Winter Impressions

March 12th, 2015 @

Even though the winter conditions have been unusually harsh this year, Ecosystems Center scientists carry out monthly water sampling campaigns in the watersheds contributing to Plum Island Sound. This effort is part of the Plum Island Ecosystems Long-Term Ecological Research project that studies the coupling between ecosystems upstream and the estuary downstream. This winter not only the freshwater is frozen over, but even the salt marsh areas and tidal creeks.


Sam Kelsey and Tyler Messerschmidt, Ecosystems Center Research Assistants, preparing to take water samples. Photo: Inke Forbrich


Frozen tidal creek in salt marsh. Photo: Inke Forbrich.


Ipswich River dam in Ipswich: sampling site for the PIE LTER project. Photo: Inke Forbrich.


Peregrine Falcon Visits MBL

March 11th, 2015 @

A peregrine falcon, the world's fastest bird—and quite simply one of the planet's most awe-inspiring raptors—made its second appearance at MBL on the same cliff-like perch on the Lillie Building on the afternoon of March 9. It had spent parts of two previous days there on February 26 and 27.

Local photographer and bird enthusiast Mike Schanbacher of Woods Hole climbed into the old library stacks and took this picture (click photo for full resolution).

Photo: Mike Schanbacher

Photo: Mike Schanbacher

Peregrines follow their waterfowl and shorebird foods sources along the east coast in winter. It no doubt had its eye on the small flock of Mallards that are eeking out a living in the small remaining patch of open water in Eel Pond. The ledges on the back of the Lillie Building are the nearest thing Woods Hole has to peregrines' preferred habitats. "The nearest thing to a cliff in Woods Hole," said MBL Marine Resources Manager David Remsen, who originally spotted the bird.

Schanbacher commented that it's appropriate that this majestic bird sits within stone's throw of the life-sized bronze statue of Rachel Carson that was dedicated in Woods Hole's Waterfront Park on June 12, 2013. I agree.

Rachel Carson, a marine biologist who worked at MBL from 1925-1929, authored Silent Spring, a 1962 best-seller that documented the damage that persistent chemical pesticides did to birds and the environment. One of the chief culprits—DDT—was banned by in US in 1972.

We in Woods Hole reap the rewards of what former MBL Director Gary Borisy called Rachel Carson's journalistic "kicking the hornet's nest."

Peregrine falcons, because they sit atop coastal food chains, were among the most vulnerable of all birds to DDT, which accumulated in their fatty tissues and caused their eggshells to become thin and breakable. Eastern US peregrines were extinct when Carson penned Silent Spring. Ospreys suffered a similar same fate, although their numbers did not drop to zero. Both species have recovered. The US Fish and Wildlife Service removed peregrine falcons from the endangered species list in 1999.

While this bird's visit to Lillie is a chance to see a peregrine up close, thanks to Silent Spring and subsequent scientific investigations into pesticides in the environment, it's now possible to find peregrines cruising the Falmouth and Cape Cod coastlines.

Thanks, Rachel.

Using instrumented towers to measure CO2 exchanges in Plum Island marshes

February 19th, 2015 @

A major focus of research at the Plum Island Ecosystems Long Term Ecological Research site is to determine whether salt marshes can survive rapid changes in climate, land-use, and sea level.

A shadow of two researchers on an instrument tower used to measure carbon dioxide exchange between the marsh and the atmosphere falls across a Plum Island Estuary marsh in early spring.

A shadow of two researchers on an instrument tower used to measure carbon dioxide exchange between the marsh and the atmosphere falls across a Plum Island Estuary marsh in early spring.

The persistence of salt marshes, and the ecosystem services they provide, depends upon their ability to keep up with sea-level rise. Marshes may do this by accreting inorganic sediment, and by accumulating carbon as plant material. PIE scientists are carrying out detailed studies of the carbon budget using instruments mounted on towers to measure the exchange of carbon dioxide between the marsh and the atmosphere, and by measuring tidal exchanges of carbon and inorganic sediments. Additional studies monitor sediment accretion on the marsh surface, and examine how salt marsh grasses respond to nutrient inputs and water levels.

PIE scientists work closely with governmental and private organizations to implement policies that will help protect the marsh in the face of rising sea-levels and human development. K-12 education programs focus on hands-on activities for students that include contributing to a long-term data base monitoring the impact of marsh restoration activities.

Testing Potential Environmental Effects of the Intensification of Amazon Cropping Practices

February 19th, 2015 @

Ecosystems Center post doctoral scientist KathiJo Jankowski led the installation of a new experiment in Brazil that will test potential environmental effects of the intensification of Amazon

KathiJo Jankowski (right), University of Vermont Assistant Professor and Brown-MBL graduate Gillian Galford (center) and current Brown-MBL graduate student Keith Spangler sample soils and gas emissions from a new nitrogen manipulation experiment at Fazenda Tanguro.

KathiJo Jankowski (right), University of Vermont Assistant Professor and Brown-MBL graduate Gillian Galford (center) and current Brown-MBL graduate student Keith Spangler sample soils and gas emissions from a new nitrogen manipulation experiment at Fazenda Tanguro.

cropping practices. The experiment takes place at Fazenda Tanguro, an 80,000 ha farm in Mato Grosso state, where during the last 20 years soybean farming has replaced tropical forest over an area nearly the size of New England. In the last decade, soybean farming has intensified and farmers now plant a corn crop following soybean harvest on more than half of Mato Grosso's soybean cropland.

Cropping of corn is important because, in contrast to soybean, which is a legume and fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere, corn requires fertilization with nitrogen. This experiment, set up with the collaboration of farm owners Grupo Maggi, will measure greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient leaching losses from plots treated with amounts of nitrogen fertilizer ranging from 0 to 200 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare.

The project is led by Marcia Macedo at the Woods Hole Research Center and Chris Neill at MBL and involves partners Paulo Brando and a research team from the Institute for Amazon Environmental Research, a Brazilian nongovernmental organization, Carlos CEP Cerri and Alex Krusche from the University of São Paulo, Gillian Galford at the University of Vermont, Eric Davidson, Michael Coe and Paul Lefebvre from the Woods Hole Research Center, Ecosystems Center postdoctoral and Richard McHorney from the Ecosystems Center.

National Climate Assessment Released

May 6th, 2014 @

The US Global Change Research Program today released the National Climate Assessment. The Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States. Ecosystems Center Distinguished Scientist Jerry Melillo chaired the 60-member Federal Advisory Committee that produced the report. The Assessment was produNCA-cover-thumb-smallced by a team of more than 300 experts and was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including the National Academy of Sciences.

The Assessment unequivocally states that climate change is happening now. The U.S. and the world are warming, global sea level is rising, and some types of extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and more severe. These changes have already resulted in a wide range of impacts across every region of the Nation, its ecosystems and many sectors of the economy.

Links to highlights and the full document are available at

MBL Press Release

White House Event on the National Climate Assessment Release

Jerry Melillo is Elected to the National Academy of Sciences

May 5th, 2014 @

Jerry Melillo, Distinguished Scientist and Director Emeritus at the Ecosystems Center, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Election to the Academy recognizes distinguished and continuing achievements in original research, and is widely considered a mark of excellence in science. It is considered one of the highest honors a scientist can attain.

Melillo, who is also a professor at Brown University through the Brown-MBL Partnership, was one of 84 new members and 21 foreign associates of the NAS to be announced this week. Thirteen other MBL-affiliated scientists, listed below, were also elected to the Academy this week, including Timothy Mitchison of Harvard Medical School, a visiting investigator and chair of the MBL’s Science Council. In addition, four University of Chicago faculty members were elected to the Academy this week.

“I am thrilled that Jerry’s groundbreaking work, along with his significant national service, has been recognized by his election to the National Academy,” said MBL President and Director Joan Ruderman. “For more than four decades, Jerry and his team have been leading the way in understanding earth systems, and bringing the best scientific information available to national and international policy makers as they seek ways to enable our society to adapt to a changing climate.”

Read the full article

Hot Issues in Climate Change Research to be Debated at AAAS Annual Meeting

February 12th, 2014 @

MBL Ecosystems Center Distinguished Scientist Jerry Melillo, chair of the federal advisory committee preparing the Third National Climate Assessment.

The “big issues” in climate change science have shifted over the past 4 to 6 years, with several difficult problems resolved while new research challenges rose to the fore. Scientists who are leading advisors on climate change to federal and international policymakers will examine the state-of-the-science in “Research Challenges in Climate Change: What’s New and Where are We Going?” on Feb. 14 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Chicago.

“The session will be very forward looking. What we would like to do better to serve both science and the public in addressing climate change?” says co-organizer Jerry Melillo, distinguished scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., and chair of the federal advisory committee that prepared the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA) for release this spring.

The panel will offer a scientific reckoning of issues resolved and uncovered in preparing the NCA over the past four years, as well as the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in late 2013. The NCA details climate change impacts in United States regions and sectors, while the IPCC’s assessment is global.

Read the entire MBL Press Release here.


NSF symposium addresses the long view of environmental change: Ecological scenarios

January 30th, 2014 @
Photo 1 Gus measuring soilmoisture at the Sagavanirtok river burn site

Gus Shaver measures soil moisture at the Sagavanirtok river burn site


Like all of us, scientists think in scenarios: If this happened, what then?

Results of their efforts to understand and anticipate global environmental changes through the process of scenario thinking and ecological forecasting are the topic of the annual National Science Foundation (NSF) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Mini-Symposium.

The forum will be held on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, at NSF headquarters in Arlington, Va.

Presentations, including one by Ecosystems Center senior scientist Gaius Shaver who is the lead PI of the Arctic LTER, will address social and ecological change; ecosystem vulnerability, resilience and adaptability; and why long-term data are essential to understanding and predicting future responses to natural and human-caused environmental changes.

Results from scenario-thinking and simulations will be presented for ecosystems from forests to lakes to the open ocean.

From NSF Media Advisory 14-001

Anne Giblin Named 2013 AAAS Fellow

December 3rd, 2013 @


Anne E. Giblin, a senior scientist at the MBL Ecosystems Center has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science.  Giblin was elected for distinguished contributions to the field of biogeochemistry, especially relating to nitrogen and sulfur cycling in sediments and soils from both freshwater and marine environments. Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.

Full story on the MBL News Blog

Environmental Impacts of Agriculture Expansion in Amazon

November 26th, 2013 @
A decade ago, Brazil was losing an area of rainforest about the size of Massachusetts each year to cattle pasture and croplands. Recently, deforestation has slowed because agriculture is intensifying and allowing farmers to produce more crops on the same land. Nowhere is this more evident than in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, where large soybean farms now stretch to the horizon across an area almost the size of Maine. More >>

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