Daniel Conley, UW-Green Bay alumnus wins Pew Fellowship

Daniel Conley, a professor at Lund University in Sweden, who credits UW-Green Bay for helping to shape his views about the role science can play in addressing major environmental problems, has been awarded a 2010 Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation to examine solutions for reducing nutrients in the Baltic Sea. Conley earned his Master of Science degree in Environmental Science and Policy in 1983 at UW-Green Bay.

The award gives recipients $150,000 for a three-year scientific research or conservation project that will address critical challenges facing the world’s oceans. Excessive chemical nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers, lead to hypoxia and so-called “dead zones” in the bottom waters of the Baltic Sea. These areas of low oxygen threaten the survival of marine life.

The Baltic Sea has more of these dead zones than any place in the world. They cover an area of 49,000 square kilometers, about the size of West Virginia, Conley said. In some years those zones become even larger.

However, hypoxia is not just a threat facing the world’s oceans. Excessive nutrients and low-oxygen zones are an issue for Green Bay and the Great Lakes, he said. So his research may have applications in Northeastern Wisconsin, too.

Conley will evaluate the effectiveness, cost and ecosystem impacts of several options for removing nutrients from the ocean and improving water quality. He will compare these options with traditional reduction methods for fertilizers on land, a portion of which reach the water through storm runoff.

“For me this (Pew Fellowship) is exciting because I like talking about my science and having it used in a management context,” Conley said. “When I was at UW-Green Bay, I was funded through a Sea Grant project and it was a fantastic time. I was so fortunate to learn from people like (emeriti professors of Natural and Applied Science) Jim Wiersma, Paul Sager and Bud Harris. The education at Green Bay helped me become the scientist that I am.”

Those lessons included a broadened understanding of environmental science and the need for researchers to step beyond the ivory tower and provide practical information to help decision-makers.

“I remember Dan well,” Sager said after learning about Conley’s award. “He was a young man whose aspirations grew as he grew as a student. You can’t help but feel a kick of pride when one of your students goes on to do well.”

A Fort Lauderdale, Fla. native who earned his undergraduate degree at Tulane University and his Ph.D. in Chemical Oceanography at the University of Michigan, Conley is also a visiting scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York.

Following graduation from Michigan, Conley joined the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Studies, and from 1988-94 he worked on Chesapeake Bay. From there he moved to Denmark, where he worked at the National Environmental Research Institute, part of the Danish Ministry of the Environment, in Rosklide. In 2007 he joined the faculty of the GeoBiosphere Centre, Department of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences at Lund University.

One of the goals of Conley’s research will be to winnow through some of the proposals being floated to address the dead zones. These include massive oxygenation to chemical reduction to biomanipulation.

“We have already looked at large-scale engineering projects and concluded that those aren’t practical,” Conley said. “Something that you really have to be concerned about are the unintended consequences.”

There are 14 nations bordering the Baltic Sea, so any major project that would impact the environment must take into consideration international economics and treaties, Conley added.

“Dead zones in our oceans and seas are perhaps some of the most visible and tangible examples of human impact on marine environments,” said Joshua S. Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group. “Dr. Conley’s project will apply the scientific scrutiny needed to help fix a global problem that is literally growing bigger each and every year.”

Each year the Pew Fellowship picks five recipients for a three-year fellowship in Marine Conservation. Other Fellows named Wednesday are conducting research in enhanced management of shellfish fisheries in Latin America, better understanding of biological diversity, identification and protection of coral reefs, and how to prevent the inadvertent catching and trapping of seabirds by open ocean longline and trawl fisheries.

The Pew Fellowships in Marine Conservation fund projects that address critical challenges in the conservation of the ocean, being led by outstanding professionals who are mid-career. The Pew Environment Group, based in Washington, D.C, manages the program.

More information about each of the 2010 Pew Fellows in Marine Conservation, including photographs and a Google Earth Tour of the recipients, is available at www.pewmarinefellows.org/2010.

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R. Terry Anderson

I teach English Composition and handle media and marketing for the Institute for Learning Partnership.

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