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Paerl honored for contributions to Earth and space sciences

January 11, 2016

Dr. Hans Paerl

Dr. Hans Paerl

Hans Paerl, PhD, William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and of marine sciences at UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, N.C., was honored Dec. 16, 2015, for his election to the American Geophysical Union (AGU), one of the most prestigious communities of geophysicists and marine scientists in the world.

The award ceremony was held at AGU’s 2015 meeting in San Francisco.

Paerl is a renowned marine and environmental scientist known for his work on the ecological causes and impacts of toxic algae blooms in aquatic ecosystems. Election to AGU recognized Paerl’s “exceptional scientific contributions and attained knowledge eminence in the fields of Earth and space sciences.”

Lawrence Band, PhD, Voit Gilmore Distinguished Professor of geography and director of the UNC Institute for the Environment, also was elected to AGU membership. Band pioneered the use of digital topography to better understand how watersheds deliver nutrients into lakes, rivers and estuaries. That work has been useful in characterizing which nutrients and how many of them reach receiving waters from industrial, agricultural and urban sources.

Drs. Hans Paerl (right) and Larry Band pose after receiving the AGU's medals of recognition.

Drs. Hans Paerl (right) and Larry Band pose after receiving the AGU’s medals of recognition.

“Hans Paerl and Larry Band are such deserving recipients of this prestigious honor,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt, who also is professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the Gillings School. “Their combined research, although done independently, aims to understand how excessive nutrients from the land make their way into our aquatic ecosystems, potentially affecting our drinking water, our coasts, our fisheries and recreation. This work is fundamental to solving some of our nation’s biggest challenges and Carolina is tremendously proud to be their academic home.”

Paerl noted that algae are key indicators of water quality.

“Excessive algal growth or ‘blooms’ create uninhabitable conditions and toxic substances that impede the use of waters for consumption,” Paerl said. “They also can have a negative impact upon fish and shellfish, with serious economic and environmental consequences.”

Paerl’s work has helped the State of North Carolina formulate reductions in nutrient loading needed to arrest harmful blooms and optimize water quality of the Neuse River Estuary, as well as lakes, estuarine and coastal waters nationally and internationally (including in Canada, China, Europe and New Zealand).

In 2000, Paerl co-developed FerryMon, short for “ferry monitoring,” which employs N.C. Department of Transportation ferries to collect daily water samples as they cross the Pamlico Sound and Neuse River Estuary. FerryMon serves as an early warning system for identifying potentially harmful changes in the ecosystem and has become a model for automated monitoring water ecosystems across the United States.

The innovation led to Paerl’s becoming a world leader in monitoring and evaluating water conditions and finding solutions to problems that arise when changes occur in water supplies.

Paerl’s earlier honors include the G. Evelyn Hutchinson Award from the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography and the Odum Lifetime Achievement Award from the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation. He and UNC Chancellor Carol Folt were graduate student colleagues at the University of California at Davis, where they received doctorate degrees in aquatic ecology under the direction of Charles R. Goldman, PhD, one of the nation’s eminent freshwater ecologists.

Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu