Global Ecology

A key focus of the WHRC is advancing the understanding of global-scale ecological processes, including the carbon, nitrogen, and hydrologic cycles, as well as how those systems are impacted by land use change and greenhouse gas emissions.


Examining Challenges Raised by Excesses and Deficiencies of Reactive Nitrogen:

Human alterations of the nitrogen cycle have caused a variety of environmental and human health problems ranging from too little to too much reactive nitrogen in the environment. Scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center are leaders in examining the scientific challenges raised by both excesses and deficiencies of reactive nitrogen. Through field studies, collaborations, and engagement in relevant policy processes, solutions are being developed.

Arctic Tundra

Investigating the Changing Arctic:

The Arctic is at the epicenter of climate change: warming is greatest in the Arctic, arctic ecosystems are particularly sensitive to warming, and changes in the Arctic can strongly impact the global climate system. Perhaps more than any other large region on Earth, the Arctic functions as a “system” with land, ocean, and atmospheric components of the system tightly coupled. Scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center are leading several international efforts to understand both the impacts of climate change on the Arctic as well as the feedbacks from the Arctic to the global climate system.

global rivers

Building the Global Rivers Observatory:

Scientists from the Woods Hole Research Center and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have joined with numerous collaborators around the world to investigate river chemistry and land-ocean linkages in Earth’s most significant river systems. Now active in 12 watersheds around the world – with the goal of expanding to several more - the Global Rivers Observatory is measuring concentrations of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other naturally occurring compounds in the rivers near their mouths where they empty into the ocean. Samples are also being collected from key tributaries upstream in the watersheds to investigate how chemical signatures vary regionally or in areas with differing land cover or land use.


Understanding the Global Carbon Cycle:

Carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2), is the major greenhouse gas released to the atmosphere as a result of human activities. The continued release of greenhouse gases is raising the temperature of the earth, disrupting the climates we and our agricultural systems depend on, and raising sea-level. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has already increased by nearly 40% since the start of the industrial revolution and will continue to increase unless society eliminates the use of fossil fuels. Most of the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations has come from and will continue to come from the use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) for energy, but more than 30% of the increase over the last 150 years came from changes in land use. Scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center are involved in determining the role terrestrial ecosystems play in the global carbon cycle.