BREWSTER – From June through August in the summer of 2019, Marty Burke made a twice-weekly trip to either Lower Mill Pond or Cliff Pond. It wasn’t to swim, or even to paddleboard, one of Burke’s passions now that he has retired from a career as an employee benefits and reinsurance analyst.
Instead, as a volunteer with the Brewster Ponds Coalition and its citizen science committee, he traveled to the ponds to assemble an automated aerosol collector known as a CLAM. The Compact Lake Aerosol Monitor looks like a potted plant, a nondescript plastic tote sprouting four articulated gooseneck arms each hooded in black mosquito netting. It sits on a platform in shallow water, the arms positioned to droop within a few inches of the pond’s surface.
It may look simple – it was custom built by researchers at the University of New Hampshire – but its purpose is incredibly complex: The monitor collects microscopic toxins from a cyanobacterial bloom that has become airborne, mainly through evaporation.
Large-scale gathering of these airborne toxins for research would be prohibitively expensive for scientists to do themselves, said James Haney, professor of biological science at the UNH Center for Freshwater Biology. His department oversaw the collection process and trained the citizen scientists at the pond coalition, making sure their methods were rigorous enough that they could produce data researchers could use.
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