Students in assistant professor of environmental science Tom O’Halloran’s Advanced Lab are helping him to implement a $100,000 grant from the Thomas F. and Kate Miller Jeffress Memorial Trust to study the iconic haze that gives the Blue Ridge Mountains their name. He is trying to determine what controls the formation of the haze, and whether it affects cloud properties or regional climate.
Some of the grant money is slated to purchase air quality sensors to detect atmospheric aerosols — tiny liquid or solid particles suspended in the gases that make up air. While initial plans called for installing the equipment on the College’s existing weather tower, O’Halloran anticipates approval to use funds from a Cargill Foundation grant to erect a new 120-foot tower and climate-controlled laboratory shed in a loblolly pine plantation on campus.
The taller tower will raise the sensors above the canopy, where they’ll be optimally situated to measure the interaction of gasses emitted by the forest and local and upwind sources of air pollution.
Data collection will occur in the spring and summer of 2014 with help from a student researcher funded through the Jeffress grant. O’Halloran envisions at least one student working continuously on the project for the next year. This semester, senior environmental science majors Heather Yepez, Megan Link and Maria Cuevas are doing preliminary research and planning for the proposed experimental station for lab credits. They presented a poster on their work at the 15th annual MARCUS Conference in October.