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.