Photo courtesy of Dr. Kirby

Researchers on the River - Dr. Carl Kirby

This article was featured in our August 2012 newsletter.

Stormwater that runs off of roads and into streams can be pretty salty thanks to winter road salt. Water flowing through abandoned surface and deep coal mines can become very salty through different chemical reactions, and flowback water that is a by-product of hydrofracking is…you guessed it, salty (sometimes 10x saltier than sea water). “Say we encounter a plume of salty water in our local stream,” says Dr. Carl Kirby, a professor of Geology at Bucknell University. “General characteristics of the water, like conductivity, can tell us that the water is salty, but it can’t tell us any more of the story…like where it came from.” Dr. Kirby and researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Bingampton want to complete the story by “fingerprinting” Marcellus Shale flowback waters and other sources of
saline.

“Essentially we want to identify a geochemical signature for the Marcellus that will act like a fingerprint and allow us to distinguish flowback water from other surface waters” explains Kirby. The researchers are studying which various chemicals indicate differences in the water and are also considering other parameters including major and minor elements and light
stable isotope ratios, which they believe will be different among contaminated waters.

Dr. Kirby is also working on the Marcellus Shale Publications Database, a website designed to provide scientists, regulators and citizens with access to research surrounding Marcellus shale development, other similar non-conventional shale resources. “It provides the
public with information on how to find publications either online, or through a library near them using the WorldCat search feature. Typically, if you’re not associated with a university it can be a challenge to get complete copies of these resources. Our database tells you how you can acquire the resource” says Kirby. The database does not evaluate news reports, and offers information about how to find the most reliable sources for information, such as peer-reviewed journals. Kirby and students continue to add to the database and in the past 30 days have added over twenty new sources.

Read more about Dr. Kirby’s research interests here.

Interested in getting involved with stream surveillance in your area? Check out Trout Unlimited’s Coldwater Conservation Corps who get their boots on the ground to monitor water resources, conduct visual assessments, and report violations of state laws.