Renowned poet-naturalist Mary Oliver once wrote: “To pay attention: this is our endless and proper work.” UMBS Resident Biologist Adam Schubel embodies this spirit through weekly precipitation chemistry monitoring.

Every Tuesday morning at 9am, you can find UMBS Resident Biologist Adam Schubel in the same place. And it’s not the administrative office for coffee break.

Rain or shine, Schubel makes the familiar trek from his office, past the student cabins, and down the forested two-track near the “BioTron” underground soil science facility, until a break in the canopy marks the entrance to the “UV Field” – a popular site for atmospheric monitoring projects. The work at hand is no exception.

Schubel’s weekly pilgrimage is in service of the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP) National Trends Network, organized in 1977 by the U.S. State Agriculture Experiment Stations (SAES) to measure acids and nutrients in precipitation and their effects on the environment over time. NADP monitoring provides critical data that answer questions about the causes and consequences of acid rain – a phenomenon known to harm forests, soil, water, and their living inhabitants, as well as human health and the integrity of stone and metal structures.

Since 1979, UMBS has been counted among NADP’s 260 site network. The longevity of the project allows researchers to better understand how human actions and natural events impact precipitation chemistry, and the sheer number and vast geographic distribution of sites help draw out local versus global trends.

According to Schubel, participation in NADP monitoring is a sterling example of UMBS’s broader commitment to careful collection of useful long-term data – and how these data can help disparate sectors work together for the good of the world.

“For me, the NADP demonstrates how scientists working in concert with policy makers, regulators, and the private sector can diagnose and address issues of ecological health,” says Schubel. “This is an example of how scientific monitoring, sound policy, and regulatory enforcement can solve environmental problems and create jobs.”

He elaborates. “UMBS pays me to work on this program a few hours a week, and in the interest of public and environmental health, 259 other operators across the country are out there doing the same work. The program supports two fully staffed analytical labs in Wisconsin. The program is a driver and benefactor of scientific research and technological innovation. Among other private companies, NADP utilizes the services of the United Parcel Service. UPS powers their trucks with General Motors engines. The EPA regulates the sulfur content of the gas that fuels those engines. NADP provides a good example of how we can align systems to benefit people and the planet.”

History supports Schubel’s notion. NADP data proved critical in informing Congress’s 1990 decision to amend the Clean Air Act after long-term trends identified sulfur dioxide - a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion - as a key element of overly acidic rain. A 2010 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report suggested that the amendment was a huge success: emissions were down by fifty percent, damaged ecosystems were bouncing back, and heart attacks and respiratory conditions attributed to poor air quality were down by tens of thousands of cases per year.

Sulfate concentration in precipitation at UMBS 1979-2020. (Source: National Atmospheric Deposition Program)

Results like these underscore UMBS’s commitment to long-term monitoring – as part of networks like NADP, and through the independent and collaborative work of our students and research community. In tandem, these projects help us better understand how humans, climate, and other factors interact to determine the composition and health of both northern Michigan, and the world.

In this spirit, you can expect Schubel's endless and proper work to continue at the UV Field each Tuesday morning. If you see him, bring him a cup of coffee.