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Pair of Scientists Receive Prestigous Environmental Award

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Two scientists who study human effects on the environment will receive a prestigious prize from the University of Southern California this weekend. KPCC's Molly Peterson has the story.

Molly Peterson: Stanford University biologist Hal Mooney is impatient with science. He studies the ways global trade is speeding the spread of non-native species, and he says he'll use the Tyler prize to help research keep up.

Hal Mooney: There are fast track studies and things we can do, maybe on more limited issues, more targeted issues, and we can do it faster.

Peterson: Mooney's sharing the $200,000 Tyler Environmental Prize with University of Virginia environmental scientist Jim Galloway. Galloway studies the chemical nitrogen. It's always been around, but more and more often, what people do – cattle grazing, agriculture, burning fossil fuels – spreads it, through air, water, and soil.

Galloway says that "nitrogen cascade" resembles the way carbon cycles through the environment. Except that scientists mostly worry about one byproduct of carbon: greenhouse gases. Galloway says every bit of human-made nitrogen can have different effects on the environment, many of them bad.

Jim Galloway: That same molecule of nitrogen, if it's released into the atmosphere, can first contribute to smog, then contribute to forest dieback, and then it's transferred from the soil, to the water, can contribute to dead zones. Eventually it might be converted to nitrous oxide, causing greenhouse effect, and then it gets in the stratosphere, and then, so the challenge is how can you diminish the amount of nitrogen in the environment?

Peterson: Mooney and Galloway say they want science to do a better job of explaining these environmental impacts to the public and to policymakers, because that understanding will help determine what to do about those effects.