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Don Kelso Learning Pier

The Mr. Rodgers of Ecology is what a colleague suggested that Dr. Don Kelso be called due to his engaging, easy-going nature and passion for connecting students to aquatic ecosystems. We are thrilled that Dr. Kelso was honored at the naming ceremony during the Don Kelso Learning Pier kick off event. This pier will allow students and researchers direct access to the Occoquan river from Potomac Science Center, which Dr. Kelso, along with Dr. Chris Jones, worked tirelessly for two decades to start. Dr. Kelso was the first freshwater ecologist in the College of Science and this pier is just one way that his passion for science communication, outreach, and education can be achieved.

Learn more about Dr. Kelso at the following links:

and Learn more about the pier here:

The kick-off event at Potomac Science Center
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New Mural at Potomac Science Center

TakerOne, a visiting artist from Hungary, creates a mural entitled, “Fauna of Belmont Bay” at George Mason University’s Potomac Science Center featuring wildlife native to the Potomac River, in Prince William County. photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services

There is a brand new mural at Potomac Science Center! The mural was painted by TakerOne, an artist who hails from Hungary.

New mural at Mason’s Potomac Science Center highlights native species

There’s a guy spray-painting a wall in the Belmont Bay area of Woodbridge, Virginia, and the community members couldn’t be happier.

The guy is international graffiti artist TakerOne, and the wall he is working on belongs to George Mason University’s Potomac Science Center. His mural, “Fauna of Belmont Bay,” is part of the Murals at Mason’s larger eco-consciousness mural series titled Elements, and the result of a university-community partnership.

In the “Fauna of Belmont Bay,” the muralist and street artist from Budapest, Hungary, highlights four species that inhabit Belmont Bay: the yellow swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus), the tree frog (Hyla cinerea), the wood duck (Aix sponsa), and the North American river otter (Lontra canadensis). Read more.

New Belmont Bay mural showcases wildlife native to the Potomac

On his website, TakerOne says he wants people to stop and say “wow” when they see his work. His goal is to add color to gray cities and to “beautify our built environment” on a grand scale. Last week, TakerOne began creating a mural on the science center’s parking garage that highlights the biodiversity of the Potomac River one spray can at a time. Read more.

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Future Potomac Science Center Pier Named in Honor of Dr. Don Kelso

When Dr. Don Kelso joined the Mason faculty in 1970, both the university, and the field of environmental science, were just getting started. A pioneering aquatic ecologist, Kelso remained a fixture within the Department of Biology, and Mason, for the next 35 years until retiring in 2006.

A mentor and friend to hundreds of students, he was a key figure in establishing the PhD program in Environmental Science and Public Policy in 2000, the first PhD program in the sciences at Mason and the first doctoral program of its kind in the country.

Now a group of Kelso’s former students have united to honor his legacy at the Potomac Science Center, the waterfront environmental research center that Kelso played a central role in establishing.

On May 22, a group of over 30 former students, colleagues, and family gathered with Kelso at the Potomac Science Center to celebrate and thank him for his positive influence on their lives. They also kicked off a campaign to fund and build the Don Kelso Learning Pier.

Read More

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COVID-19 Monitoring at George Mason

Here at Mason, COVID-19 cases can be caught early, because researchers at Potomac Science Center are testing sewage for COVID-19 RNA.

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Ecotoxicology of microplastics in the Potomac River watershed: Effects on Aquatic Organisms, Mechanisms of Fragmentation, and Vectors of Micropollutants and Microbial pathogens

Written by Maria Rumyantseva

There have been numerous discussions on the issue of water contamination, and one might ask what novelty could this project possibly bring about? Well, the pandemic summer of 2020 dictated a new twist as the faculty members as well as students must have adjusted and adapted to a new condition with resilience, enthusiasm, creativity, and flexibility. In this blog I will share my personal experience participating in the project, I will describe the research process for a meta-analysis and how we decided to attain that virtually.

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Hunting Creek Research

Alexandria Renew Enterprises featured our Hunting Creek research in a recent video.

RiverRenew on Vimeo.

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35-Year Study of Gunston Cove Published

For 35 years, Dr. Chris Jones has sampled Gunston Cove, a tributary to the Potomac. He has recently published a long-term study, tracking the ecosystem’s recovery. The results of his research indicate that submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) have returned (previously, there was none) as a result of increased water clarity. SAV provide important habitats for fish and invertebrates in the Potomac River. While there is still a long-way to go, this study demonstrates that it is possible to recover ecosystems that have been damaged by pollution. You can read Recovery of a Tidal Freshwater Embayment from Eutrophication: a Multidecadal Study here.


Effective management of eutrophication in tidal ecosystems requires a thorough understanding of the dynamics of their responses to decreases in nutrient loading. We analyze a 34-year dataset on a shallow embayment of the tidal freshwater Potomac River, Gunston Cove, for long-term responses of ambient nutrient levels, light transparency measures, phytoplankton biomass, and coverage of submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) to decreased nutrient loading. Point source loading of phosphorus, the nutrient most limiting primary production in this system, was greatly curtailed coincident with the study onset (1983/84) exhibiting a sharp decrease of 95% from peak loading levels. However, water column total phosphorus decreased much more slowly and gradually. Phytoplankton chlorophyll a did not show a distinctive decrease until 2000 and SAV responded strongly beginning in 2004. The habitat suitability model for SAV developed by Chesapeake Bay researchers was able to explain the recovery of SAV coverage based on data on light transparency and basin morphometry collected in this study. The study results were consistent with the alternative stable state theory with a sharp transition from a phytoplankton-dominated “turbid water” state to an SAV-dominated “clear water” state in a 2-year period from 2003 to 2005. The system eventually responded to nutrient load reductions, but the nonlinear and incomplete nature of this recovery and the two-decade delay illustrate the complexities of managing these systems.

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Student Accomplishments

Congratulations to the students of Dr. Kim De Mutsert on the following accolades:

Students and Dr. De Mutsert at the ecopath conference
L-R: Casey Pehrson, Dr. Kristy Lewis (University of Central Florida), Dr. Kim de Mutsert, Sara Marriott, and Sammie Alexander.

Sara Marriott was awarded a prestigious SESYNC Graduate Pursuit Fellowship, which is an an 18-month fellowship in which she is part of an interdisciplinary team that will be researching “A socio-environmental approach to improve offshore aquaculture and policy: Gulf of Mexico case study.” It supports travel and meetings to conduct research, provides access to SESYNC workshops and resources, as well as a stipend/honorarium of $2,000.

Sammie Alexander received a $5,000 program development award from Virginia Sea Grant for her project: “Assessment of fish passage use and success in facilitating movement of regionally vulnerable and invasive fish species in northern Virginia portion of the Potomac River.” This is the second award she has received from VA Sea Grant.

Kate Russel with her winning poster

Casey Pehrson was awarded the Robert D. Ross Graduate Scholarship in fisheries and related aquatic sciences from the Virginia Chapter of the American Fisheries Society. She received the second place award, which comes with a $250 check.

Katie Russell won the best undergraduate poster award at the Virginia Chapter of the Wildlife Society Conference that was held this week.

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R. Chris Jones Wins Jack Wood Legacy Award

Board of Visitors Meeting. photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services

Chris Jones wins 2019 Jack Wood Legacy Award!

Dr. R. Christian Jones, Director, Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center, Environmental Science and Policy, began a long-term “green to clean” partnership in 1984 by collaboratively developing a monitoring plan designed to document algae counts, monitor water quality, fish, invertebrates and aquatic plants in Gunston Cove, downstream from the Noman Cole wastewater treatment plant, which at that time had just implemented a new protocol that removed phosphorus, an essential nutrient for algae growth, from the purified water they returned to the river. This partnership has helped train and launch careers of dozens of students, and paved the way for additional community collaborations, culminating in the creation of the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center (PEREC), and the building of its home, Mason’s Potomac Science Center. For the past seven years, in partnership with Alexandria Renew Enterprises, Dr. Jones’ PEREC team has initiated a more multifaceted study to document water quality and aquatic ecosystem trends in Hunting Creek, downstream of the AlexRenew wastewater treatment plant. Long-term partnerships such as these, and others with Fairfax and Prince William Counties, has fostered mutually beneficial relationships with a multitude of local, state, and national agencies and organizations, while bettering the quality of life for the community.

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Potomac Science Center Dedication

This week, the public were welcomed to the Potomac Science in Belmont Bay, for the Potomac Science Center Dedication Ceremony!

The event was highlighted by several publications: