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Don Scavia: The Man Behind the Research

Don Scavia: The Man Behind the Research

With more than four decades of experience, University of Michigan’s Don Scavia has spent the majority of his adult life learning about, conducting experiments on, and teaching others of the issues affecting freshwater and coastal marine ecosystems. His research has been instrumental in uncovering solutions to reverse the negative effects of human activities on the environment.

Scavia’s research has been fundamental in the discovery of methods for predicting and managing the size of dead zones in the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and the Northern Gulf of Mexico. A growing global issue, dead zones are areas of water affected by hypoxia, the loss of oxygen in water frequently caused by increased nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, which leads to conditions unsustainable for aquatic life. One of Scavia’s models, which estimates the nitrogen- or phosphorus-load reduction needed to reach desired oxygen goals, is an essential tool to the management of dead zones.

He has served as a principal investigator on four large National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects: Coastal Hypoxia, Lake Erie Ecological Forecasting, a Great Lakes Climate Adaptation Center, and the National Estuarine Research Reserve System Collaborative Science Program. These projects focus on modeling and measuring the impacts of watershed, land-use, and climate change on estuarine, coastal marine and Great Lakes systems with the goal of providing information needed to make environmental policy decisions with positive impacts. He is also a key investigator on two NSF-funded grants exploring interactions among climate change, agricultural practices, invasive species, and harmful algal blooms on Lake Erie, and until recently he led a multi-million dollar, EPA grant to track lower food-web changes in the Great Lakes.

Author of more than 135 peer-reviewed scientific articles, editor of 2 books, and 30 interdisciplinary assessments and policy papers, Scavia is the recipient of numerous awards, including two best paper of the year awards from the Journal of Great Lakes Research and, most recently, appointment to the National Academy of Sciences Rountable on Science and Technology for Sustainability. He holds Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate degrees in Environmental Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Michigan.

Today, Scavia has a dual role as special counsel to the U-M president for sustainability and as the director of the Graham Sustainability Institute, where he leads the university on the sustainability frontier. He serves as an advisor to executive officers and the president; the primary contact for students working on sustainability issues; and a facilitator of discussion, planning, and coordination of a full range of education, research, and operational sustainability activities campus-wide. A recent example is his oversight of the university’s Integrated Assessment project focused on integrating operations and academics in the development of stretch goals for the campus for carbon emissions, water use, transportation and other areas related to sustainability.

Scavia also engages with undergrad and graduate students in the classroom and as advisor as a professor of natural resources and environment, civil and environmental engineering, and the Graham Family Professor of Environmental Sustainability. His curriculum focuses on educating students on the development and application of integrated environmental assessments for informing natural resource management and environmental policy. Scavia’s lectures and research have been a key resource in training a new generation of sustainability scholars and professionals.

In addition to serving on many internal and external advisory committees, Scavia has been associate editor for Estuaries and Coasts and for Frontiers in Ecology and Environment, and served on the boards of directors for the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, the International Association for Great Lakes Research, and the Great Lakes Observing System.

He was director of Michigan Sea Grant from 2004-2009, SNRE Research Associate Dean from 2004-2006, and director of the Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research from 2004-2007. Prior to joining the Michigan faculty in 2004, Scavia was Chief Scientist for NOAA’s National Ocean Service, director of the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, director of NOAA’s Coastal Ocean Program, and research scientist with NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

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