Teen to study wells in effort to solve creek's salt level mystery
Wishing for wells to study this summer is Chelsea Carver, 16, of Pine.
As a science project, Chelsea plans to help collect and analyze samples of water from wells within the 67-square-mile Pine Creek Watershed to shed light on why the creek's water perennially reveals elevated salt levels.
“We're using this as an opportunity to come up with an answer,” said John Stolz of Shaler, one of two Duquesne University professors who plans to help Chelsea with her research.
People can offer their wells for testing by sending an email to Brady Porter of Hampton, the other professor and Chelsea's mentor for her science project.
Both Porter and Stolz work in the Duquesne University Department of Biological Sciences, where well samples will be analyzed for the presence of dozens of elements and chemical compounds.
“We are asking for the community's help in gathering well water samples,” said Chelsea, a junior at Pine-Richland High School.
“I'm going to help take samples,” she said. “I'm going to work with professors in the lab, and they're going to teach me how to analyze the data, which is why I need a mentor, because I don't know how to do this stuff.”
Porter said the elevated salt levels consistently show up in water samples drawn from Pine Creek and its tributaries by volunteers with Three Rivers Quest, a consortium of organizations dedicated to monitoring the quality of water in the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers.
“It's a puzzle,” Porter said about Pine Creek's year-round, high levels of sodium chloride.
Porter said Pine Creek's sodium chloride levels affect how the water tastes, but pose no safety problem for humans.
“It's not a health hazard,” Porter said. “The trout are very salt tolerant.”
But Pine Creek's elevated salinity could affect the creek's other aquatic life, including insects and other fish, Porter said.
Pine-Richland chemistry teacher John Simko connected Chelsea with Porter after Chelsea selected water quality as the focus for her entry in the Covestro Pittsburgh Regional Science & Engineering Fair set for March 31 and April 1, 2017, at the Carnegie Science Center and Heinz Field.
“Every summer, I look for science projects and community service,” said Chelsea, daughter of Tom and Elaine Carver of Pine.
As a middle school student at Shady Side Academy, Chelsea won a national contest for young naturalists with a science project that explored ways to deter deer from eating backyard vegetation.
Last summer, to earn her Gold Award as a Girl Scout, Chelsea worked with Bill Moul of Marshall, president of the North Area Environmental Council (NEAC), to plant five educational gardens at the entrance to Marshall Island in North Park.
“She seems like a dynamic young lady,” Moul said.
North Park naturalist Meg Scanlon triggered Chelsea's latest science project when Scanlon introduced Chelsea to a NEAC study from 2002 to 2004 in which volunteers collected water samples from about a dozen sites along Pine Creek.
“We noticed salinity was high,” Moul said. “Where is that coming from? ... Maybe there is something in the underground strata.”
The source of the salt continues to puzzle scientists.
“I've been studying it for six or seven years,” Porter said.
This summer, Chelsea plans to work with Porter, Stolz and Duquesne University graduate student Linnea Manley to gather data on the water samples drawn from wells in Pine Creek Watershed, which includes Hampton, McCandless, Shaler, Pine and Richland, among 14 municipalities.
The goal is “to gather new data to compare with existing benchmarks,” Chelsea said. “The testing will most likely begin in July.”
She said Porter will confirm whether wells offered for testing are within the Pine Creek Watershed.
“The donor would remain anonymous,” Porter said.
People who wish to participate in Chelsea's science project and offer a well for testing, should email Porter at email@example.com.
Deborah Deasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-772-6369 or firstname.lastname@example.org.