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Study of acid rain effects on LI under way

Jason Siemion, right, physical scientist for the USGS

Jason Siemion, right, physical scientist for the USGS and Irene Fisher, Hydrologist for the USGS work in Calverton Ponds Preserve, digging a well to test for the effects of acid rain in Manorville. (April 23, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Ed Betz

Researchers bushwhacked their way to remote parts of the pine barrens and Shelter Island last week to launch the first study of acid rain's impact on Long Island's ecosystem.

With shovels, plastic tubing and PVC pipes, a team from The Nature Conservancy of Long Island and the U.S. Geological Survey on Thursday installed two groundwater collection and monitoring stations at Calverton Ponds Preserve in Manorville.

Six sites in the Pine Barrens and one on Shelter Island will collect water for monthly analyses of how much acid rain seeps into the soil and reaches groundwater, said Greg Lawrence, a USGS research hydrologist based in upstate Troy.

Air pollution made up of sulfuric and nitric acid mixes with water in the atmosphere to create an acidic rain or snow. When the precipitation hits the ground, it causes calcium to leech out of the soil.

A lack of calcium weakens plant life and other organisms, making them susceptible to pests, disease, frost and other stresses, said Marilyn Jordan, senior conservation scientist with The Nature Conservancy.

"Acid rain is changing the chemistry of soils that support nature," Jordan said. The study "will determine how much of an effect acid rain has on the local ecosystem."

While calcium-rich areas can withstand acid rain, the Pine Barrens have a sandy soil that's already acidic, making it more susceptible to damage.

Lawrence has conducted similar studies in Russia, Maine, the Appalachian Valley and the Adirondacks, where high levels have reduced the diversity of aquatic life in hundreds of lakes, ponds and streams.

The effects of acid rain "could be just as bad here [on Long Island] as the Adirondacks," he said.

In Calverton, the USGS collected soil samples to study color and composition, and test for pH balance and calcium levels.

Collection of rainwater won't begin until the late summer or early fall, and research will continue through late 2013. Results are expected in early 2014, Jordan said.

The Biodiversity Research Institute in Gorham, Maine, will measure mercury in birds and insects near the ponds where the groundwater is being monitored, as part of the $175,000 study.

High mercury levels can reduce reproduction in fish-eating wildlife and song birds, according to a 2012 report by the institute.

New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and Foundation for Ecological Research in the Northeast are helping fund the study.

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