Biogeochemical cycles from stream reaches to river networks
River networks transport, transform, and retain carbon, nutrients, and other pollutants as water flows from terrestrial landscapes to lakes and oceans. Small stream reaches are the most intensely sampled flowing waters, and we work to understand how measurements made in small stream reaches can inform whole stream- and river- network function across landscapes. We are currently working on two projects under this topic:
How do stream ecosystems respond to land development and climate change? With this project, we are seeking to understand what drives patterns of stream metabolism within and across streams. This large, collaborative NSF Macrosystems Biology project includes nine PIs across six Universities (Emily Bernhard (lead), Jim Heffernan, and Brian McGlynn, Duke University; Bill McDowell, University of New Hampshire; Bob Hall, University of Wyoming; Matt Cohen, University of Florida; Emily Stanley, University of Wisconsin; Nancy Grimm, Arizona State University) and intensive data collection in five biomes coupled with extensive existing datasets of stream ecosystem metabolism across the United States. At UConn, Postdoctoral Associate Lauren Koenig (beginning Fall 2017) will continue developing and begin testing process-based models of stream metabolic responses to disturbance regimes at the site and watershed-scales.
Stream carbon cycling in a warming world
Our goal is to understand and predict the effects of warming and other anthropogenic stressors on stream carbon dynamics. This large project, funded by NSF, will examine the effects of temperature on organic carbon processing in forest stream networks, using a multi-scale design that includes a paired-catchment whole-stream warming experiment, an array of warmed streamside channels, laboratory studies of aquatic microbes, and reach- and network-scale modeling. The fieldwork will take place at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory in North Carolina. Collaborators include John Benstead (lead, University of Alabama), Amy Rosemond & Seth Wenger (University of Georgia), Erin Hotchkiss (Virginia Tech), and Vlad Gulis (Coastal Carolina). The Helton Lab is seeking a PhD student to collaborate on this project. See details here.
Biogeochemical regime shifts in coastal wetland landscapes
Sea level rise, increased drought severity, and hurricane intensity are increasing the susceptibility of freshwater wetlands to saltwater incursion. At the same time, many freshwater wetlands experience large loads of nutrients and other contaminants from agricultural and/or urban land uses. We are interested in how the interactions of these two chemical fronts drive patterns of greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient export to sensitive coastal areas. We are currently working on two projects under this topic:
How will sea level-rise driven shifts in wetland vegetation alter ecosystem services?
The overarching objective of this project is to quantify how shifts in vegetation may alter carbon and nitrogen cycling in Long Island Sound tidal wetlands and predict how those services change under sea-level rise scenarios. This project includes extensive field surveys of plant communities and soils, in situ "marsh organ" experiments, and spatiotemporal scaling of wetland ecosystem services in southern New England. Funded by the Long Island Sound Study, Helton is a co-PI with Beth Lawrence (PI, UConn NRE) and Chris Elphick (co-PI, UConn, EEB). In Helton's lab, incoming MS student Sean Ooi and undergraduate Honor's student Kayleigh Granville collaborate on this project.
Urban runoff and saltwater intrusion in restored and unrestored tidal wetlands
Our goal is to quantify patterns of ecosystem function in natural and restored wetlands along the Connecticut coast, and to determine how sea level rise impacts the
ecosystem function of wetlands in this highly urbanized landscape. We focus on the retention of nitrogen and common urban metal contaminants (Cu, Pb, Zn) as primary ecosystem functions that improve downstream water quality, and may be particularly sensitive to saltwater inundation in urban settings. MS student April Doroski is leading work funded by Connecticut Sea Grant College Program (Tim Vadas, UConn ENVE, is co-PI) to quantify the effects of sea level rise on the nutrient and metal retention capacity of restored and natural wetlands on the densely populated coast of the Long Island Sound.