URI sophomore evaluates groundwater pollution along coast

KINGSTON, R.I. — Nov. 15, 2001 — Adam Zitello, a sophomore at the University of Rhode Island and a resident of Poland, Ohio, spent the summer and fall studying pollution levels in Rhode Islands coastal groundwater and the consequences for coastal ecosystems as part of URI’s Coastal Fellows Program.

Zitello worked under the direction of URI associate marine research scientist Barbara Nowicki to test the groundwater around coastal margins, or local salt ponds such as Green Hill Pond, to determine the concentration of nitrate.

Nitrate enters groundwater from residential septic systems and lawn fertilizer. It is then carried in the aquifer to the coastal margin where it is discharged into our estuaries and salt ponds. It can cause excessive growth of nuisance algae that can overgrow and replace natural plant habitat, and can harm marine animals when it dies and rots.

The students traveled around the ponds poking holes in the soil and drawing up groundwater. They tested the water at several distances from the pond. They looked for relationships between nitrate levels, soil types, land use, and vegetative cover. The students hope to identify areas that are naturally adept at removing nitrate from groundwater before it reaches the coastal shoreline.

“People want to live near the water, but the more people in this area, the greater the impact on the local salt ponds. We hope that our studies will help both the people and the ponds co-exist,” said Zitello.

Zitello is currently undecided but is leaning towards a degree in environmental science and environmental economics. He is also considering a law degree.

“I want to bridge the gap between science and the policy makers. I want a strong science background to aid me in policies concerning the environment,” said Zitello.

Zitello’s research was funded by the URI Coastal Fellows Program, a unique program designed to involve undergraduate students in addressing current environmental problems. Funded by the Rhode Island Sea Grant Program and now in its sixth year, the Coastal Fellows Program teams students with URI faculty, research staff and graduate students to help undergraduates gain skills that will ensure their future success.

“The Coastal Fellows Program is a great program. It gave me the opportunity to see the scientific process first hand,” said Zitello. “It took formal schooling a step further. Not just note taking but learning through experience.”

For Information: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892, Sarah Emmett, 401-874-2116