The Nitrogen Cascade, from the Nooksack to the Globe

Western undergrad Savanna Dayton and grad student Lauren Cohen sample stream flow and nutrient concentrations in Schell Creek, near Ferndale, to help calibrate models of riparian nutrient retention.


Archived video from this presentation.


Nitrogen (N) fertilizers have helped fuel the agricultural revolution and feed an exponentially growing human population since the 1950s. However, any excess nitrogen – that which the crops don’t capture - can escape into the environment and cause a variety of environmental and human health problems, from local air and water pollution to global climate change. And managing nitrogen use is tricky: because N is transformed by a variety of biological and chemical processes in air, soil and water, reducing N release at one point in this “nitrogen cascade” may just cause greater release at other points. My lab is working on these issues at a variety of scales. Locally, grad students are working to model the impact of riparian buffers on nitrogen retention along the Nooksack River and its tributaries. That is, can planting trees and shrubs along creeks, primarily intended to help improve salmon habitat, also help prevent excess nutrients from causing eutrophication in Bellingham Bay? Regionally, we’re part of the Nooksack-Fraser Transboundary Nitrogen (NFTN) Project, a multi-agency, cross-border collaboration seeking to understand sources, sinks and impacts of nitrogen in the U.S. and Canadian parts of the Nooksack Watershed, Lower Fraser Valley, and Salish Sea. Globally, NFTN is part of the project “Towards an International Nitrogen Management System” (INMS), based at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. We are one of seven global demonstration regions seeking to better understand N benefits, impacts, and management under a variety of social, cultural, and economic conditions. In this talk, I’ll describe the progress that we’re making and how these different scales of inquiry help inform one another.


Students Maddy Mikles and Bea Macagno sample Deer Creek

About the Speaker

David Hooper
David Hooper
Professor, WWU, Biology Department

David Hooper is a Professor of Biology at Western Washington University. His research focuses on questions of how plant communities and global environmental changes influence the cycling of carbon and nitrogen through ecosystems. He has worked in temperate forests in the Northeast U.S. and Europe, grasslands in California and China, Arctic tundra in Alaska, and watersheds of the Pacific Northwest. He received a BA in Chemistry from Middlebury College, and then was a ski bum, environmental policy mediator, and dogsled musher in Colorado, before working as a research assistant at the Ecosystems Center in Woods Hole, Mass, where the complexity of the nitrogen cycle first began to intrigue him. He then received a Ph.D. in Biology from Stanford University and did post-doctoral research in Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, before coming to Western in 1998. Along the way, his work has been recognized by a variety of awards and fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the Ecological Society of America, the Leopold Leadership Program, WWU, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In addition to his work at WWU, he currently serves as the co-lead for the Regional Demonstration Projects (Component 3) of the International Nitrogen Management System.


Western undergrads Maddy Mikles and Bea Macagno sample nutrient concentrations in Deer Creek, Whatcom County, to help calibrate models of riparian nutrient retention.

Environmental Speaker Series

The Environmental Speaker Series is hosted by the College of the Environment at Western Washington University.

The Series is free and open to the public. Talks are held each Thursday at 4:30 pm in Academic Instructional Center West room 204 - AW-204. Talks will also be streamed via zoom. Register with the Alumni Association for the zoom link. Paid parking is available in lot C.

Learn more about the Environmental Speaker Series
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