Professor of ecosystem ecology Peter Raymond is the principal investigator on a research project that has gained approximately $500,000 in total funding from NASA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Currently teaching two classes at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Raymond has done groundbreaking work on biogeochemical transformations, which are changes in the chemical, geological and biological processes in natural environments such as riverbanks. The News spoke with Raymond Tuesday about his academic background and the details of his current research.
Q What did you do prior to coming to Yale?
A I worked at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory as a postdoc researcher. What I did, specifically, was research the chemistry of the carbon cycle in coastal waters, in this case Woods Hole, which is off the coast of Massachusetts.
Q What exactly will the funding you received from NASA be used for?
A The goal of the proposal is to determine the total amount of carbon dioxide that evades out of U.S. streams and rivers and to determine which landscape and climatic properties controls this evasion.
Q When did your interest in biogeochemistry develop?
A My interest really developed during my senior year of college when I was working on my senior thesis. The thesis was on carbon dioxide emissions and their prevalence in the Hudson River’s banks. Actually, one other senior was looking at a similar project to me but with sewage rather than with carbon dioxide, and his results were scarier than mine. I do want to say that even now, 20 years after I undertook my senior project, I am still working on it.
Q One of your many research interests is in the landscape controls of the watershed export of carbon. What have you found on this so far?
A Well I have done work in the Mississippi River to see how the agricultural activities affect the export of carbon in the river, and I’ve been working on that the last nine years.
Q Your research utilizes a “watershed approach.” Could you clarify on what that is exactly?
A One analogy is that this method is similar to taking a blood sample. The water is taken from a specific location, and how that specific location changes over time is really how we tell the difference. Through time, if something changes that means something changed in the water’s chemistry. We can also take samples of a bunch of different watersheds and see if there are differences. If there are, that information can be used to tell what exactly is different in the water and if that difference is a result of anything.