This toxic algal bloom, imaged over Lake Erie in 2011, resulted from the release of excess nitrogen and other nutrients into the environment. The culprit? Fertilizers and other industrial byproducts. Photo Credit: NASA Earth ObservatoryCarbon compounds are arguably the most infamous of all the greenhouse gases, but they are not the only chemical offenders deserving of concern. In fact, nitrogen is capable of causing severe damage to the environment as well. This simple element, harmless when safely bound in pairs in Earth’s atmosphere, becomes extremely volatile when generated by human activities. When combined with other elements such as hydrogen and oxygen, so-called reactive nitrogen compounds wreak havoc on the environment by way of soil acidification, smog production, and the release of excess chemical nutrients into the environment, a process known as eutrophication.
Although reactive nitrogen is also produced in nature, human methods of mass food production have outstripped even the most prolific nitrogen-producing ecosystems. Since the 1970s, we humans have driven greater numbers of our species up the food chain by consuming more animal protein and crops such as legumes than ever before, all the while releasing higher and higher levels of reactive nitrogen into the environment around us.
Nitrogen, in this sense, is both a boon and a curse.
Therefore, the question driving scientists is one of balance: How can we humans be responsible about our nitrogen emissions while simultaneously advancing the world’s societies?
The latest Impact Factor rankings are in! For the first time, the AMS journal "Weather, Climate and Society" has made the Top 40 most-cited Meteorology and Atmospheric Science publications. Institute Director Amanda Lynch became Chief Editor of the journal in 2013, at which time WCAS ranked #63 out of 76 publications.
Three cheers for Amanda and the rest of the WCAS editorial staff and contributors! The most recent issue of the journal can be found here.
A true color composite image of Chesapeake Bay, created from Provisional Surface Reflectance data collected by the USGS satellite Landsat 8 in the fall of 2014. Credit, US Geological Survey.
This August, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) will host its 100th Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. The meeting will focus primarily on the ecology of the nearby Chesapeake Bay watershed. IBES postdoctoral fellow Becca Ryals and graduate students Amy Teller and Maya Almaraz will present their research on the effects of nitrogen-rich biochar and fertilizers on local ecosystems. Ryals, Teller, and Almaraz are featured in the ESA press release about the conference, which is excerpted below.
Brown undergraduate Ethan Ebinger, EARTHLab Manager Lynn Carlson, and IBES collaborator Heinke Jäger view high-resolution satellite imagery of Galapagos that was donated by the DigitalGlobe Foundation.
Ever since Charles Darwin’s voyage to the archipelago in 1835, the Galapagos Islands have been famed for their unique palette of biodiversity. In recent decades, however, invasive species have begun crowding out some of the island chain’s most treasured native plants and animals. With thousands of square kilometers of relatively inaccessible wilderness at stake, scientists seeking to restore balance to these fragile ecosystems must find a way to map the extent of invasion. Now, researchers and collaborators with the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society hope to offer their assistance, thanks to a generous donation of high-resolution satellite imagery from the DigitalGlobe Foundation.
Thanks to its signature coastline of beaches and jagged inlets, the state of Rhode Island is especially vulnerable to environmental disturbances - a sensitivity that will likely become magnified in the coming decades as our global climate continues to change.
In an effort to help coastal municipalities cope with the impacts of both natural hazards and sea level rise, the Rhode Island Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan (Beach SAMP) Team has released a suite of tools for emergency preparedness and municipal planning purposes. The memo includes resources for forecasting storm surges and flooding, preserving fragile salt marsh ecosystems, and planning for shoreline change.
You can view the list of available tools and resources here.