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Biogeochemistry

By understanding how humans disrupt natural chemical cycles, our scientists are working to guide management strategies that maintain a hospitable climate and protect air, water, and natural resources.

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Our Work

What do climate change, acid rain, and the pollution of lakes, rivers, and coastal waters have in common? They are all costly problems caused by disruptions to natural biogeochemical cycles. The solution lies in innovating practices that balance human needs with ecosystem health.

The Cary Institute counts among its staff leaders in the field of biogeochemistry. Their studies of how biological and chemical cycles regulate the environment put special emphasis on how human actions—such as logging, farming, and fossil fuel emissions—disrupt the way that ecosystems function.

Dr. Gene E. Likens, the Cary Institute’s founding director, was instrumental in discovering acid rain in North America. His research influenced the passage of the U.S. Clean Air Act. As a result, there have been substantial reductions in sulfur dioxide emission from power plants. Acid rain persists, but the source of the problem is increasingly car exhaust and agricultural fertilizers.

Air quality standards are currently based on what leaves tail pipes and smoke stacks. They don’t account for where air pollution is deposited or how it compromises our soil and water resources and resident plants and animals. Working with The Nature Conservancy, the Cary Institute advocates for the adoption of standards based on the maximum level of air pollution that ecosystems can tolerate before harm occurs.

Highlighted Projects

Effects of Atmospheric Deposition on Biodiversity

Air pollutants such as sulfur, nitrogen, ozone and mercury have serious direct and indirect effects on organisms in our region. A synthesis of research findings, written by the Cary Institute and the Nature Conservancy, reports that no major ecosystem types in the Northeast are free of air pollution effects.

Atmospheric Deposition to Heterogeneous Terrain: Scaling up to the Landcape

Building on earlier research, which focused on how landscape features affect atmospheric deposition, we have developed a new modeling approach for scaling point measurements of atmospheric deposition to whole landscapes in Acadia and Great Smoky National Parks.

Patterns of Atmospheric Deposition

Air pollutants are deposited not only in rain and snow, but also as gases, particles, and fog droplets. Measuring the deposition of all of these forms is difficult, especially in mountainous terrain, where deposition rates are strongly influenced by elevation and characteristics of the forest canopy. Knowing the rates and patterns of deposition is critical to evaluating ecosystem response to the pollutants

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Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies | Millbrook, New York 12545 | Tel (845) 677-5343

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