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Environmental Science

Our team is expert in collecting and analyzing environmental samples of the Uintah Basin. We perform research in the following areas:

Atmospheric Mercury Measurements

Shortcomings with current atmospheric mercury instrumentation are limiting our ability to understand how mercury is transported and transformed in the atmosphere. We are developing improved instrumentation, allowing us to more accurately detect atmospheric mercury compounds.

Using our high-precision equipment to collect data, we have contributed to numerous local, national, and international studies and reports, presentations, and papers, including:

    • Annual assessments of wintertime air quality in the Uintah Basin.
    • Analyses of the potential for Western U.S. basins to experience high winter ozone.
    • Studies of emission sources affecting air quality in the region.
    • Examinations of potential health risks from measured pollutants.

Since 2010, the Bingham Center has collected measurements of speciated volatile organic compounds, or VOC, in ambient air. Several studies have determined that VOC in ambient air drive observed ozone levels. We are now working to use these long-term datasets to assess how changes in industry practices and emissions affect ambient VOC levels. Some practices include:

  • Operating NOx analyzers using a different, unbiased measurement method, constituting the only trustworthy NOx dataset in the Uintah Basin.
  • Maintaining a network of remote stations measuring ozone, precursors, and meteorological parameters, allowing for an adequate assessment of air quality conditions around the Basin.
  • More than 30 sites around the Uintah Basin continuously measure common meteorological parameters like temperature, humidity, and wind conditions.
  • Using sonic snow depth sensors provide valuable, real-time information about snow depth in areas of the Basin that would not be measured otherwise.
  • Collecting the only measurements of solar radiation and reflectivity of radiation from snow.

Atmospheric Mercury

We are developing methods to quantify and identify oxidized mercury compounds via gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. Gas chromatography isolates and quantifies the constituent compounds of a sample, and mass spectrometry measures each compound’s molecular mass, allowing accurate identification. These exceptionally reactive compounds are not easy to keep in the gas phase, so we are creating an ultra-inert handling system to provide maximum sample transmission.

We are also developing a field-deployable calibrator that will allow automatic verification of ambient oxidized mercury measurements. Currently, no calibration system is well accepted for oxidized mercury, and very few field calibrations have been performed. Our calibrator uses multiple permeation tubes to allow calibration with a variety of compounds, and it has a built-in pyrolyzer to convert oxidized mercury compounds to elemental mercury on the fly, so oxidized mercury permeation rates can be checked with an elemental mercury detector.

Environmental Ecology

  • Hazard assessment of heavy metals in wetland ecosystem
  • Soil reclamation and impacts to the overall soil health in arid landscapes
  • Monitor endangered endemic plant species of the Uinta Basin
  • Citizen Science and authentic research experiences for students