Ohio State wetlands professor wins prestigious Water Prize


COLUMBUS, Ohio – Years of studying wetland behavior have paid off for Ohio State University professor Bill Mitsch, who today became co-recipient of the prestigious 2004 Stockholm Water Prize.

For water scientists, winning the Stockholm Water Prize is equivalent to winning a Nobel Prize, said Mitsch.

Mitsch, a professor of natural resources and environmental science at Ohio State University, shares the award with Sven-Erik Jörgensen, a professor in environmental chemistry at the Danish University of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Copenhagen. The two will receive their prize -- $75,000 each – at an August ceremony in Stockholm. His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden will present the awards.

Mitsch, who directs the Olentangy River Wetlands Research Park (ORWRP – see sidebar) on Ohio State's campus, is the fifth researcher from a U.S. institution to receive the Stockholm Water Prize since its inception in 1990.

"This is a truly great honor for Bill and for the university," said Ohio State University President Karen Holbrook, who nominated Mitsch for the award. "While his accomplishments speak for themselves, and his reputation among his peers is unparalleled, receiving this award represents years of diligence, determination and patience. We are extremely pleased that his efforts have been recognized internationally."

A champion of wetlands, Mitsch has spent much of his 30-year career studying how these ecosystems work, and how to preserve them. He's participated on several federal-level panels – among them a respected national research council study that addressed the issues of wetland destruction and remediation in the United States.

Mitsch is also a key researcher in addressing the annual hypoxia problem that recurs in the Gulf of Mexico. Each spring, the rush of nitrogen and other chemicals that flow into the Mississippi River watershed ultimately turn more than 7,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico into an oxygen-depleted "dead zone," a condition known as hypoxia. Creating wetlands in the Midwest would help decrease this runoff, and lessen the effects in the Gulf.

But it takes time and patience to fully learn how an ecosystem behaves, Mitsch said.

"One thing I've learned from 30 years of this work is that it's far more important to look at ecosystem behavior long-term," he said. "Quick results just aren't sufficient to answer the question as to whether a wetland we create is a success or failure. Father Time is important in ecology.

"For instance, we need even more years than the decade we have already invested to study the experimental wetlands at the ORWRP before we can determine whether or not man-made wetlands work just as well as natural ones. That's one reason why it is so important to have this facility on a university campus."

The Stockholm International Water Institute, a think tank concerned with the escalating global water crisis, chooses Stockholm Water Prize winners each year.

The Institute selected Mitsch for using "mathematical and ecological models as a base for his scientific work" and also because "he has … taken a further step to develop methods for practical engineering to use wetlands as buffering and purification systems."

"Receiving this award is a wonderful honor, representing three decades' worth of research," Mitsch said.

Mitsch is editor of the journal Ecological Engineering, which he founded in 1992. He has also authored several books on ecological engineering and wetlands management.

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