May 4, 2009
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:
SRU launches new enterprise: a meteorological observatory
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Slippery Rock University is installing a $100,000 air quality and meteorological observatory at the eastern edge of campus. Students will be able to conduct high-quality research on ozone levels and air pollutants, gaining insight into air quality and helping them lead more environmentally aware lives.
"Students and the community will be able to make educated decisions about their health and the health of the environment," said Julie Snow, SRU associate professor of geography, geology and the environment. "The data is going to be available, so a runner would know when the ozone is too high for running, for example."
The University formed a partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for the 30-foot observatory, which will be erected this summer on ecological plots about 100 feet behind SRU's Storm Harbor Equestrian Center.
Students will have instant access to local weather. The observatory will measure air temperature, precipitation, wind speed and direction and relative humidity.
DEP will gain a better understanding of air toxins in the western half of the state, Snow said. One SRU student will be hired by DEP to collect toxic pollutant samples such as vehicle emission readings for the state agency.
"This is really a big deal," Snow said. "We are going to get data about the local atmosphere every hour of every day. Our goal is to promote awareness and affect policy."
Toxic pollutants in the air are those commonly associated with vehicle emissions but are also emitted from smaller sources such as dry cleaners and paint stores, said Donald Torsello, acting chief for DEP toxic monitoring. Toxic pollutants, including metals such as lead, are suspected of causing human health and environmental hazards, he said.
Another reason for locating an air-monitoring site at SRU is that southwestern Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia are home to many coal-fired power plants, Torsello said. These power plants are large-scale contributors to acid rain formation, he said.
"Monitoring over time can show trends and determine the effectiveness of air regulations," Torsello said.
SRU will purchase and install the shelter, equipment and cover utility costs, connecting the tower to its existing electricity grid. DEP will provide samplers for metals and volatile organic compounds and a data logger to monitor nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide.
Atmospheric readings will be posted and available online to anyone who's interested on the department of geography, geology and the environment Web site.
"The main thing is SRU becomes part of a national and regional effort to analyze and observe air quality," said Jack Livingston, SRU associate professor geography, geology and the environment. "This is something that's really critical for our students to be a part of and to understand their environment. The data could potentially influence University, state and national policy, and our students will be involved."
SRU and the DEP split the cost of the observatory, with $20,000 coming from the SRU Technology Fee, Snow said.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their live.