A Less-Foggy Notion

Fog’s fogginess is scientific as well as visual. Scientists know, for instance, that pollutants and nutrients are more concentrated in fog than in rain. But they’re just beginning to understand how fog influences ecosystems.

Nationwide, researchers including Holly Ewing, assistant professor of environmental studies at Bates, are helping to advance that understanding. “Much of my work is centered on the soil,” says Ewing, who is involved in research projects in coastal California and Maine’s Acadia National Park. Specifically, she’s investigating how elevation, vegetation, and other factors affect deposits from the atmosphere, and how those deposited pollutants or nutrients interact with soil.

This year, Gabby Voeller ’07 of Littleton, Colo., took part in the project with Ewing and a collaborator, Kathleen Weathers of the Institute for Ecosystem Studies. Voeller spent June in Acadia sampling water from fog, rain, and tree drippage. In July, she analyzed the samples at the IES. Her training was funded from a $9,300 National Science Foundation grant designed to support students doing combined field and lab research.
The work informed Voeller’s ongoing senior thesis on methods for determining fog’s chemical makeup. And for her, a summer of fog research provided some clarity. “In ecology and natural resources, people are really passionate about their jobs,” Voeller says. “That passion was contagious.”