Silica Science of the Snowmageddon!!

As many people probably know, Boston has been hit incredibly hard by the last few snow storms. Being a scientist stuck inside for so many days, I couldn’t help but peruse some of the historical records of snow fall. Already this season is number 10 out of all winter seasons for snow fall with a total of 73.9 inches. What’s crazy is the fact that this all came down in just 17 days. This means we have now broken our previous 40 day record in 17 days. Currently we have around 37 inches just sitting around and I’m sure we are not done. In fact, it is still flurrying and on Thursday we are supposed to get more snow.

What this means for me/science is that all of the schools here have been closed and the T has been shut down. BU has had 5 snow days so far, including tomorrow and our whole transportation system was shut down during the first storm and will mostly be shut down tomorrow. Even though the snow is going to stop some time tonight, all rail service is shut down so the MBTA can catch up, clear off all the ice, assess the damage, and fix everything.

In an attempt to ameliorate this situation, my professor told us, don’t come in to work, but collect snow samples! I took advantage of this request and the driving ban (not only could no one park on main roads, but no one could drive anywhere) during the first storm and trekked 4.5 miles across Boston/Cambridge/Somerville collecting snow samples. Here’s a picture of my journey and all the places I collected snow:


It was amazing. There was no one on the roads besides a few odd groups with sleds or skiis. Being incredibly scientific, I carried around little plastic bags I pushed fresh snow into, wrote on with a sharpie, and kept outside in a little black bag to keep them frozen:

IMG_6866 IMG_6868IMG_6869 IMG_6871

Back in the lab, these samples will be thawed and analyzed for silica. This is an element on the periodic table, Silicon (Si), that is normally found in an oxidized form (silica = SiO2) in nature. It is an essential nutrient for plants as it can be found in large quantities in all plants and makes plants stronger and more resistant to stresses like disease, insects, and toxins. Most likely there is very little silica in these samples since silica does not have a gaseous form and therefore would not be “washed out” of the air as some other elements are (e.g. nitrogen (NOx) and sulfur (SOx)), but it is always good to check! We will also see whether my transect from Boston to the more suburban Tufts University (my alma mater) area shows anything different. I will report back with the results!!

Everyone has favorite pictures they have taken during the past few weeks, here are a few of mine:
a)                                                 b)                                           c)
IMG_6901 IMG_6911 IMG_6910
a) A car after the first two snow storms b) A parking meter I must admit I didn’t pay at and c) the day it snowed inside of my car.

I hope everyone is staying safe and warm!

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