Dr. Laura Toran: Exploring Weather and Water

Dr. Laura Toran, Professor of Earth and Environmental Science in Temple’s College of Science and Technology

If you happen to ask Dr. Laura Toran “how’s the weather” she’ll be able to tell you in minute detail.

Her wireless weather station in the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University provides detailed, real-time reports on temperature, humidity, wind, sunlight, dew point and more (anyone can follow it online).

“Temple Ambler is perfectly situated as a central point between several watersheds, making it a great location for the study of urban hydrology,” said Toran, Professor of Earth and Environmental Science in Temple’s College of Science and Technology. “The weather station on campus serves a number of purposes. I use it for monitoring conditions in the nearby watersheds in conjunction with the Wissahickon Watershed Association. It’s used to analyze precipitation patterns as part of ongoing stormwater management research.”

The weather station also provides essential data in studying “stream metabolism — how a stream gets its nutrients, which is controlled by sunlight.”

Toran is certainly no stranger to Temple University Ambler. She and her husband, Dr. Jonathan Nyquist, the Weeks Chair in Environmental Geology in Temple’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science, have been involved with a variety of research projects on campus over the years.

An associated faculty member of the Center for Sustainable Communities, Toran maintains a site on the Ambler Campus where she has drilled wells into fractured bedrock. The site is maintained as a “clean site,” which helps teach students sampling techniques they will need when studying contaminated locations such as superfund sites.

She monitored water quality at stormwater control structures in the Hatboro and Upper Moreland regions for the Center’s study of the Pennypack Creek Watershed. The Center’s study provided an updated set of floodplain maps for the 12-municipality area that encompasses parts of Philadelphia, Montgomery, and Bucks counties. She has also been involved in stormwater monitoring as part of the Temple University/Villanova University Sustainable Stormwater Initiative (T-VSSI).

Toran earned her bachelor’s degree from Macalester College (1980) in St. Paul, Minn., and her doctorate from the University of Wisconsin–Madison (1986), both in geology. Between degrees, she served as a research associate at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Water Resources Division for two years.

“My interest in the environmental sciences was public-spirited,” she said. “I wanted to do something that would help out — I didn’t just want to get a job; I wanted to get a job that would contribute to this being a better place for people to live. I really liked science, so I figured I should do something that would help protect the earth.”

In 2017, Toran continues to work closely with the Center for Sustainable Communities on several large stormwater management projects, including an ongoing research for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for research that focuses on the environmental, economic and social impacts of implementing green infrastructure to deal with stormwater-runoff issues in urban environments; a comprehensive Watershed Improvement Plan for the Wissahickon Creek Watershed in Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties; and an evaluation of stormwater control structures along the I-95 corridor, which is supported by a $1.8 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

“Evaluating the stormwater management structures that have been put in place can influence future design. Hopefully the impact of our research will be improved stormwater controls,” she said. “This is a multi-disciplinary, multi-college project that provides a lot of opportunities for long term study.”