Commuting Decathlon

By Stephen Hale

Biking to word

Commuting by land.

One day driving to work, I wondered how much nitrogen my car was contributing to Narragansett Bay—just down the street from my office in EPA’s Atlantic ecology lab. Deposition from vehicle emissions is a significant source of nitrogen to estuaries like Narragansett Bay and Chesapeake Bay. This line of thinking was sparked by a recent trip, and my current research studying the effects of nitrogen-driven eutrophication (too much organic matter) and the consequent hypoxia (too little dissolved oxygen) on the clams, crabs, and other animals living on and in the bottom sediments.

How could I reduce my commuting nitrogen footprint on the Bay?

Lucky enough to live close to the lab —1.6 miles by land, 1.0 mile by sea—I often bike or walk to work. Then last June, on a walking holiday, my wife and I passed through Land’s End, the southwestern-most point of the United Kingdom. An amusing exhibit highlighted the many different ways people have gotten from there to John o’Groats at the northern tip of Scotland—603 miles as the crow flies, 874 by road, 1,200 by off-road paths. Notable “end-to-enders” have done it by rolling a wheelchair, walking barefoot, running backwards, skateboarding, swimming, hitting a golf ball the entire way, and walking nude (with frequent delays due to getting arrested).

When I got home, I set out to commute to work using ten different “nitrogen-free” modes of transportation (without breaking any laws!): a commuting decathlon.

Here’s how I completed the decathalon:

  • By land: walked, ran, biked, rollerbladed, cross-country skied (last winter).
  • By sea: kayaked, rowed, swam, sailed, standup-paddleboarded.

My favorites were the ones that didn’t require strapping on or into specialized equipment, just the human body on its own—the “Paleo Commute.”

Paddle-boarding to work.

Commuting by sea.

Although most commuters don’t live close enough to work to do a decathlon, if the average worker avoided using their car to commute just one day a week, nitrogen and a lot of other emissions would be substantially reduced. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation says that about 33% of the nitrogen pollution to the Bay comes from the air; of that, about 40% comes from motor vehicles. You can calculate your nitrogen footprint using their calculator: www.cbf.org/yourbayfootprint. A more comprehensive calculator is available on the N-Print website: www.n-print.org/. I learned that although the contribution from my car is less than from my sewage and electricity use, it is a significant amount.

Now I’m thinking, why stop at ten ways of commuting? Skateboarding? Snowshoeing? Do you have any other ideas? If so, please share them in the comments section below—but please don’t get arrested!

About the author: Stephen Hale is a research ecologist in EPA’s laboratory in Narragansett, Rhode Island. His favorite habitat is the mud at the bottom of Narragansett Bay.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

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It’s Arrested Urban Watershed Development

By Annie Zwerneman

They say April showers bring May flowers – but what happens to the rain that doesn’t end up watering plants?

In areas where the natural vegetation has been replaced by buildings, pavement, and other types of human development, a good deal of that rain water doesn’t get absorbed. Instead, it flows across the watershed, picking up pollutants and nutrients as it goes. In large urban areas, the natural systems can quickly become overwhelmed, leading to trouble in the form of impaired water bodies downstream, increased erosion, and damaged ecosystems.

urban-watersheds-blog-streamshot

EPA interns sampling a stream near Providence, RI.

EPA scientists helped address the growing concern for these pollutants by testing the waters in streams throughout the northeastern United States. A team of EPA researchers, led by Nathan Smucker and Anne Kuhn, set out to understand how we can better manage pollution that negatively affects valuable freshwater resources.

Smucker, Kuhn, and their team selected sites to research that were evenly distributed throughout the heavily urbanized Narragansett Bay watershed. Specific sites were picked in order to capture a complete range of low to high development in watersheds that drain to the bay.

The science team focused on how important components of stream food webs and water quality were affected by urbanization. In conjunction with other EPA research in the region, they found that riparian vegetation was integral to reducing negative impacts on algae and macroinvertebrates associated with watershed development. Stream ecosystems and food chains are further impacted when riparian vegetation is destroyed by development or erosion. Their research showed that if vegetation buffers are maintained next to streams, some of the negative effects of watershed development can be reduced.

Results from the research and literature review analysis will provide insight into preventative actions for decision makers that are building or developing on watersheds and aid with managing stream resources in watersheds with existing development. By identifying how past development has affected stream ecosystems, we can predict what might happen as ongoing development occurs, and we can work proactively on strategies to keep ecosystems intact and pollution at bay.

About the Author: Annie Zwerneman is an intern for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.