James Ammerman, a former Director of the New York Sea Grant program at Stony Brook University, was hired in December 2015 by the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission to be Long Island Sound Study’s Science Coordinator. Sound Bytes, LISS’s e-newsletter, interviewed him about his new position.
Q: You have a background as an aquatic microbial ecologist and a biogeochemist. How do these fields help advance the efforts in Long Island Sound to improve water quality and sustain aquatic life?
Ammerman: My research has focused on the microbial cycling of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, in coastal waters. Excess nitrogen from a variety of sources is probably the most important factor harming Long Island Sound water quality because it can lead to hypoxia, harmful algal blooms, and other problems. However, sediment and carbon inputs, as well as weather patterns, can also impact these problems.
Q: You are LISS’s first science coordinator. What do you see as your role in this new position?
Ammerman: My role is to promote and coordinate science-related activities in the LISS as well as to provide the best available scientific information needed for Long Island Sound Management. I am currently working with professors at Stony Brook University and the University of Connecticut on a major research proposal to improve the scientific information needed to limit hypoxia in the Sound.
Q: Since 2000, the Long Island Sound Study, through a partnership with the New York and Connecticut Sea Grant programs have awarded 40 research grants to conduct Long Island Sound research. What do you think should be some of the priorities of this grant program in the near future?
Ammerman: In addition to hypoxia-related research mentioned above, there is critical need for more information about the impacts of climate change on the plants, animals, and the environment of Long Island Sound. We also need to better evaluate past habitat restoration efforts and improve future ones.
Q: You mentioned climate change, how do we best prepare for its impacts on Long Island Sound shorelines?
Ammerman: That is a huge question but the most important thing is to plan for sea level rise when building infrastructure. Sea level rise is already occurring, and though predictions of the amounts are uncertain, some minimum level must be included in planning, based on the best available information at the time.
Q: You live within a short walk from the Sound on Long Island’s North Shore. So the Sound must be a place that’s on your mind a lot- more than just at the job. What do you find special about it?
Ammerman: It is special to me because I can readily see its daily “moods,” including the waves, tides, storms, and human activities. A short trip to a local beach also quickly reveals both its beauty and its environmental challenges.
Ammerman, a resident of Centerport, Long Island, received his PhD.from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He has been a member of the faculty at Texas A&M University and the research faculty at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and Rutgers University. He also served as an Associate Program Manager in the Biological Oceanography Program at the National Science Foundation and as Science Director of NOAA’s Undersea Research Center at Rutgers University, and served as the Director of New York Sea Grant at Stony Brook University where he remains an adjunct faculty member there. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and currently serves on a national committee of the EPA Science Advisory Board which is addressing water quality problems in Lake Erie.