Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Streams natural filters, if not overloaded

Streams are natural filters that help remove and transform pollutants that drain from surrounding watersheds, including excess nitrogen from human activities. Scientists know this as a result of many hours of getting their hands – if not dirty, at least very wet -- monitoring streams nationwide.

“Nitrogen removal in streams is important because it reduces the potential for eutrophication – the excessive growth of algae and aquatic plants in downstream lakes and coastal marine waters,” said Jack Webster, professor of biology at Virginia Tech. “Eutrophication in the Chesapeake Bay has damaged the oyster industry in Virginia and in the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River has created a vast zone of oxygen depletion with adverse effects on fisheries.”

Webster, two of his Virginia Tech colleagues, and four former Virginia Tech students are among 31 authors of an article in the March 13 issue of Nature that reports the researchers’ findings on how stream systems are able to remove nitrogen.

The study, lead by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), looked at 72 streams in the U.S. and Puerto Rico over the course of three years. Virginia Tech’s Stream Team conducted measurements on nine streams in North Carolina – including forest streams in the southern Appalachian Mountains, agricultural streams where they had to protect equipment from curious cows, and urban streams, including one that ran through a golf course and another that ran through a construction site. Eight other teams worked at the other 63 streams.

The research process meant 24-hour monitoring. “The Stream Team involvement was very important,” said Webster.

In the first phase of the study, the scientists added small amounts of a non-radioactive isotope of nitrogen to streams as nitrate, the most prevalent form of nitrogen pollution. They then measured how far downstream the nitrate traveled and how what processes removed it from the water.

The scientists found that the nitrate was taken up from stream water by algae and microorganisms. In addition, a fraction was permanently removed from streams by denitrification, a bacterial process that converts nitrate to nitrogen gas, which harmlessly joins an atmosphere already predominantly composed of nitrogen gas.

In the second phase of the study, the scientists developed a model that predicts nitrate removal as water flows through small streams and into larger streams and rivers. “Our model showed that the entire stream network is important in removing pollution from stream water,” said Patrick Mulholland, lead author of the study, a member of ORNL’s Environmental Sciences Division, and a faculty member at the University of Tennessee. “In addition, the effectiveness of streams to remove nitrate was greatest if the streams were not overloaded by pollutants such as fertilizers and wastes from human activities.”

The largest removal occurred when nitrate entered small healthy streams and traveled throughout the network before reaching large rivers. The scientists concluded from their research that streams and rivers are effective filters that help reduce the amount of nitrate pollution exported from landscapes and thereby reduce eutrophication problems, Webster said.

Authors of the article, “Stream denitrification across biomes and its response to anthropogenic nitrate loading,” are Mulholland; Ashley M. Helton and Geoffrey C. Poole of the University of Georgia (UGA); Robert O. Hall Jr. of the University of Wyoming; Stephen K. Hamilton of Michigan State University; Bruce J. Peterson of Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole; Jennifer L. Tank, a Virginia Tech Ph.D. graduate now at the University of Notre Dame; Linda R. Ashkenas of Oregon State University; Lee W. Cooper of the University of Tennessee; Clifford N. Dahm of the Univesity of New Mexico; Walter K. Dodds of Kansas State University, Stuart E. G. Findlay of the Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, NY; Stanley V. Gregory of Oregon State; Nancy B. Grimm of Arizona State University; Sherri L. Johnson of the U.S. Forest Service, Corvallis, Ore.; William H. McDowell of the University of New Hampshire; Judy L. Meyer of UGA; H.Maurice Valett, associate professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech; Webster; Clay P. Arango and Jake J. Beaulieu of Notre Dame; Melody J. Bernot of Ball State University; Amy J. Burgin of Michigan State; Chelsea L. Crenshaw, a Virginia Tech master’s of science graduate now at the University of New Mexico; Laura Taylor Johnson, who was a Virginia Tech undergraduate and is now at Notre Dame, B. R. (Bobbie) Niederlehner, laboratory specialist at Virginia Tech; Jonathan M. O’Brien of Michigan State; Jody D. Potter of the University of New Hampshire; Richard W. Sheibley of Arizona State; Daniel J. Sobota, who was a Virginia Tech undergraduate now at Oregon State; and Suzanne M. Thomas of Woods Hole.

There were many more people involved than even the list of co-authors reflects, Webster said. “This project was part of collaboration among a group of people who have worked together since 1995,” he said. “The undergraduate research with the Stream Team at Virginia Tech has been important in guiding students toward graduate school and careers.”

The National Science Foundation funded the research. The authors also thanked the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and many private landowners for permission to conduct experiments on their lands.

Susan Trulove | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

nachricht Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>