Friday, September 26, 2008
Ana Roy at the cloud sampling site near Lakes of the Clouds Hut explaining the equipment and the program to hikers, September 12, 2008
This is Ana Roy (short for Anastasia), a naturalist working for the AMC who operates the cloud sampling project at Lakes. The hut is located at 5000 feet on a southwestern shoulder of Mt. Washington and at the foot of Mt. Monroe. Almost every afternoon, weather permitting, Ana gives a demo of the cloud sampling equipment and explains her project on clouds and talks about the clouds themselves to guests at the hut and random hikers. The cloud project is fascinating for two reasons. One is that clouds tell unusual stories about how they form and what they contain inside of them. For instance clouds sometimes contain particles of soot or clay that get filtered out in the cloud filter Ana uses. The clay may come from 1000s of miles away. Clouds consist of moisture mostly and the water that condenses out of clouds also tells Ana something about where the clouds come from. In the mid-1960s I was a lowly research assistant and part of a team of researchers working in forest laboratories in the US, Scotland, Norway and Germany who eventually coined the term "Acid Rain". The phenomenon of acid rain became well known in the 1970s because it raised a long list of grave environmental concerns. When I give programs about the health of the forest the question of acid rain comes up often and most people think it's a ghost from the past, that the coal fired plants in the mid-west are all 'clean' burning now. So the second reason the cloud program at lakes is interesting is that it has shown that some of the rain that falls on Mt. Washington and the White Mountain National Forest is still pretty acidic. Rain normally has a pH (or acidic content index) of 5.4 to 5.7 where 7 is neutral and 1 is very acidic. Acid rain has a pH of between 5.8 and 3.0. Some of the water samples from the equipment at Lakes has a pH as low as 2.6 at times. This is an issue because acid rain has such a destructive impact on the environment. The quantitative and qualitative damage it does is literally immeasurable. Things are certainly better than they were in the 1960s and 1970s but they still need scrutinizing.