Senior Scientist Emeritus
I study the rivers, estuaries and oceans of the earth from the perspective of the biogeochemical cycles of water, phosphorus and nitrogen. The objective is to understand how these systems function in their undisturbed state and to quantify how anthropogenic impacts including climate change are changing these functions. The approach has been both to perform long-term perturbation experiments and to study long-term data sets for signs of change. The experiments have included adding the nutrient phosphorus to rivers at the Arctic LTER site for decades and measuring how the food webs and biogeochemical fluxes respond to this added stressor. Similar experiments have been performed on salt marsh creeks at the Plum Island LTER site to discover how adding nitrogen changes the marsh food webs and biogeochemical cycles. The intensive use of stable isotopes tracers of nitrogen and carbon have been essential to help measure how the experiments are impacting the ecology of rivers and marshes.
Study of long-term records of the discharge of the major rivers to the Arctic Ocean have shown that river discharge has increased in the past half century. The increases are correlated with increasing global temperatures and increasing positive phase of the NAO. Similar changes in precipitation on the northern oceans, melting of ice caps and melting of arctic sea ice have resulted in a freshening of sea waters in the North Atlantic with potentially significant impacts on the strength of the global ocean conveyor circulation. The freshening and warming of North Atlantic surface waters could lead to a slowing of the conveyor with impacts on northern climate and fisheries.
Peterson, B. J., J. E. Hobbie, A. Hershey, M. Lock, T. Ford, R. Vestal, M. Hullar, R. Ventullo and G. Volk. 1985. Transformation of a tundra river from heterotrophy to autotrophy by addition of phosphorus. Science 229:1383-1386.
Slavik, K., B. J. Peterson, L.A. Deegan, W. B. Bowden, A. E. Hershey, and J. E. Hobbie. 2004. Long-term responses of the Kuparuk River ecosystem to phosphorus fertilization. Ecology 85: 939-954.
Salt Marsh Estuaries
Holmes, R. M., B. J. Peterson, L. A. Deegan, J. E. Hughes, and B. Fry. 2000. Nitrogen biogeochemistry in the oligohaline zone of a New England estuary. Ecology 81:416:432
Deegan, L. A., D. S. Johnson, R. S. Warren, B. J. Peterson, S. Fagherazzi, and J. Fleeger. 2012. Trouble on the edge: Coastal eutrophication as a driver of salt marsh loss. Nature, doi: 10.1038/nature11533.
Stream Tracer Studies
Peterson, B. J., W. Wollheim, P. J. Mulholland, J. R. Webster, J. L. Meyer, J. L. Tank, N. B. Grimm, W. B. Bowden, H. M. Valett, A. E. Hershey, W. B. McDowell, W. K. Dodds, S. K. Hamilton, S. Gregory and D. J. D’Angelo. 2001. Control of nitrogen export from watersheds by headwater streams. Science 292:86-90.
Mulholland, P. J. A. M. Helton, G. C. Poole, R. O. Hall, Jr., S. K. Hamilton, B. J. Peterson, J. L. Tank, L. R. Ashkenas, L. W. Cooper, C. N. Dahm, W. K. Dodds, S. Findlay, S. V. Gregory, N. B. Grimm, S. L. Johnson, W. H. McDowell, J. L. Meyer, H. M. Valett, J. R. Webster, C. Arango, J. J. Beaulieu, M. J. Bernot, A. J. Burgin, C. Crenshaw, L. Johnson, J. Merriam, B. R. Niederlehner, J. M. O’Brien, J. D. Potter, R.W. Sheibley, D. J. Sobota, and S. M. Thomas. 2008. Stream denitrification across biomes and its response to anthropogenic nitrate loading. Nature 452:202-205.
Panarctic Freshwater Cycle
Peterson, B. J., R. M. Holmes, J. W. McClelland, C. J. Vörösmarty, R. B. Lammers, A. I. Shiklomanov, I. A. Shiklomanov, S. Rahmstorf. 2002. Increasing river discharge to the Arctic Ocean. Science 298: 2171-2173.
Peterson, B. J., J. McClelland, M. Holmes, R. Curry, J. Walsh and K. Aagaard. 2006. Trajectory shifts in the Arctic and Subarctic freshwater cycle. Science 313: 1061-1066.