Primary Investigator: Sebastian Behrens
Co-Investigators: Kevin Ramratten (Graduate Scholar)
Industry Partners: Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc.
Award Type: Seed Grant – Graduate Research Scholar

ProblemElevated nitrate levels in many of Minnesota’s waterways exist in part due to high rates of runoff from agricultural land. High dissolved nitrate often causes eutrophication and the formation of hypoxic zones, resulting in significant damage to marine life and local ecosystem health. Drinking water with high concentrations of dissolved nitrate are connected with various human health concerns, most notably Blue Baby Syndrome in infants. How do we decrease the amount and rate of nitrogen transfer from agricultural land to streams, rivers, and lakes?

Solution: The use of wetlands, either natural or engineered, to control and treat field and stormwater runoff by utilizing microbial removal of nitrate from water has shown promising results. Yet the performance of the microbial communities is limited by the natural/environmental conditions of the wetland system, namely Minnesota’s cold climate and the low temperatures during early spring and late fall. It is proposed that electrical stimulation of wetlands can increase microbial activity and therefore lengthen the remediation season and remove greater quantities of nitrate from surface waters. The Behren’s Lab will work to optimize the microbial communities that perform well in cold climates and respond positively to electrical stimulation.

Impact: The in-depth analysis of cold climate microbes that effectively remove nitrate from surface waters, will provide improved performance parameters for this water quality remediation tool. Confirmation by this work of the efficacy of electrically stimulated microbes within wetlands at removing dissolved nitrogen from stormwater and field runoff, would add significant functionality to this application. Successful development of this tool would contribute to Minnesota’s statewide goal of reducing nitrogen runoff by 45 percent. 

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