AMARILLO When rain settles the atmosphere and brings air pollutants to the ground, it can have a lasting effect on ecosystems, sometimes hundreds of miles away, according to a Texas AgriLife Research agricultural engineer.
Dr. Brent Auvermann, research engineer and Texas AgriLife Extension Service specialist in Amarillo, is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies to see what is settling from the skies above the Panhandle.
"The question we're trying to help answer is, are we altering ecosystems by dumping pollutants into the atmosphere that will come out in the form of wet or dry deposition?" Auvermann said.
"We have intensive agriculture of all forms and we'd like to know if the specific dominant land uses are contributing nutrients to ecosystems," he said.
Auvermann explained that all ecosystems receive some atmospheric inputs, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur. The plant and animal life dominant to that region thrives because it has adapted to a particular rate of those nutrients.
When the nutrient load changes, it can change the competitive ability of a species and allow different ones to thrive where they once were not competitive, he said. The effects extend from major animal life such as deer down to the smallest bacteria.
For instance, scientists know that the Rocky Mountain National Park has been home to wildflowers for many years, Auvermann said. But evidence from the last 20 years suggests that the ecosystem seems to be changing. The wildflowers are gradually being replaced by grasses and sedges.
"I don't know anyone who drives all the way to Estes Park to take pictures of sedges," he said.
Another change the Colorado scientists are noticing is acidification of the normally alkaline soils on the eastern side of the Continental Divide, Auvermann said. This can lead to changes in the surface water and stream
|Contact: Dr. Brent Auvermann|
Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications