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Thursday March 15, 2012

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- After a decade of data, what began as a local weather recording station atop the Cambridge Central School building has turned into a local study on climate change.

In 2002, science Teacher Steve Butz applied for and received a $1,000 educational technology grant, which paid for the installation of the Davis Vantage Pro remote weather station.

The solar-powered weather instrument was mounted on the roof of the school building and linked via a wireless interface to computers in Butz’s science lab. With few interruptions, it has provided real-time weather data ever since, publicly available on the district’s website at www.cambridgecsd.org.

As time went on, the science department also began to utilize the station to work with real data collected at the school.

"After about four years I began to pull data on monthly mean temperatures collected from the station, and have my (Advanced Placement) students use spreadsheet software to begin to analyze it," Butz said in a release. A warming trend soon became evident.

"It really began to show up after the fourth year, and from then on, the data could not be ignored," said Butz. The data correlates with other climate studies conducted within New York, he said, and the 10-year trend shows winter temperatures have been more affected than summer temperatures -- suggesting winters are becoming milder while summers are staying relatively the same.

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A 2007 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists found since 1970, summer temperatures in the Northeast have risen at a rate of .5 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, while winter temperatures have risen at a rate of 1.3 degrees per decade.

Man-made or not, that warming trend portends many long-term, far-reaching implications.

In the classroom in Cambridge, students added a mathematical linear trend line to reveal an average temperature increase of about 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 10 years.

With climate change and global warming a "hot topic" in the environmental sciences for years, Butz said Cambridge students were now experiencing it firsthand.

"I think it became a real important issue in my classes, because we weren’t looking at some graph we downloaded from the internet showing that the planet is heating up -- we were working with real data collected at the school, which revealed that our local climate was really getting warmer," said Butz, who teaches Earth Science and AP Environmental Science, and is also the school technology coordinator.

The school’s weather station records numerous variables hourly, including temperature, pressure, wind speed and direction, rainfall, humidity, and solar radiation.

Butz said mechanical failures are to blame for two gaps in the Cambridge data: in the winter of 2003 when the station’s solar panel malfunctioned, and in the summer of 2009 when a circuit board broke.

On Tuesday, the second week of March, the weather station reported a high this month of 68.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

@Zeke_Wright on Twitter or ewright@benningtonbanner.com.


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