Lindsay Deel calls the Chesapeake Bay region home, a home she’s working to protect from ecological collapse. Deel, who grew up in Hampton, Va., is using her work as a graduate research assistant in the Department of Geology and Geography at West Virginia University to safeguard the bay’s ecology.

She recently received funding to continue her research on monitoring disturbances such as nitrogen that can leak into the water system near her beloved home.

Through the Environmental Protection Agency STAR Fellowship, Deel received $42,000 to pursue her dissertation research on instabilities in the water. According to previous research, excess nutrient pollution was identified as the major force contributing to the declining health of the Chesapeake Bay. Deel is developing satellite imagery-based forest disturbance metrics to improve predictions of nutrients, mainly nitrogen, and sediment loads to the Chesapeake Bay.

“I view the EPA STAR fellowship as a way to move my career further in the direction of developing emerging technologies and methods for addressing environmental issues and to contribute to the critically important problem of nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay,” Deel said.

Streams in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed eventually drain into the bay, carrying excessive nitrogen, which leads to the creation of large algal blooms. When the algae die, they sink to the bottom of the bay and decompose, consuming oxygen.

This loss of oxygen is fatal to the inhabitants of the bay, including blue crab, striped bass and herring, and creates ‘dead zones’ where little or no life can be sustained.

Several species of algae and bacteria are toxic to humans and animals, creating public health concerns, particularly in coastal regions. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed is home to more than 17 million people.

With her recent grant, Deel is working closely with the Chesapeake Bay Program Office to improve predictions of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment export from forested watersheds that have disturbance levels.

The Environmental Protection Agency recognizes this problem of excessive nutrients in the bay as a top priority to be solved.

Deel’s research looks at forested areas for the origin of nitrogen. The majority of nitrogen from forests comes from plants, soils and nitrogen deposits from the atmosphere that runs off into the streams. Ultimately, her goal is to reduce nutrient pollution to the bay to make the water more safe and usable by screening the nitrogen in the water using satellite imagery.

“In forested areas, greater amounts of nitrogen enter water bodies after disturbances like clear-cut forest harvests (logging), wind storms, and insect defoliations,” Deel said.

“Disturbances can be either natural or anthropogenic (human-caused). While we can’t always prevent natural disturbances, we can create management plans that address the impacts of both types of disturbances. My project will add understanding to the different impacts of different disturbance types so we can create more effective management plans for both natural and anthropogenic disturbances in forests.”

A second part of her dissertation research focuses on communicating science between scientists, policymakers and the public. As a news writer at Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Deel believes it is important to communicate with a variety of audiences to be able to enact change and bring awareness to the environmental issues facing society.

Deel received her bachelor’s degree in geography science from James Madison University in 2006 and her master’s in geography from WVU in 2010. She currently works as an EPA STAR Fellow at WVU. Deel is in her second year as a doctoral student.

For more information, contact Brenden McNeil, at 304-293-0384 or



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