Framework for Reducing Nitrogen Pollution on College Campuses Receives National Award

Posted 2 days, 21 hours ago @

The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and six partners have received an award for developing “The Nitrogen Footprint Tool Network,” a program for assessing and reducing the amount of nitrogen pollution produced on college and research campuses. The partners received the  “Campus Sustainability Research” award last month from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

The award recognizes the collaborative effort of the seven academic institutions to measure, compare, and analyze options for reducing their nitrogen footprints. The group published its research results in April 2017 in a special issue of Sustainability: The Journal of Record.

Among the collaborators are principal investigator James Galloway, a MBL Trustee and the Sidman P. Poole Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia; and Elizabeth de la Reguera, formerly a research assistant in the MBL Ecosystems Center and now a graduate student at University of Maryland.


The seven institutions in the Sustainability issue, along with 13 others, are members of the Nitrogen Footprint Tool Network, which was coordinated at University of Virginia by lead author Elizabeth Castner, now a graduate student at University of California, Davis.

“Scientists at the MBL Ecosystems Center have been documenting the detrimental impacts of excess nitrogen on coastal ecosystems for many decades,” says Ecosystems Center Director Anne Giblin. ”We have also been studying nitrogen removal strategies and ecosystem restoration techniques that can be used to mitigate some of the harmful impacts of nitrogen on coastal systems. However, this project is the first time we have worked on ways to eliminate the problem at its source, which is by far the most effective and least expensive solution.”

According to the study, nitrogen footprints for the seven institutions ranged from 7.5 metric tons of nitrogen (MT N) at the MBL to 444 MT N at the University of Virginia. The nitrogen footprints correlated strongly with institutional population, but there was a wide range of per capita footprints, from 7 kg nitrogen to 27 kg nitrogen per full-time equivalent person. Factors that contributed to differences in per capita nitrogen footprints included the proportion of an institution’s population living on campus with full or partial meal plans, dietary choices, energy sources and engagement in research that is nitrogen intensive.

Upstream food production was the largest source of nitrogen pollution for five of the institutions, contributing 50 percent of the footprint on average, followed by utilities, which contribute 33 percent on average.

The largest sector of the MBL’s nitrogen footprint is food production, at 55 percent of total. Utilities is the second-largest sector, at 22 percent of total. Scenarios that were analyzed for reducing MBL’s nitrogen footprint included composting 75 percent of food waste, which would reduce the footprint by 0.1 metric tons nitrogen, and adopting energy efficiency strategies.

The institutions reporting in the Sustainability special issue include the MBL, Brown University, Colorado State University, Dickinson College, Eastern Mennonite University, University of New Hampshire, and University of Virginia.

The Nitrogen Footprint Tool Network’s efforts are sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program through a cooperative agreement with the University of Virginia. Started in 2014, the network’s agreement runs through 2019.

by Diana Kenney
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Team Explores Salt Marsh Restoration to Offset Global Warming

Posted 1 week, 3 days ago @

Salt marshes have been flooded by inland freshwater along nearly a third of the U.S. Atlantic coast, due to diversions by dams, dikes, and other human constructs. This hurts more than the natural biodiversity of a saltwater system. As salt marshes freshen, they emit more and more methane—a powerful greenhouse gas.

“A molecule of methane is 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than a molecule of carbon dioxide,” says Jim Tang, an associate scientist in the MBL Ecosystems Center.

Tang and his colleagues at the Bringing Wetlands to Market (BWM) project are laying out a framework for returning salt marshes to their natural salinity by removing various tidal restrictions. In a recently published study, they modeled the rate of methane emissions from freshened marshes and suggested mitigations to the problem.

by Stephanie M. McPherson


Measuring the Risky Feedback Between Soil Carbon and Global Warming

Posted 1 week, 5 days ago @

A radio interview with MBL Distinguished Scientist Jerry Melillo about his 26-year soil warming experiment at Harvard Forest, the results of which were recently reported in the journal Science.

More from The Well

Despite Crabs, Rising Sea Levels, and Man, the Great Marsh Can be Protected to Shield Coastal Communities

Posted 3 weeks, 4 days ago @

by John Muldoon.

Poor old Ipswich. It’s at the mouth of a river, where it gets the last leftover water that 330,000 people have already drawn from. “We suffer the consequences of every decision that made upstream,” said Wayne Castonguay, director of the Ipswich River Watershed Association. Yet the town is right beside the ocean, which means it’s the first to feel the impact of rising sea levels.

But, like other communities between Cape Ann and southern New Hampshire, Ipswich has the Great Marsh for protection. While the marsh is beset by man, green crabs, ocean acidification, and rising sea levels, all is not lost, a symposium was told at the weekend.

Hosted by the Ascension Church in Ipswich as part of its 150th anniversary celebrations, the event was attended by over 160 people who came to hear about challenges faced by the river, marsh, clams, Crane Beach, and green crabs.


One of Oldest Climate Change Experiments Leads to Troubling Conclusion | Washington Post

October 6th, 2017 @

One of the regular complaints of climate change doubters and skeptics is that scientific projections of a dire future are too heavily based on computer simulations, or models, which — they say — rest on a variety of questionable assumptions.

But a major climate change study published Thursday relied not on models but experimental data — a 26-year record of observations, no less — to reach a conclusion perhaps just as worrying. The research, tracking the emissions of carbon from artificially heated plots of a forest in Massachusetts, reinforces fears about the possibility of a climate change “feedback” involving the planet’s soils, one that could pile on top of and substantially worsen the ongoing warming trend triggered by the burning of fossil fuels.

“The study is one of the longest if not the longest climate change ecosystem experiment, beyond the one we are running in our own planet,” said Pep Canadell, an expert on the Earth’s carbon cycle at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia. He was not part of the research.

by Chris Mooney

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As the Arctic warms, scientists at this remote field station try to make sense of the changing environment

September 11th, 2017 @

As Alaska's climate changes, almost every veteran researcher at Toolik Field Station, the Arctic research center just north of the Brooks Range, has a story about lightning.

Linda Deegan, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, was enjoying a beer by Toolik Lake when she saw her first strike. She remembers uttering an expletive when she saw it.

Deemed impossible in northern Alaska only 30 years ago, thunderstorms eventually appeared, likely due to rising temperatures. Then came fire. In 2007, a lightning strike sparked Alaska's largest recorded tundra fire, which torched 400 square miles just 20 miles from Toolik.

by Kelsey Lindsey

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Alaskan Tundra Research An Inspiration In The Classroom

September 8th, 2017 @

Lawrence School 7th-grade science teacher Celeste Cruse traveled thousands of miles to the Arctic this summer for a hands-on research experience which she plans to bring back to the classroom.

“I want to get these kids enthusiastic about science, to say, ‘You can go in a helicopter and see a herd of caribou,’” Ms. Cruse said.

Ms. Cruse worked with Edward B. Rastetter, a senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory, and other scientists on the North Slope of Alaska at the Toolik Field Station. Projects included analyzing soil and plant samples from the tundra and recording the different insect and plant life at certain locations.

by Andrea F. Carter

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Collaborators to Investigate Structure of Microbial Food Webs

August 28th, 2017 @

MBL Senior Scientist Joseph Vallino has received a grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate the structure of microbial food webs. The grant is a collaboration with Julie Huber, associate scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Theoretical studies indicate that microbial food webs may not be highly interconnected, but rather be composed of weakly connected subnetworks.  Preliminary model studies indicate that such a network configuration should give rise to unstable communities that are nevertheless very effective at dissipating available energy.

by Diane Kenney

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Research will Compare Landscape Responses to Climate Variations

August 27th, 2017 @

MBL Senior Scientist Edward Rastetter has received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study the responses of several natural, land-based ecosystems to variations in climate and landscape disturbances.

Read more>>

Creation of National Microbiome Initiative

May 13th, 2016 @

Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced a new, National Microbiome Initiative, and senior scientists Zoe Cardon and David Mark Welch represented the MBL, and Jack Gilbert represented the new UChicago/Argonne/MBL Microbiome Center, at the event in Washington, DC. The National Microbiome Initiative has emerged over the last several years from the growing recognition that microbes are at the core of organismal health and ecosystem services sustaining humanity world-wide.


Photo Credit: Suzanne Thomas and Francois Thomas

Over the past two decades, building on collaboration between John Hobbie (Ecosystems Center) and Mitch Sogin (Bay Paul Center), the MBL has fostered an uncommon synergy, combining in-depth microbial, genomic, and bioinformatic expertise with organismal and ecosystems research. Created by scientists drawn year-round to Woods Hole and the far-flung research sites the MBL spearheads, this growing microbiomes community is now examining microbial activities in ecosystems from deep mid-ocean ridges to the coastal and polar frontlines of global climate change. The power of field and lab experiments is being combined with the clarity of evolutionary, ecological, and thermodynamic theory to identify commonalities uniting microbiome function. These commonalities -- new paradigms – will provide the framework for new solutions to real-world problems, from improving diagnostic tools for ecosystem, organismal, and human health, to developing novel strategies for environmental resilience and remediation.

For more information about the initiative, please see:
MBL's Press Release
White House Briefing
Related Publications:

Blaser M, Cardon ZG, Cho M, Dangl J, Donohue J, Green J, Knight R, Maxon M, Northern T, Pollard K, Brodie E. (2016) Towards a predictive understanding of Earth's microbiomes to address 21st Century challenges. mBio 7(3):e00714-16, doi: 10.1128/mBio.00714-16

Biteen JS, Blainey PC, Cardon ZG, Chun M, Church G, Dorrestein PC, Fraser SE, Gilbert J, Jansson JK, Knight R, Miller JF, Ozcan A, Prather KA, Taha S, Ven den Engh G,  Quake S, Ruby EG, Silver P, Weiss PS, Wong GCL, Wright AT, Xie XS, Young TD (2016) Tools for the Microbiome: Nano and Beyond. ACS Nano, 10:6-37. DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.5b07826

Alivisatos AP et al. (2015) A unified initiative to harness Earth’s microbiomes. Science 350:507-508. (45 authors in Unified Microbiome Initiative Consortium.)