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From the Spring 2013 Conservationist for Kids

air monitoring state at summit of Whiteface Mountain

Monitoring Acid Rain

By Gina Jack

Monitoring Acid Rain

Research is important for discovering how acid rain affects different parts of an ecosystem and why some places seem better able to buffer acid rain than others. Research can also help find ways to reduce acid rain. Monitoring stations are set up to automatically collect samples of wet deposition (rain and snow), gases, and particles carried in the air. Researchers also take samples of lake and stream water to better understand the effects of acid rain on the environment. Samples may be analyzed (tested) automatically by the monitoring equipment, by hand or in a laboratory.

Tests may be conducted hourly, daily or weekly-whatever interval is most appropriate for the information being gathered. By measuring the same things at regular intervals (amount of precipitation, pH, types of pollutants, etc.), researchers can see changes over time, such as increases or decreases in acidity. Other air measurements are collected when watching for specific problems, such as factories or power plants polluting the air, or checking vehicle emissions.

Researchers involved in atmospheric modeling combine the different types of data gathered through monitoring to learn what is happening in the air, our lungs and the environment. Computer models are then used to forecast air quality and to predict the effects that changing air quality may have on fish, wildlife and people.

The monitoring station at the summit of Whiteface Mountain, the fifth-highest peak (4,867 feet) in the Adirondacks, is a special one. In addition to the standard samples, it collects samples of cloud water.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has been monitoring wet acid deposition in New York State for more than 30 years. Recently, DEC joined the national Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP). NADP's goal is to monitor the chemistry of precipitation and the atmosphere for long periods to watch for changes over time. Its members include federal and state agencies, tribal nations, universities and others who share information from air monitoring. By working together, each group has access to a lot more data than they would be able to gather on their own. The data they gather are used in different ways.