factors having impact on the property – i.e. adjacent property uses; movement of species; human and human sponsored animal use; weather patterns; etc.
  4. To conduct a systematic review and identification of ecological elements found within each grid cell of the property. The researchers will establish a protocol for level of detail and time of review in the initial stages of the project. Collection methods will include sampling as appropriate, digital images, and referenced observations
  5. To design and build a computerized database for the property reflecting the grid structure and the ecological inventory. This will be done in close collaboration with the AITT and experts in GIS resources.
  6. To liaise with other researchers and community groups in the area to share information and data
  7. To participate in the development of a business plan for the property, a strategic impact assessment for the property, Environmental Science field activities and problem based learning modules for Environmental Science.
  8. To prepare a final report for the summer project and participate in the development of interpretive and display materials for the Morton Centre.

For more details, see Linda Lusby's Home Page

Community Outreach

Morton Centre Open House and BBQ - A Day of Dialogue and Community Outreach

On Saturday, July 17, 2004, the Morton Centre welcomed the Heckman’s Island community to its first ever Open House and BBQ. It was one of the most beautiful days of the summer, and an ideal opportunity to showcase the property and all of its offerings. Community members began arriving at around 1:30 pm for a meet-and-greet, and spent time mingling with each other as well as past and present Morton Centre student researchers. Guests also had the chance to view display materials and sign the guestbook before a student-led presentation at 2:00 pm. After brief welcomes from Cate Trueman and Dr. Soren Bondrup-Nielsen (Asst. Dean of Environmental Science), Rebecca McQuaid and Megan Beveridge gave an introduction to the property, the Morton Centre Project, and a brief history of the Centre. Part of the 30-minute presentation was also devoted to giving an overview of past and present research projects. Six students (and Morton Centre alumni) each gave the audience insight into their research on a variety of topics, from forest ecology, to coastline dynamics, to applied sustainability and more. Tony Pesklevits then provided a look into the future of the Centre and its potential, and Cate wrapped things up by touching on how the community and the Morton Centre can work together. Tony then facilitated an interactive question and discussion period. Many community members had important and insightful questions and comments, which were answered by students, alumni, and faculty.

Following the question period, students and alumni guided small groups of people along a few of the trails on the property, discussing points of interest as they went along. The guided walks provided real “see-for-yourself” examples of what the Centre is all about. By late afternoon, all gathered on the deck of the cottage for salads, burgers, hotdogs, and great conversation. People left that day saying how appreciative they were that the Centre had made the effort to reach out and involve the community in its goings-on. There were about 35 community members and 10 students and alumni who contributed to making this event a huge success. Rebecca and Cate, the main organizers of this initiative, could not have asked for a better day, and were very happy to see a lot of interest from the community. Thanks to all who helped out and were supportive of this event, it couldn’t have happened without you!

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For more information on the Heckman's Island Community: The Heckman's Island Website

Current Monitoring

Weather Station for Old Forest Growth Conditions under the forest canopy can be markedly different than those outside it and consequently with data from both outside and within the forest canopy, conclusions can be drawn about the conditions in this forest specifically and about how this forest modifies physical variables. Distinct differences in temperature, light, humidity, and wind occur at different levels of the forest and create a stratification of microclimate. Thus it was decided to set up a remote access weather station within the Morton Centre forest which automatically downloads daily weather conditions under the forest canopy to a computer at Acadia University so that long-term data can be collected at used for forest monitoring.

Courses and Camps

Leadership and Environmental Adventure (LEAD) a summer camp for 13-15 year olds lead by Heartwood and the Morton Centre staff at the Morton Centre.

During the summer of 2004, an enthusiastic group of young people gathered at the Morton Centre for an experience which would have them appreciating the natural world, contributing to community, and learning about each other, themselves, and how we are all connected. HeartWood’s five-day Leadership and Environmental Adventure residential program was hosted at the Morton Centre from July 25-30, 2004. This arrangement was made possible through a unique agreement, and Morton Centre staff Cate Trueman doubled during the week, also coordinating the LEAD program. The group of a dozen, including three staff, set up camp next to the farmhouse. Tents were used for sleeping, while we used the farmhouse kitchen, and the barn and annex for various indoor activities. The participants, aged 13-15, came from across the province, and shared an interest in an adventuresome, nature-based experience.

Day 1: Getting to know each other

  • Got to know each other and created our community that we would be living in for the next week.
  • Explored the woods and the shore of the Morton Centre property
  • Created a beach sculpture, which we would return to at the end of our time together.
  • Learned about Leave No Trace principles and how we could best set up our site to have minimum impact on the environment.

Day 2: Leadership

  • Identified leadership qualities that we each have, or that we would like to have, and used those in creating leadership scarecrows.
  • In the afternoon, we took some time to give back to the property which was our host. We helped MC staff Rebecca with tree coring in order to learn more about the age of the forest. We tracked porcupines with MC staff Joe, and others helped Cate create a compost lasagna.
  • That evening we had a magical experience at the Grandma Tree. We gathered at dusk beneath her canopy and created her story. As night closed in, we ventured, in silence, into the darkness to see what the woods had to offer our senses.

Day 3: Sustainability

  • Visited Windhorse Farm, a 160-year experiment in sustainability. We walked though some of the most awe-inspiring old growth forest in the province and wandered though their extensive organic gardens. Our service to them was to help in the gardens, and with tree pruning. It was here that we chose earth names for ourselves.
  • Finished the day with a hearty meal in a straw-bale house, followed by the creation of our own dream lists.

Day 4: Service

  • Biked into the Lunenburg farmer’s market. We researched what the market had to offer, and also why such a market is important.
  • With only $10, we were challenged to purchase lunch for the entire group! The best way to make our money stretch was to offer our energy in return. We moved boxes and helped vendors pack up at the end of the day. By that time, we had gathered a feast, more than enough for our needs, and had learned that a little service can go a long way.
  • Biked back to the Morton Centre and rushed to the ocean for a swim to cool off.
  • That evening, we sat amongst the hay bales in the barn as the Otesha Project gave us a presentation on who they are and how they are making a difference. They are a group of young people which cycle from coast to coast, doing presentations in schools and getting youth enthusiastic about living more lightly on the earth.

Day 5: Change

  • On our final morning together, we revisited our beach sculpture to see how it had changed during the week. We asked ourselves how we had changed, and how are we going to take our experience back home with us.
  • Just after lunch we prepared a presentation for those who would be coming to pick us up. With the barn as our stage, we performed skits and sang songs to give our audience a snapshot of the experiences we’d been through. We left as friends, and with the motivation to use our leadership and skills to make a difference in the world.