Samuel Flewelling attended the University of Virginia as an undergraduate. The quality of faculty members in the Department of Environmental Sciences influenced his decision to return to complete a Ph.D. Flewelling, a hydrologist, was initially interested in studying environmental chemistry. He credits U.Va. with broadening his perspective. Through the course of his graduate work, he has explored and applied principles of chemistry, microbiology, geology, and hydrology to tackle complex environmental questions. "The strength of U.Va.'s Environmental Science program is in its multidisciplinary approach, which is increasingly required to address many of the problems we now face," says Flewelling.
Flewelling's research is part of the Virginia Coast Reserve Long-Term Ecological Research project, based out of the Anheuser-Busch Coastal Reseach Center, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. His research aims to achieve a better understanding of how natural processes can contribute to the removal of nitrogen from groundwater and streams. Understanding the fate of nitrogen is critical, since nitrogen fertilizer use is closely tied to the world's growing population. Nitrogen-laden agricultural runoff can contaminate drinking water and disturb the balance of coastal ecosystems.
A major finding of Flewelling's research is that microorganisms naturally present in streambeds are hugely important, removing about 50 percent of nitrogen in groundwater. This conclusion indicates that microorganisms in vegetated buffer zones along streams do the brunt of the work in counteracting nitrogen pollution. Flewelling hopes to be able to extrapolate his findings to the larger Eastern Shore and to coastal areas in general.
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