Unexpected impact of hurricanes on Puerto Rico's watershed

Researchers have found unprecedentedly high levels of nitrate, an essential plant nutrient, in streams and watersheds of Puerto Rico for a year after two consecutive major hurricanes in 2017. This high amount of nitrate may have important climate change implications that could harm forest recovery and threaten ecosystems along Puerto Rico's coastline by escalating algal blooms and dead zones.

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have found unprecedentedly high levels of nitrate, an essential plant nutrient, in streams and watersheds of Puerto Rico for a year after two consecutive major hurricanes in 2017. This high amount of nitrate may have important climate change implications that could harm forest recovery and threaten ecosystems along Puerto Rico's coastline by escalating algal blooms and dead zones.

"Nitrate is important for plant growth but this is a case where you can have too much of a good thing," said William McDowell, professor of environmental science at UNH. "The levels of nitrate we were seeing were unusually high. Over the last three decades, we've noticed elevated levels of nitrate right after a hurricane, but after these back-to-back major storms, the wheels came off the bus. We saw an increase in the nitrate levels that still has not fully recovered."

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