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MU METEOROLOGY BEGINS 5-YEAR PRECIPITATION MONITORING

MU Meteorology has entered into a partnership with the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP), the Mercury Deposition Network (MDN), and the PA-Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to monitor the chemical makeup and mercury content in precipitation. Dr Richard Clark and a select group of meteorology and chemistry students have committed to collecting weekly precipitation samples from standardized collection units located about 1.5 miles west of Millersville for a period of at least five years. New students will be brought into the program as others graduate, so that over the lifetime of the project about 30 students will be exposed to the techniques of sampling and chemical analysis of precipitation.

MU joins 200 other NADP sites in 46 states, some of which have a continuous record of 22 years of precipitation chemistry data. This program compiles data on the amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, ammonium ion, nitrate, chlorine, sulfate anion, and the pH of precipitation. On the other hand, the MDN has only been in existence since 1994, and MU is the latest addition to a network of 35 sites sampling for mercury as part of the development of a regional database.

Why should we be concerned about atmospheric deposition? As rain or snow forms and falls, it scavenges particles and gases from the air. Precipitation deposits these substances on the Earth's surface. Monitoring precipitation chemistry over space and time helps us describe the chemical climate in a region and throughout the country. Many factors affect the chemical climate: emissions of pollutants to the atmosphere, how these pollutants are mixed or dispersed in the air, how they are transported by the wind, how they chemically transform during transport, and how they are scavenged by precipitation or removed as dry deposition. This description makes it apparent that the interplay of meteorology and atmospheric chemistry affect precipitation chemistry in defining our chemical climate (Ref: http://nadp.sws.uius.edu).

It is not difficult to imagine the educational benefits that accompany having a NADP/MDN monitoring site nearby. Not only can students fully participate in the collection and chemical analysis of precipitation, gaining practical field and laboratory experience, but courses such as Chemistry of the Atmosphere (P), Environmental Meteorology (G2, L), and Environmental Chemistry (G2, L) can use the site and the broader NADP/MDN database to launch discussions related to the factors affecting precipitation chemistry. What is most exciting says Dr Clark is that this project is inherently interdisciplinary and has the potential to bring students of meteorology and chemistry together in a real world setting to practice science as science is practiced, discuss issues in a language that transcends both disciplines, and see the results of their efforts enhance a national database that is meaningful to science and society.

PHOTO: MU students, Matthew Alonso (left) and Eric Vernon collect samples of precipitation at the new NADP/MDN site located in an agricultural setting west of Millersville Boro.

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