Protecting Water Quality

Chris Osburn, an associate professor of marine science, turned his childhood interest in the great outdoors into research that is helping protect water quality in key ecosystems.

Osburn’s time spent on lakes as a child in the northern Midwest helped spark his interest in exploring why the color of the waters differed. His field, biogeochemistry, incorporates biology, geology and chemistry to study the flow of elements in ecosystems ranging from lakes and rivers to the oceans.

“Biogeochemical cycles function everywhere across the earth,” he said. “Anywhere you go there’s biogeochemistry happening, and the type of work that we do is translatable and transferable to many different environments.”

One interaction Osburn studies is how runoff from the land impacts the quality of estuaries and coastal waters. He is currently exploring how ecosystems in the Neuse River estuary responded to flooding from Hurricane Matthew. He’s also conducting a water quality study in Bald Head Creek, a project funded by a research grant to the college from a private donor.

“One of the issues with increased frequency and intensity of tropical storms is how they will transfer different materials — some that can be nutrients, some that can be contaminants — into estuaries and coastal waters, and how that influences the function of those ecosystems,” he said. 

Osburn hopes that the information his team gathers will help identify sources of runoff that are particularly harmful to ecosystems in eastern North Carolina and help put measures in place to control them.

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