Millersville University Students Collect Precipitation for National Database

Jan 23, 2012, 05:00 ET from Millersville University

MILLERSVILLE, Pa., Jan. 23, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- It may come as a surprise that each raindrop can carry a variety of chemicals that cumulatively can be detrimental to human health, as well as the health of ecosystems. These chemicals, including heavy metals such as mercury, can be transported long distances from their sources before raining out. Since 2002, Millersville University of Pennsylvania's Department of Earth Sciences has been involved in a program that continuously monitors precipitation at a site near Millersville, Pa. The University recently signed a new five year agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to continue the monitoring.

The site is officially called PA47.  The precipitation that is collected each Tuesday by meteorology students, whether in the sticky heat of summer or blinding winter blizzards, is analyzed for a suite of chemicals, specifically ions and mercury. PA47 is one of over 250 sites that form the National Trends Network (NTN), and one of over 100 sites that take part in the Mercury Deposition Network (MDN), whose data helps to characterize the spatial and long-term temporal trends of chemicals and mercury in rain water nationwide.

The new contract includes funding for a recently installed automated rain gauge that reduces what was once a tedious and fault-prone data collection process to a simple download to a personal digital assistant. In addition, there has been a significant upgrade or replacement of the collectors used for ion chemistry and mercury, and a new apparatus has been added that captures the dry deposition of mercury on a filter.  Students now sample for mercury in rain water and in dry air.

The site has substantial educational value. More than 25 students have participated in sample collection, and each year, NADP supports one student to attend a comprehensive, three-day training workshop. These students in turn train the rest of the team.

"Our hope is that we can continue supporting the NTN/MDN for years to come," says site supervisor Dr. Richard Clark, earth sciences. "Our students learn valuable sampling procedures and field methods. They learn to troubleshoot problems and fix many on their own. The national database of ion chemistry and mercury in precipitation is all the better for their effort."

Clark and his students are attending the 2012 American Meteorological Society conference in New Orleans this week.

SOURCE Millersville University