A lake at Cape Canaveral is home to all kinds of wildlife, including Florida’s mascot — the gator. University of Florida zoologists have been looking to see if space shuttle launches affect the environment of local animals. So when NASA launched a shuttle this past weekend, the Gainesville researchers were on hand to sample the water and collect some gator eggs.

And good thing they were prompt or they would have missed a transient perturbation: mondo acidity.

Louis J. Guillette was the plenary speaker, this afternoon, at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry annual meeting. He noted that his crew constituted the first civilians (i.e. not NASA launch folks) into the Cape Canaveral environment following the Nov. 14 take-off.

Prior to the launch, the lake’s water had a clearly alkaline pH of 7.8. That’s comparable to typical river water. However, he reported, by 3 hours post launch, the local lake water had plummeted to a startling pH of 0.5 — an acidity comparable to battery acid.

Because the region is dominated by limestone-weathered soils, just 24 hours post-launch the lake’s water was again a comfortable 7.8. But wouldn’t you just hate to be a fish or tadpole stuck in that water around launch time?

Janet Raloff

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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