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2024 SFS Fellows: Bill McDowell

2024 Fellows

Bill McDowell

Dr. William H. McDowell is a Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science and Research Professor in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, New Hampshire, USA. He is also a Research Professor at Florida International University. He began his research career working on stream ecosystems with Dr. Stuart Fisher at Amherst College, where he received a B.A. in Biology. Dr. McDowell received a Ph.D. in Aquatic Ecology from Cornell University, working on dissolved organic matter dynamics in the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest with Dr. Gene Likens. He has worked on the biogeochemistry of land-water interactions in New Hampshire, Czech, Siberian, and Puerto Rican streams. He initiated ongoing long-term research at two sites, the tropical Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico and the suburban Lamprey River of New Hampshire. His research focus has been on understanding the fundamental interactions between nutrients and dissolved organic matter, and the ways in which land use, soils, hydrologic flow paths, and extreme events affect a wide range of ecological processes in inland waters. He has addressed the importance of inland waters to continental and global scale biogeochemistry with colleagues in many continental-scale collaborations such as the LINX projects.

Dr. McDowell is former Chairperson of the Department of Natural Resources at UNH, serves as Director of the NH Water Resources Research Center, and held a UNH Presidential Chair until his retirement from teaching in 2023. He was awarded the UNH Distinguished Professor Award in 2017 and is an elected Fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Geophysical Union.

Selections from Bill’s Fellows nomination and letters of support:

“Bill is a highly productive scientist working on stream biogeochemistry around the world with particular strengths in nitrogen and organic carbon dynamics. Bill’s work has emphasized anthropogenic impacts, the influence of storms (notably hurricanes), and atmospheric deposition and pollution. His work at the Luquillo Long-Term Ecological Research site in Puerto Rico has resulted in novel insights into tropical stream biogeochemistry and he oversees the curation of the longest record of tropical stream chemistry in the world. Bill was a central member of the highly successful LINX I and II (Lotic Intersite Nitrogen eXperiment) research groups.”

“Bill has generated almost 300 peer-reviewed publications with an h-index of 95 and over 43,000 citations. This body of work reflects his central participation in seminal stream biogeochemistry papers including “Plumbing the global carbon cycle: integrating inland waters into the terrestrial carbon budget”, “Biogeochemical hot spots and hot moments at the interface of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems”, “Nitrogen saturation in temperate forest ecosystems: hypotheses revisited” and the major Science and Nature publications that emerged from LINX 1 and II, respectively.”

“From a scientific perspective, Dr. McDowell’s work on dissolved organic matter has been pioneering in the field of stream biogeochemistry. Although Dr. McDowell has made many contributions (work on the nitrogen cycle, contributions to the LINX project, and comparative analysis of urban, tropical, and forest ecosystems), his work on dissolved organic matter has really distinguished him. He was one of the first researchers to investigate the origin, fluxes, and composition of dissolved organic matter from watersheds on a deeper level.”

“Bill has dedicated much of his career to the mentorship of early career scientists including countless undergraduate students at UNH and the University of Puerto Rico. He has mentored 40 masters students, 12 PhD students, and 6 post-doctoral scholars. And many of these graduate students reflect a strong commitment to working with Hispanic and Latinx students from Puerto Rico. Below we include perspectives from a few of his former advisees.”

“Bill's mentorship has greatly helped to develop my writing skills, broaden my research focus to capture "big picture" questions, and provide me with a wealth of resources and opportunities. Bill's mentorship will undoubtedly have a profound and lasting impact on my future career."

“Bill has provided a unique opportunity to be able to work in very diverse locations as well as collaborate with people across the globe. Although working for Bill can be a lot of work at times, he has made my PhD experience very fun and exciting by providing the liberties to research what interests me but making sure it's within the framework of new and compelling science.”

“As a post-doctoral research fellow, I have benefited tremendously from Dr. McDowell's mentorship. Dr. McDowell uniquely combines challenging his mentees with providing the support required. My own personal global-scale research program is a direct result of this duality. Dr. McDowell also willingly shares his resources and provides one-of-a-kind professional development advice. Working with Dr. McDowell is simply one of the best professional choices I have made.”

“Dr. McDowell is an exceptional mentor and collaborator, and he has changed the course of my professional life. I first met him when I was applying to graduate school. I drove to the University of New Hampshire in the winter, and had a great meeting with Dr. McDowell. I went elsewhere for graduate school, but Dr. McDowell was supportive, and we stayed in touch. While still a PhD student, Dr. McDowell involved me in his research … when I would see Dr. McDowell at meetings, he would always check in on me and come to my talks and posters. It meant so much that he stayed in touch and cared. As an assistant professor, we published several papers together. During this phase of my career, Dr. McDowell said to me: “You won’t know where your career will be going for about 10 to 15 years. That’s OK, and that’s what happened to me. You just have to keep going, keep showing up, and good things will happen. Perseverance is important in our field.” I will never forget that conversation and still mention it to my own students.”

“In addition to his many achievements, I think Dr. McDowell’s character, collegiality, and collaborative nature make him a very special and distinguished scientist. I hope that you will consider Dr. McDowell for your award and recognize this very unique individual as representing the rigor, values, and spirit of freshwater science.”