Every Day is Earth Day: UNH Scientists Make a Career of Caring for the Earth

Earth Day is Saturday, April 22

Monday, April 17, 2017
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Earth Day may come just once a year, but for scientists with the NH Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of New Hampshire, every day is Earth Day. Experiment station scientists work to care for the Earth’s resources, conducting leading ecological research in a diverse range of areas.

William McDowell, a long-time experiment station researcher, recently was named the 2017 Distinguished Professor at UNH. A professor of natural resources and the environment, McDowell has been at UNH since 1989, where he has been studying the connections between land and water, specifically how watersheds and watershed processes affect stream chemistry. His lab group conducts chemical analyses of rain water, groundwater, and surface water to understand spatial patterns in stream chemistry across a landscape, and to document long-term changes in water quality at key locations. His lab’s fundamental goal is to understand the role of trees, soils, rocks, aquatic biota, and people in shaping water quality.

Invasive, non-native plants have a significant detrimental impact on Granite State forests. In a new experiment station-funded research project “Invasive Plant Impacts on New Hampshire Forest Ecosystem Services,” John Gunn, research assistant professor of forest management, will assess the status and distribution of invasive plant species throughout New Hampshire that pose the greatest threat to the state’s forest systems, with the goal to help foresters and landowners minimize the risk of invasive plants to the state’s economically important forests.

Gunn’s research project-builds on the extensive work of researcher Tom Lee, associate professor of natural resources and the environment, and other faculty funded by the experiment station. Lee and his research team recently found that the economically valuable eastern white pine thrives when the invasive glossy buckthorn shrub is actively managed in New Hampshire forests.

New Hampshire and New England were hit hard in 2016 by drought. Scientist Heidi Asbjornsen, associate professor of ecosystem ecology, has found that certain tree species in New Hampshire fared better at the height of the 2016 New England drought and were able to continue taking up water even when soils were very dry. Asbjornsen and her team are trying to understand the impacts of drought on New Hampshire’s forests, and the potential impacts on providing important ecosystem services to the state’s communities such as water resources; the production of timber, maple syrup, and other forest products; flood mitigation; and recreational opportunities.

Healthy soil is rich in organic matter, but scientists have yet to fully understand exactly how that organic matter is formed. Recently a team of scientists have uncovered evidence that microbial pathways – not plants – are the chief originator of the organic matter found in stable soil carbon pools. The new insight provides promise for designing agricultural systems that promote microbial communities to optimize soil organic matter formation. The research was conducted by Cynthia Kallenbach, former UNH graduate student now at Colorado State University, her advisor, Stuart Grandy, associate professor of natural resources, and Serita Frey, professor of natural resources.

Happy Earth Day from the NH Agricultural Experiment Station.

This material is based upon work supported by the NH Agricultural Experiment Station, through joint funding of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the state of New Hampshire.

Founded in 1887, the NH Agricultural Experiment Station at the UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture is UNH’s original research center and an elemental component of New Hampshire's land-grant university heritage and mission. We steward federal and state funding, including support from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, to provide unbiased and objective research concerning diverse aspects of sustainable agriculture and foods, aquaculture, forest management, and related wildlife, natural resources and rural community topics. We maintain the Woodman and Kingman agronomy and horticultural research farms, the Macfarlane Research Greenhouses, the Fairchild Dairy Teaching and Research Center, and the Organic Dairy Research Farm. Additional properties also provide forage, forests and woodlands in direct support to research, teaching, and outreach.

Lori Wright, NH Agricultural Experiment Station