Jill Bubier

Citation for 2005 Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship

Jill L. Bubier is an advocate of nature whose lifetime goals are clearly to serve that Muse. Unlike most outstanding scientists, Jill’s studies on the environment were not made in a straight line from college to eminent scholar. Rather, her unusual career trajectory has been enriched by several complementary perspectives on the world around us.

Jill attended both Smith College and Bowdoin College receiving her degree magna cum laude from Bowdoin where she majored in Government and History. Jill loved canoeing in the Canadian Arctic and many aspects of the natural world--though not poison ivy! She decided to try to protect the environment she treasured by obtaining a law degree with an emphasis on environmental law. Jill received her J. D. from the University of Maine School of Law. To continue a more direct contact with the natural world while she worked as a lawyer, she also became an instructor in the Outward Bound Schools of Hurricane Island, Dartmouth, and Minnesota. Jill was still looking for a greater understanding of environmental science, so she enrolled in the unique and prestigious Field Naturalist Program at the University of Vermont and obtained her Master’s degree in Botany. She completed her transformation with doctoral studies on the Biogeochemistry of Peatlands at McGill University. Jill then served as a Distinguished Postdoctoral Research Associate in Global Change at the University of New Hampshire before coming to Mount Holyoke College in 1998. She is currently the Marjorie Fisher Associate Professor of Environmental Studies.

Jill’s research addresses one of the Earth’s most critical problems, global warming. She focuses on the northern ecosystems partly because they are still beloved from her canoe trips to the arctic. But mainly she concentrates on the Northern Hemisphere, particularly peatlands from the boreal, arctic and subarctic, because these northern wetlands respond more dramatically to global warming than other parts of the planet. These ecosystems store approximately one-third of the global pool of soil carbon. If these sites become warmer and drier as occurs during global warming, they could release more carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere as soil decomposition increased. The addition of still more of these gases to the atmosphere would increase further the global warming already underway.

Specifically, Jill analyzes certain components of her wetland sites. These include carbon dioxide and methane gas measurements over time and during different climatic conditions, plant production and decomposition measurements, relationship of observed effects to the water table, nutrient cycle measurements and the effects of added nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen on the ecosystem. Her aim is to answer questions such as ”how do changes in temperature and moisture over time affect carbon cycling in different plant communities in bogs and fens?” And “how does atmospheric nitrogen deposition affect carbon cycling in these northern peatlands?”

Because of the complexity of all the variables that can affect an ecosystem and lead to global warming, Jill collaborates with many scientists from the US. Canada and Scandinavia; she is the primary plant ecologist on these various projects. Jill’s numerous papers (more than 35 since 1984) and presentations (almost 50 since 1992), some with undergraduate students, are a testament to her contributions to this important field. The quality of her research has earned her several grants--including a NASA grant for new investigators and a National Science Foundation Career award given to only two people out of 48 the year she won hers.

Jill is a role model as a scientist and a scholar. She strongly believes in mentoring students. Her research students progress from being trainees the first summer as they learn the tools of environmental research, to being teachers for the new assistants the following year, to becoming, as seniors, designers of their own research and authors of honors papers, work that they then present at major scientific meetings. By the end of their time at Mount Holyoke College, her students have become junior colleagues, truly ready for jobs in environmental science or for graduate study. As many students have said, Jill’s research and her teaching are about the “real world.” Mount Holyoke is lucky to have such a fine scholar as Jill keeping track of our planet, one whose rich background is perfect for this real world research.