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BCC STUDENTS IN THE CLOUDS: A UNIQUE RESEARCH EXPERIENCE MEASURING POLLUTION

Every January, since 2001, Bronx Community College science students have been accompanying the author to conduct research as part of an Environmental Field Study at Storm Peak Lab (10,565 ft) in the Colorado Rockies. The trip is a joint effort with Prof. Edward Hindman of the Dept of Earth and Atmospheric Science and Prof. Teresa Bandosz of the Chemistry Dept both at City College.

January 2003 BCC participants at Storm Peak Lab (10,565ft) (From left to right, Prof. Hindman of CCNY, the Author, Cheryl Gulliver, Nelson Suero, Roberto Garcia)

At 10,565 ft Storm Peak Lab is an ideal location for studying clouds and atmospheric pollution on a local, national and global scale. It is one of only a handful of facilities in the world where clouds and other atmospheric phenomena can be studied for long periods. In the absence of these facilities, scientists have to use aircraft to perform their research activities in the clouds. At SPL, the clouds usually form at low levels and move up the mountain towards the lab.

For the first three days of the trip students are enrolled in the world renowned Steamboat Ski School. Skiing is required to be able to move between SPL at 10,565 ft and a base station condominium complex (SPLB) at 6500 ft in the town of Steamboat Springs. Research activities are conducted simultaneously at the two sites by student/faculty teams. All ski rental equipment and lift passes for students and faculty for the two-week stay are provided complimentary of the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corporation (SSRC). SSRC also provides complimentary return airline tickets for the faculty members.

A localized cloud forms below SPL
The cloud later moves up toward SPL

Students usually complete ski school at 3 pm in the afternoon. Between 7 – 8:30 pm, students attend workshops on the following topics:

  • Collecting cloud water and snow samples
  • Making and meteorological measurements
  • Collecting snow crystal on microscope slides and identifying snow crystal type.
  • Chemical analyses for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide gas in the atmosphere.
  • Determining the amount of fine and ultrafine dust particles present in the atmosphere.
On the fourth day of the trip, students and faculty begin a rotation between SPL and the condominium base station, conducting round the clock measurements. Students are usually on for six-hour shifts at a time and are then off for the next six hours. Students/faculty teams also interchange locations between SPL and the condominium base station, usually on a daily basis. On some occasions a team may spend up to 2 days at SPL.

Fadeke Longe (Jan 2002) riding the Gondola up to 8000 ft during ski school lessons Daidre Nembhard (Jan 03) learning to ski down soothes his sore bones in the hot tub at SPLB The author transporting material to SPL

All cloud water and snow samples collected at SPL and SPLB are shipped frozen back to the Chemistry Dept Lab at BCC. Students analyze the samples for pH, chlorides, nitrates, and sulfates as indicators of pollution.

Table 1 below is a summary of the chemical analyses performed at the BCC Chemistry Department Laboratory on the cloud water and snow samples that were collected at SPL during January 2002. Comparison of the results with a BCC tap water sample shows that the cloud water samples are relatively polluted. Nitrates, a compound that can lead to the fatal condition in infants referred to as blue baby syndrome, in some cases is as much as 10 times higher in the cloud water samples than in the tap water sample. The typical pH range of tap water is usually in the range of 6.5 – 7.5. The pH of the cloud water samples is much more acidic, falling in the range of 3.5 – 4.5. These cloud water characteristics will be magnified for areas of the country where industrial facilities and other sources contribute a significant amount of pollutants to the environment.

Sample ID pH Chloride
(mg/L)
Nitrate
(mg/L)
Sulfate
(mg/L)
SPLS-01 4.71 0.46 1.59 0.66
SPLS-02 4.71 0.51 3.97 0.86
SPLS-03 4.82 0.42 0.73 1.25
SPLS-04 5.02 0.43 0.24 0.73
SPLS-05 4.85 0.32 0.27 0.73
SPLS-06 5.07 0.40 0.28 0.75
SPLS-07 4.98 0.28 0.20 0.79
SPLS-08 4.54 0.21 0.54 0.96
SPLS-09 4.71 0.30 0.65 0.97
SPLS-10 4.76 0.28 0.50 0.99
SPLS-11 4.59 0.20 0.89 1.26
SPLS-12 4.19 0.36 3.31 1.30
SPLS-13 4.43 0.29 1.66 1.10
SPLS-14 4.45 0.64 1.19 1.46
SPLS-15 4.48 0.71 1.91 1.29
BCC Tap Water 6.90 9.61 0.83 6.65

Table 1. BCC Chemical Analyses of SPL Cloud Water Samples (Jan 2002)

BCC participants at Storm Peak Lab
Nelson Suero (Jan 03) removing the frozen cloud water from the sieves

Cheryl Gulliver (Jan 2003) taking readings at the Weather station at the condominium base station
Uyi Omoirawua (Jan 2001) replenishing SPL's water supply with fresh snow
Roberto Garcia (left) and Cheryl Gulliver arriving for their 2 day shift at SPL at 10,565ft

Uyi Omoirawua (Jan 2001) measuring sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide at SPL
Daidre Nembhard (Jan 2002), Kamal Thappa (CCNY) and the author collecting snow at SPL
Daidre Nembhard (Jan 2002), Kamal Thappa (CCNY) and the author collecting snow at SPL

A snow crystal that was collected at SPL

The Annual National Weatherman Summit is held in Steamboat Springs, CO annually. Through our hosts the Steamboat Ski Resort Corporation, we attend the closing dinner and have an opportunity to meet weather personalities from across the country. During the 2001 trip our research activities at SPL was highlighted in a live 5-minute spot with weatherman Bill Evans of ABC-TV (morning of January 12, 2001).

ABC-TV weatherman Bill Evans making live report from Steamboat Springs (Jan 12, 2001)
Bill Evans conducting live interview with author and other field study participants (Jan 12, 2001)

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The following people/organizations have contributed to the success or have been very supportive of BCC student participation in the Environmental Field Study over the years:

  • President Carolyn Williams, Bronx Community College
  • Dr. Marcia Keizs, VP of Academic Affairs, Bronx Community College
  • Mr Kirk Daly, Director of Student Activities
  • Alliance for Minority Participation (AMP) Program
  • Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation (SSRC)
  • Professor Edward Hindman, City College
  • Professor Teresa Bandosz, City College of New York
  • Professor Randolph Borys, Desert Research Institute, Reno, NV
  • Bronx Community College Committee on Instruction and Professional Development

ATMOSPHERIC FIELD STUDIES

Storm Peak Laboratory
Steamboat Springs CO
Daidre Nembhard Presenting Results at American Chemical Society ACS) 50th Undergraduate Research Symposium, Hofstra University (May 2002)
Daidre (left) with her ACS Certificate

 

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