Bear Brook Watershed research receives funding support

Contact: Ivan J. Fernandez, (207) 581-2932 or

The University of Maine’s ongoing research at the Bear Brook Watershed has received another funding boost from the National Science Foundation to study nitrogen cycling in the watershed.

UMaine has received $370,646 for the first year of funding from a $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant to a group of scientists who are examining how nitrogen moves from the atmosphere through ecosystems. The research will study nitrogen cycling through trees, soils, microbial communities, and streams, including feedbacks to the atmosphere.

At 25 years old, the Bear Brook Watershed in Maine, located in eastern Maine about 26 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, is one of the longest-running, whole ecosystem chemical manipulation experiments in the world. It is designed to study the effects of atmospheric deposition of pollutants and climate change on forests and streams.

The Bear Brook study has brought more than $11 million in external funding to UMaine since its founding. UMaine soil science Professor Ivan J. Fernandez is the lead researcher on the study, with UMaine researchers Jean MacRae, Kevin Simon, Sarah Nelson Stephen Norton and Tsutomo Ohno involved as co-investigators on the Bear Brook project.

Bear Brook is designed as two side-by-side watersheds, one of which has been experimentally enriched with nitrogen for more than 22 of the 25-year study period. The current grant will look at the fate of a nitrogen stable isotope, 15N, that occurs naturally in the environment, in both the treated and untreated sections of the watershed to better understand the effects of treatment and climate on nitrogen cycling.

Nitrogen is the most commonly limiting nutrient in forests, and nitrogen cycling is altered by acid rain and other sources of nitrogen pollution. Changes in nitrogen cycles are also one of the key ways in which climate change alters forest growth, health and composition.

The future health and composition of forested landscapes is growing in importance as the human population depends more and more on ecosystem services provided by forests, lakes and streams.

The project will also involve partnerships with the Schoodic Education and Research Center in Acadia National Park and the Physical Science Teachers Collaborative to develop curricula for students in grades K-12, as well as a public information display in partnership with the national park.