Current Research Projects
The biogeochemical consequences of salt water intrusion on freshwater wetlands
With funding from the National Science Foundation's Coastal Sustainability Program (Coastal SEES, 2014-2019), we are examining the effects of saltwater intrusion on NC's coastal ecosystems and communities. This new research requires creating hydrologic models of potential saltwater incursion patterns, mapping the infrastructure (canals, pumps) that determine hydrologic connectivity in this landscape; measuring the impacts of salt exposure on vegetation, soils and water quality; and exploring how landowners and decisionmakers understand and react to information about climate change predictions in this region. This work is in collaboration with hydrologist Ryan Emanuel (NCSU), environmental planning expert Todd BenDor (UNC, CH), fellow ecosystem ecologist Marcelo Ardon (ECU) and plant ecologist Justin Wright (Duke).
Previous funding from the National Science Foundation Ecosystem and Hydrology Panels, the Department of Energy's National Institute of Climate Change Research, the Great Dismal Swamp Mitigation Bank, LLC, the NC Water Resources Research Institute and the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources focused on understanding the consequences of converting formerly cultivated and fertilized farmland to wetland with respect to promoting denitrification vs. generating dissolved phosphorus and greenhouse gas pollutants. Former postdoctoral associates Marcelo Ardon and Ashley Helton and former PhD student Jen Morse led these efforts. This work was in collaboration with Martin Doyle (UNC), Geoff Poole (Montana State University) and Amy Burgin (Wright State University).
From Syndrome Diagnosis to Watershed Prescription - Is all development created equal?
With new funding from NSF Ecosystems (2013-2016) we are exploring how development configuration and connectivity (as opposed to sheer amount of development) influences the delivery of stormwaters and storm-borne contaminants (e.g., heat, trace metals, pharmaceuticals and personal care products) to urban streams in central North Carolina. We have selected watersheds that have similar amounts of their area converted to impervious surfaces but widely varying patterns in the distribution of those developed surfaces within the watershed, the age of the development (and its associated urban trees and urban pipes), and the degree to which the pavements are connected via stormwater pipes directly to stream channels. PhD student Joanna Blaszczak helps lead this project which is in conjunction with landscape ecologist Dean Urban (faculty in Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment).
Environmental Impacts of Emerging Contaminants
As part of the Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT), funded by NSF and the US EPA, we are examining the effects of manufactured nanomaterials on microbial and plant community structure and function in soils and sediments. Much of our work to date has focused on understanding how silver nanoparticles (often produced for their antimicrobial properties) affect ecosystem structure and function. Our current work is shifting in focus to look for engineered and incidental nanomaterials as components of both domestic and industrial wastewaters and to explore the role of nanoparticles in altering the fate, transport and toxicity of organic and metallic contaminants. This work is in collaboration with many of the faculty within CEINT but involves particularly active collaboration with ecologists Curt Richardson (Duke) and Ryan King (Baylor U.); geochemist Mike Hochella (VA Tech); and toxicologists Cole Matson (Baylor U.) and Rich DiGiulio (Duke). Postdoctoral associate Ben Colman leads this effort.