WILMINGTON - Despite the prominent location of its summit observatory station on Whiteface Mountain, the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center often flies below the radar, at least the work that goes on there does.
Paul Casson and Rich Brandt hope to change that. Casson is the operations manager at ASRC and Brandt is the science manager. Both men are recent hires at ASRC, which is run by SUNY Albany. They each started within the past year in their current positions, although Casson has done cloud collection work at Whiteface in the past.
"I want more people coming through here," Casson said. "I want them to know we're here. I want to be as welcoming and open as possible."
ASRC operations manager Paul Casson braves frigid temperatures at the summit field station on Whiteface Mountain earlier this month.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
ASCR consists of numerous buildings. The large log-cabin base lodge and a couple of other buildings are located on Marble Mountain Road near a trailhead to Esther Mountain. The other field station is located on the 4,867-foot summit of Whiteface Mountain at the end of the Veterans Memorial Highway. This three-story observatory is reached via a 426-foot long access tunnel dug into the mountain and met by an elevator which is 276 feet in height. The tunnel entrance is off the parking lot. The tunnel and parts of the tower are open to the public, but the section that contains the instruments is not accessible to the public.
The summit field station contains a large array of instruments. Many of these measure chemical compositions both in the gas phase and dissolved in cloud, fog and rain water. The data gathered is used by researchers to examine changes in air quality. The station also keeps tabs on the summit weather conditions.
Brandt said he'd like to take the weather information gathered by ASRC and make it available to the public on the Internet, the way that Mount Washington in New Hampshire does. Casson is a long-time ski patroller at Whiteface Mountain and Brandt is an avid backcountry skier. Brandt said he thinks that real-time weather data could be valuable information for people interested in hiking or skiing in the mountains. He envisions websites such as Adirondack Backcountry Skiing (www.adkbcski.com) providing the public with links to the information.
In addition, ASRC is working with the Olympic Regional Development Authority to get a grant that would put weather stations at different heights on the mountain. He said ASRC is also working with The Wild Center to improve interpretative signage on the mountain.
Both men said it would be beneficial if investments were made to the existing infrastructure on the mountain, including to the 5-mile stretch of highway leading to the top.
This summer, the state invested nearly a half-million dollars into renovations at the summit field station, they said. The work has made a big difference, helping weatherproof a building that is exposed to extreme elements.
Both men think that ASRC has a lot of potential, in a large part because of its historic datasets. Information about weather, such as temperature and wind direction, has been collected on the mountain since the 1930s and trace gasses, ozone and particulate records have been kept since the 1970s.
"I really think our strength here can be reflected in the past, in the long-term data that has been collected," Casson said. "You have to use what you have from the past to build your future, and this place has a future and I think that it has a lot of possibilities."
Right now, the facilities are visited by students on trips about a dozen times a year, while others use the grounds for specific research projects. Still, they'd like to see more students and researchers take advantage of their facilities.
"For a student at Paul Smith's College interested in alpine ecology, this would be ideal because you could drive up and down a road and have access to all of these different elevations for example," Brandt said. "I'd like to see a lot of use by students and also to have more collaborative projects.
"We're very well instrumented for meteorology and chemistry, and we have access to almost 4,000 vertical feet at different elevations, so we could think of geology and biology. There are all these different types of experiments that you might be interested in doing, knowing that you have a facility that has all of this stuff."
Those interested in learning more about the facility are welcome to stop by the large log base lodge at the end of Marble Mountain Road, which is open to the public, or by calling Casson at 946-2142.