Navigating the Waterfront to the North of Campus: the View Beneath the Surface

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Mathematics Professor Pat Halpin parks behind Penfield Library and makes his way to shore with his SCUBA gear.

“The water off the college is relatively shallow from a diver’s perspective,” Halpin said. “I once dove with a student to see how far out we could go on a single tank of air. We swam north for almost an hour and the maximum depth was approximately 35 feet.”

The lake’s floor and the surrounding land began to form about 15,000 years ago, stemming from glacial activity. It holds special challenges to navigators. There are sudden shallows and terrific storms, both reasons why the lake floor is littered with shipwrecks. And for these reasons—and more—Lake Ontario is a diver’s paradise.

According to Halpin, the campus’s offshore lakebed consists of “shelf rock” with small drop offs near shore. Farther from shore, there are occasional large boulders mixed with smaller rock.

Halpin, who grew up on Lake Ontario near Rochester, said his love of the lake was a major factor in his decision to accept a position in the mathematics department. And his love of SCUBA has made its way into the classroom as well: As it turns out, there is actually some interesting mathematics involved in the “dive tables” that SCUBA divers are trained to use.

“I have been able to bring this into my calculus classrooms, and students seem to find it interesting and amusing that I am a diver,” Halpin said.

“Much of my fresh water diving has taken place right off from the college,” said Halpin, who became certified around 1990.

“The lake has indeed changed quite a bit over the last 25 years. The water clarity has increased greatly. This is because of invasive mussels that now thrive in the Great Lakes. In fact the bottom of the lake is carpeted in mussels, and they are sharp!”

Halpin saw a wider variety of fish in decades past: yellow perch, sunfish, rock bass, bass and eels. “Now we see more carp, sheepshead and round gobies (another invasive species),” he said.

Halpin has also gone diving at night, using powerful dive lights.

“One night I was diving with Fred Brown’96, a computer science major who returned to col­lege after serving in the Marines,” he said. “We entered the water near the library, and during the dive the wind came up out of the west. We were carried east, and at the end of the dive we were closer to Shady Shore than the library.

“We emerged from the water with our wet suits and heavy SCUBA gear only to find ourselves in the midst of a formal affair that was being hosted by President Stanley,” Halpin laughed. “So, after all these years: President Stanley, I confess, it was me!”

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