Naya Tadavarthy | December 18, 2019
Shannon Speir’s research focuses on how storms affect nitrogen concentrations in Indiana streams, but this nutrient build-up influences bodies of water as far away as the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico.
The fourth-year graduate student, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in biological sciences, works in the lab of Jennifer Tank, Galla Professor of Biological Sciences, to combine ecology and environmentalism in her study of cover crops’ effect on nitrogen in waterways.
Speir’s far-reaching work has received recognition from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE). The graduate student grant they awarded her will help Speir continue her research and education efforts on the pollution of humanity’s most precious resource.
Every time it rains, excess fertilizer from farm fields washes into streams and rivers, which increases the concentration of nitrogen in the water. Although nitrogen is essential for humans, plants, and animals, too much of this nutrient can have lethal effects on individuals and the entire ecosystem. For instance, the nutrient has promoted the growth of toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie, which contaminated public drinking water. And in extreme cases, nitrogen can even outcompete oxygen in a person’s body. This condition, known as “Blue Baby Syndrome,” especially affects the very young and the very old, and according to Speir, it is “like suffocating from the inside out.”
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