Contact a Scientist or Policy Expert
Nitrogen scientists and policy experts are available for interviews and other news media opportunities
- Jill Baron
Ecosystem Ecologist, US Geological Survey
Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University
Email Jill Baron
Jill S. Baron’s long-term research and monitoring of mountain ecosystems of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Colorado Front Range show that atmospheric nitrogen deposition is significantly affecting the region’s forests, alpine plants, soils, and water quality, and changing algae species and growth in alpine lakes.
Baron’s work found that the earliest effects from nitrogen deposition began in the 1950s, along with increased agricultural activity and population growth along Denver’s metropolitan corridor.
“Cattle feedlots east of the park, as well as car exhaust and industry, are creating the additional nitrogen, which is emitted into the atmosphere and deposited into the parks by rain and snow,” she says. “If you visit the park, you can see how increased nitrogen is changing the alpine landscape by favoring grasses over flowering plants, but many changes are too subtle to see. Rocky Mountain is at the beginning of a trajectory of change where recovery is still possible if nitrogen emissions decline.”
- Eric Davidson
Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Research Center
149 Woods Hole Road
Email Eric Davidson
As a senior scientist at Woods Hole Research Center, Eric Davidson focuses on effects of land management on soil fertility and ecosystem health. He studies the way nutrients from soils, including agricultural fertilizers, get into streams. He also studies greenhouse gas emissions from forest and agricultural soils in the United States and Brazil.
“Nitrogen spills every day into our air, water and soil,” he says. “The effects aren’t as visible as an oil-slicked bird, but they’re appearing around the U.S. and the world as unhealthy smog, dead zones and unsafe drinking water.”
Eric is instrumental in bringing scientists together to discuss nitrogen hot spots and solutions as the Principal Investigator of the Reactive Nitrogen Research Coordination Network. He is also the President-Elect of the Biogeosciences section of the American Geophysical Union and the Coordinator of the North American Regional Center for the International Nitrogen Initiative.
- Robinson W. Fulweiler
Associate Director of BU Marine Program,
Departments of Earth Sciences and Biology,
Email Robinson W. Fulweiler
Fulweiler is Associate Director of the Boston University Marine Program and Assistant Professor in the Earth Sciences and Biology Departments. She is a biogeochemist and ecosystems ecologist whose research focuses on how human impacts have altered the coastal ocean, such as creating coastal dead zones. Her recent work looks at how climate change may influence the nitrogen cycle in estuarine and continental shelf systems and how human activities impact and alter the coastal nutrient cycles. Her work is focused on the Atlantic seaboard.
Fulweiler has a Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island and went on to do a postdoc at Louisiana State University, where she studied the wetland ecology of the Gulf Coast.
- James Galloway
Environmental Sciences Professor, University of Virginia
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James Galloway has won international attention for documenting nitrogen’s wide-ranging effects on local and global ecosystems.
“The public doesn’t know about nitrogen, but in many ways it’s as big an issue as carbon,” Galloway says. “Due to the interactions of nitrogen and carbon, it makes the challenge of providing food and energy to the world’s peoples without harming the global environment a tremendous challenge.”
Galloway has been a member of the USA EPA Science Advisory Board since 2003, and served as the founding chair of the International Nitrogen Initiative from 2003 to 2008. In 2002 he was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2008 he was elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and was awarded, with Harold Mooney, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement.
His current research focuses on beneficial and detrimental effects of reactive nitrogen as it cascades among the atmosphere, terrestrial ecosystems and freshwater and marine ecosystems.
- Robert W. Howarth
Professor of Biology, Cornell University
David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology
Email Robert W. Howarth
Robert Howarth’s research interests have included how wetlands interact with coastal waters, the ecological effects of oil spills, nutrient pollution and nutrient cycles in both lakes and coastal marine ecosystems, and human alterations of biogeochemical cycles (nitrogen, phosphorous and sulfur) at regional to global scales. This spring, Howarth was the lead author of the International Council for Science SCOPE report, “Biofuels: Environmental Consequences and Interactions with Changing Land Use.”
“One of the big drivers of over-fertilization and nitrogen air pollution is a recently transformed agriculture industry,” he says. “We now feed our animals a corn diet, rather than grasses – as we had until about 1970. Corn is a fertilizer hog. It is leaky. Its small root system doesn’t hang onto nutrients, so they tend to wash away. And now that livestock is raised in feedlots separate from crops, we are left with a waste product that is flushed – or blown – away rather than recycled to crops.”
- Pieter Johnson
Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado
Email Pieter Johnson
Pieter Johnson and his colleagues study how high levels of nutrients used in farming and ranching activities can trigger frog deformities by fueling parasite infections. His research in the Midwest, Northeast, and California has found that nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from agriculture, cattle grazing and domestic runoff have the potential to significantly promote parasitic infection and deformities in frogs.
“The research,” he says, “has implications for both worldwide amphibian declines and for a wide array of diseases potentially linked to nutrient pollution, including cholera, malaria, West Nile virus and diseases affecting coral reefs.”
- Cheryl Palm
Senior Research Scientist, Columbia University
Earth Institute Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment Program
Email Cheryl Palm
Cheryl Palm is currently the chair of the International Nitrogen Initiative (INI) and was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomists in 2005.
Her research focuses on land use change, degradation and rehabilitation, and ecosystem services in tropical landscapes. As the Science Director of the Millennium Villages Project, her work includes promoting solutions to Africa’s nitrogen deficit problem. The Project, which is taking place in 10 countries, provides fertilizer, technological assistance and high-quality seeds to farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, crop yields have increased significantly, along with increased food availability.
“The U.S. right now is spending $800 per ton of corn for food aid to Africa. By switching the policy to supporting agricultural development rather than food aid, it could really help.”
- Nancy Rabalais
Executive Director, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium
Email Nancy Rabalais
Nancy Rabalais is internationally known for her research on the dynamics of hypoxic environments and interactions of the Mississippi River with the Gulf of Mexico. She additionally studies estuarine and coastal eutrophication, benthic ecology, and environmental effects of habitat alterations and contaminants. She and her research team are currently involved in studies of multiple environmental stressors in the Barataria estuary, the “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, coastal observing systems, and phytoplankton taxonomy, ecology and physiology.
Rabalais is an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow, an Aldo Leopold Leadership Program Fellow, a past President of the Estuarine Research Federation, a National Associate of the National Academies of Science, and past Chair of the Ocean Studies Board of the National Research Council, National Academy of Science.
- G. Philip Robertson
Professor of Ecosystem Science, Michigan State University
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and W. K. Kellogg Biological Station
Email G. Philip Robertson
G. Philip Robertson’s research interests include the biogeochemistry and ecology of field crop ecosystems, including biofuel systems.
“There are smarter ways to manage nitrogen efficiency technology that is available today but is not widely adopted due to cost and lack of incentive,” he says. “The first is helping crops use nitrogen more efficiently, and the second is capturing nitrogen that leaks out.” He supports applying greenhouse gas credits for nitrogen oxide, green payments to farmers who use eco-friendly practices, and crop insurance to discourage overfertilizing.
Since 1988 he has directed the NSF Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program in Agricultural Ecology at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station. He has served on many NSF, USDA, and NRC panels and committees both as a member and as a chair and has testified before the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Forestry, and Nutrition Committee.
- Alan Townsend
Professor of Ecology, University of Colorado
Email Alan Townsend
Alan Townsend says, “The biggest problem nitrogen creates right now is from the air. Air pollution kills people, and compromises millions of lives. And nitrogen is a big part of that problem. Without the nitrogen oxides that come from fossil fuel burning or high fertilizer use, you don’t have a ground-level ozone problem. And it’s not just ozone: nitrogen also forms fine particulates, often in the sizes that cause the greatest distress to heart and lung function.”
Townsend is currently the Associate Director of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and Director of CU’s Environmental Studies Program. He was named a Google Science Communication Fellow in 2011.
He and his lab group study how terrestrial ecosystems respond to and affect several aspects of human-induced environmental change, including a recent emphasis on the links between a rapidly changing nitrogen cycle and human health and welfare.
- Peter Vitousek
Biology Professor, Stanford University
Email Peter Vitousek
Stanford University biology professor Peter Vitousek has been recognized by Time magazine and CNN, as one of America’s best scientists, praising him for “tending to the planet’s health” through his cutting-edge work on ecosystems and the nitrogen cycle.
His current research is on biogeochemistry, with an ongoing research focus in Hawaii. His Stanford Lab is studying nutrient cycling in forest and agricultural ecosystems as well as the effects of invasions by exotic species.
For years, Vitousek has been at the forefront of studying how changes to the global Nitrogen cycle upset the planet’s biological balance. “In some areas of the world, we are adding too little nitrogen to our intensive agricultural systems; in others we are using far too much. Both extremes threaten both the environment and human well-being.”