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As the global population has exploded over the last century, nitrogen has become one of the most common water contaminants in the world.
Nitrogen contamination originates mainly from human-related sources such as car emissions, fertilizers, livestock waste and urban runoff. For decades, scientists have observed nitrogen concentrations rising in water bodies around the world, but especially in developed nations. The over-abundance of nitrogen in natural waters leads to negative impacts on water quality, including harmful algal blooms and fish-kills, which have adverse effects on downstream economies and ecosystems.
Ecosystems - Nitrogen - Nuisance - Environments - Plants
Luckily, many aquatic and wetland ecosystems can remove some of this nitrogen before it becomes a nuisance to downstream environments. The plants and microorganisms of these ecosystems naturally remove nitrogen from rivers and streams, benefiting coastal fisheries and estuaries. However, these organisms can be sensitive to environmental disturbances. During large floods, for example, vegetation can be uprooted from wetlands and microbial mats can be scoured from stream beds. These and other disturbances could have major implications for nitrogen cycling.
In 2016, Hurricane Matthew brought immense and devastating flooding to the Lumbee River, located in southeastern North Carolina. As flood waters spread far beyond the existing floodplain, towns and farmland alike were submerged. Unknown amounts of debris and contaminants were transported downstream.
Hurricane - Matthew - Anything - Lumbee - River
Because flooding from Hurricane Matthew was so much larger than anything the Lumbee River had experienced in the observational record, or in the oral and written histories of local residents, the flood had unknown implications for the river's nitrogen cycle. Together with my advisor, Ryan Emanuel, I hypothesized that ecosystems responsible for removing nitrogen from surface waters may have been damaged or altered in ways that affected rates of nitrogen removal.
To test our hypothesis, we tracked changes in the river's ability to remove nitrogen in one of its inorganic forms, nitrate. We measured nitrate concentrations...
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