Although nitrogen is an essential building block of life, in soluble form, it is also is a key eutrophication and acidification agent. Thus, "reactive nitrogen" (any nitrogen compound available for biotic uptake) is a perfect example of the complexity in understanding and managing human alternations to biogeochemical and hydrologic cycles. Research in the Elliott Lab addresses critical scientific and societal issues that exemplify the complex interactions between hydrology, ecology, and human activities across spatial scales.
Our research program examines the tight coupling between human activities and reactive nitrogen distributions in atmospheric, terrestrial and hydrologic systems at multiple spatial scales using stable isotope biogeochemistry. These coupled relationships are being investigated in agricultural, energy production, transportation, and human-built environments to determine how best to manage inputs of reactive nitrogen to protect water quality, air quality, ecosystem and human health. Ongoing projects broadly address three research questions:
The "Cascading" Impact of Nitrogen in the Environment
How do plants, forests, & ecosystems respond to anthropogenic alterations to the nitrogen cycle?
Ongoing projects investigate sources and mechanisms for changing ecosystem nutrient status in forested, near-road, and urban settings. We are examining inter-watershed controls on breakthrough of atmospheric nitrogen and assessing how N saturation status influences atmospheric nitrogen export in streamwater. Additionally, we seek to clarify the role of plant uptake in retention of atmospheric nitrogen. Research projects are funded by NSF (Hydrologic Sciences and Ecosystems Studies Cluster), U.S. Forest Service (Northern Global Change Research Program), and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (Power Plant Research Program).