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Amy Townsend-Small

Title: Associate Professor, Director of the Environmental Studies Program
Office: 401D Braunstein Hall
Tel: 513-556-3762
Email: townseay@ucmail.uc.edu

Human impacts on global carbon, nitrogen, and water cycles; feedbacks between the carbon cycle, the hydrologic cycle, and climate change; greenhouse gas emissions and water quality associated with energy production; stable isotopes and radiocarbon dating


  • B.A., Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, 1998 (Biology [Environmental Science] and English [Literature]).
  • Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, 2006 (Marine Science).

Research Information

Research Interests

My current research explores the sources and fluxes of methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas.  My group is investigating whether the transition from oil and coal to natural gas as an energy resource will result in increased emissions of methane, with research in Ohio, Texas, and Colorado, as well as whether climate warming and changing hydrology could enhance greenhouse gas emissions from lakes, with studies in Lake Erie and the Arctic.  My approach includes measurement of carbon and hydrogen stable isotopes as methane source indicators.  Click here for all of my publications.
Recent study on fracking in Eastern Ohio: My group recently conducted a time series study in the eastern Ohio shale gas extraction region investigating whether increased fracking activity would lead to elevated natural gas levels in groundwater.  Our results showed that levels of methane in groundwater did not change over the course of the study, and that groundwater in some areas has high levels of naturally occurring methane from soil or coal formations.  In general our work indicates that fracking does not always lead to groundwater contamination, but our data do not refute previous studies from Pennsylvania.  We argue that monitoring programs are essential to investigating the link between water contamination and energy extraction.  This project was funded by the Deer Creek Foundation and the David and Sara Weston Foundation, and is available for download at this link.  The study was recently published in the journal Environmental Monitoring and Assessment.  Please email me if you would like a copy of the paper.

Research Support

  • (PI), Hinkel, Kenneth; Beck, Richard; Eisner, Wendy; Kim, Changjoo; Liu, Hongxing; Townsend-Small, Amy, Collaborative Research: Toward a Circumarctic Lakes Observation Network (CALON)--Multiscale Observations of Lacustrine Systems, National Science Foundation. (ARC 1107607), $966,001.00. 09-15-2011 to 08-31-2015. Status: Active.
  • (PI), Townsend-Small, Amy, Does Hypoxia in Lake Erie Contribute to Atmospheric Methane Emissions?, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (60025701 \ NA10OAR4170074), $15,000.00. 09-01-2012 to 08-31-2013. Status: Active.
  • (PI), Diefendorf, Aaron; Algeo, Thomas; Crowley, Brooke; Townsend-Small, Amy, Acquisition of Stable Isotope Instrumentation for Biogeochemistry Research and Teaching at the University of Cincinnati, National Science Foundation. (EAR-1229114), $400,000.00. 09-15-2012 to 08-31-2015. Status: Active.
  • (PI), Townsend-Small, Amy, Relative contributions of hypoxia and natural gas drilling to methane emissions from Lake Erie, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (60049228 / NA14OAR4170067), $136,000.00. 02-01-2015 to 01-31-2016. Status: Active.
  • (PI), Diefendorf, Aaron; Algeo, Thomas; Crowley, Brooke; Townsend-Small, Amy, Acquisition of Stable Isotope Instrumentation for Biogeochemistry Research and Teaching at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio Board of Regents. (OBR 990), $85,714.00. 07-01-2012 to 06-30-2014. Status: Active.
  • (PI), Nash, David; Townsend-Small, Amy, Year 1 DUKE funds for GMGWO, Duke Energy. (GMGWO), $125,000.00. 01-14-2014 to 01-13-2016. Status: Awarded.
  • (PI), Townsend-Small, Amy, Collaborative Research: Flask-based measurements of stable isotopes of CH4 and hydrocarbon ratios to identify methane sources in the Barnett Shale, Environmental Defense Fund. (EDF 2013 Campaign), $35,000.00. 08-01-2013 to 07-31-2014. Status: Awarded.
  • (PI), Amy Townsend-Small, Environmental and health impacts of hydraulic fracturing in Carroll County, Ohio, Deer Creek Foundation. 20,000. 09-01-2013 to 12-31-2014. Status: Active.
  • (PI), Townsend-Small, Amy, In-kind support from Environment Canada Agreement , Environment and Climate Change Canada. (SRS 010401), $.00. 06-30-2016 to 03-31-2017. Status: Active.
  • (PI), Townsend-Small, Amy, Teaching Hydrogeology, soils, and low-T geochemistry in the 21st century, Faculty Development Council. $1605. 05-01-2013 to 08-01-2013. Status: Completed.
  • (PI), Townsend-Small, Amy, Miami Conservancy District $10K for the GMGWO, Miami Conservancy District. (MCD 87112), $10,000.00. 08-20-2016 to 08-19-2018. Status: Active.
  • (PI), Townsend-Small, Amy, Methane emissions from unconventional, conventional, and abandoned wells in the northern Appalachian basin of Ohio and West Virginia, Bureau of Land Management. (BLM L17AC00015), $20,880.00. 04-01-2017 to 03-31-2020. Status: Active.
  • (PI), Townsend-Small, Amy, Travel Grant for 10th Applied Isotope Geochemistry Conference, Faculty Development Council. $2367. 05-01-2013 to 10-01-2013. Status: Completed.
  • (PI), Townsend-Small, Amy, Methane emissions from unconventional, conventional, and abandoned wells in the Northern Appalachian Basin, Bureau of Land Management/US Department of Interior. $100K. 05-01-2017 to 04-30-2020. Status: Active.
  • (PI), Townsend-Small, Amy, Remote Sensing of the Terrestrial Water Cycle: A Request for Funding to Attend a Workshop and Conference, Faculty Development Council. $3,300. 12-15-2011 to 03-01-2012. Status: Completed.
  • (PI), Townsend-Small, Amy, Ground and aircraft-based measurements of VOCs and stable isotopes of CH4 in the Colorado Front Range, Regional Air Quality Council. (Contract - FRAPPE Study), $81,466.00. 02-01-2014 to 02-15-2015. Status: Awarded.


Peer Reviewed Publications

  • *Botner EC, A Townsend-Small, DB Nash, X Xu, A Schimmelmann, and JH Miller.  2018.  Monitoring concentration and isotopic composition of methane in groundwater in the Utica Shale hydraulic fracturing region of Ohio.  Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 190:322, doi:10.1007/s10661-018-6696-1.
  • *Fries AE, A Townsend-Small, W Shuster, and LA Schifman.  2018.  Street-level emissions of methane and nitrous oxide from the wastewater collection system in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Environmental Pollution, 236: 247-256, doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2018.01.076.
  • Alvarez RA, D Zavala-Araiza, DL Lyon, DT Allen, ZR Barkley, AR Brandt, KJ Davis, SC Herndon, DJ Jacob, A Karion, EA Kort, BK Lamb, T Lauvaux, JD Maasakkers, AJ Marchese, M Omara, SW Pacala, J Peischl, AL Robinson, PB Shepson, C Sweeney, A Townsend-Small, SC Wofsy, and SP Hamburg.  2018Assessment of methane emissions from the US oil and gas supply chain.  Science. doi:10.1126/science.aar7204.
  • Elder CD, X Xu, J Walker, JL Schnell, KM Hinkel, A Townsend-Small, CD Arp, JW Pohlman, BV Gaglioti, and CI Czimczik.  2018.  Greenhouse gas emissions from diverse Arctic Alaskan lakes are dominated by young carbon.  Nature Climate Change, 8: 166-171, doi:10:1038/s41558-017-0066-9.
  • A Townsend-Small, *F Akerstrom, CD Arp, and KM Hinkel.  2017.  Spatial and temporal variation in methane concentrations, fluxes, and sources in lakes in Arctic Alaska.  Journal of Geophysical Research – Biogeosciences, 122, doi:10:10.1002/2017JG004002.
  • Hinkel KM, C Arp, A Townsend-Small, and K Frey.  2017.  Can deep groundwater influx be detected from the geochemistry of thermokarst lakes in Arctic Alaska?  Permafrost and Periglacial Processes, 28: 552-557,  doi:10.1002/ppp.1895.
  • *Kolbe SE, AI Miller, A Townsend-Small, TM Culley, and GN Cameron.  2016.  Impact of land-use history and forest trees on soil organic carbon and nitrogen stocks.  Soil Science Society of America Journal.  doi:10.2136/sssaj2015.12.0426.
  • *Marrero JE, A Townsend-Small, DR Lyon, T Tsai, S Meinardi, and DR Blake.  2016.  Estimating emissions of toxic hydrocarbons from natural gas production sites in the Barnett Shale region of northern Texas.  Environmental Science & Technology.  doi:10.1021/acs.est.6b02827.
  • Townsend-Small A, *EC Botner, KL Jimenez, JR Schroeder, NJ Blake, S Meinardi, DR Blake, BC Sive, D Bon, JH Crawford, G Pfister, and FM Flocke.  2016.  Using stable isotopes of hydrogen to quantify biogenic and thermogenic atmospheric methane sources: A case study from the Colorado Front Range.  Geophysical Research Letters, 43: 11462-11471, doi: 10.1002/2016GL071438.
  • Townsend-Small A, *DA Disbennett, *JM Fernandez, *RW Ransohoff, R Mackay, and R Bourbonniere.  2016.  Quantifying emissions of methane derived from anaerobic organic matter respiration and natural gas extraction in Lake Erie.  Limnology and Oceanography.  doi:10.1002/lno10273.
  • Townsend-Small A, TW Ferrara, DR Lyon, *AE Fries, and BK Lamb.  2016.  Emissions of coalbed and natural gas methane from abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States.  Geophysical Research Letters, 43: 2283-2290, doi:10.1002/2015GL067623.
  • *Schneider AG, A Townsend-Small, and D Rosso.  2015. Impact of direct greenhouse gas emissions on the carbon footprint of water reclamation processes employing nitrification-denitrification.  Science of the Total Environment, 505: 1166-1173, doi:10.1016/j/scitotenv.2014.10.060.
  • Howard T, T Ferrara, and A Townsend-Small.  2015.  Sensor transition failure in the high flow sampler: Implications for methane emission inventories of natural gas infrastructure.  Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association.  doi: 10.1080/10962247.2015.1025925.  http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/FykVUkZijBwsUAJHfSqU/full
  • Lamb B, SL Edburg, TW Ferrara, T Howard, MR Harrison, CE Kolb, A Townsend-Small, W Dyck, A Possolo, and J Whetstone.  2015.  Direct measurements show decreasing methane emissions from natural gas local distribution systems in the United States.  Environmental Science & Technology, 49: 5161–5169, doi:10.1021/es505116p.
  • *Kolbe SE, A Townsend-Small, AI Miller, TM Culley, and DN Cameron.  2015.  Effects of invasive Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) on soil carbon and nitrogen stocks in forests in southwestern Ohio.  Invasive Plant Science and Management. In press.
  • Townsend-Small A, *JE Marrero, DR Lyon, IJ Simpson, S Meinardi, and DR Blake.  2015.  Integrating source apportionment tracers into a bottom-up inventory of methane emissions in the Barnett Shale hydraulic fracturing region.  Environmental Science & Technology. doi:10.1021/acs.est.5b00057
  • Bardsley A, D Hammond, T von Bitner, N Beunning, and A Townsend-Small.  2015.  Shallow groundwater conveyance of geologically derived contaminants to urban creeks in southern California.  Environmental Science & Technology, 49: 9610-9619, doi:10.1021/acs.est.01006a.
  • *Longbottom TL, A Townsend-Small, LA Owen, and MK Murari.  2014.  Climatic and topographic controls on soil organic matter storage in the Indian Himalaya: Potential carbon cycle – climate change feedbacks.  Catena, doi:10.1016/j.catena.2014.03.002.
  • Townsend-Small A, MG Prokopenko, and WM Berelson.  2014.  Nitrous oxide cycling in the water column and sediments of the oxygen minimum zone, eastern subtropical North Pacific, southern California and northern Mexico (23 - 34º N).  Journal of Geophysical Research - Oceans, 119, 3158-3170, doi:10.1029/2013JC009580.
  • Beaulieu JJ, *RL Smolenski, CT Neitch, A Townsend-Small, and MS Elovitz.  2014.  High methane emissions from a mid-latitude reservoir draining an agricultural watershed.  Environmental Science & Technology.  doi:10.1021/es501871g.
  • Murari MM, LA Owen, JM Dortch, MW Caffee, C Dietsch, M Fuchs, WC Haneberg, MC Sharma, and A Townsend-Small.  2014.  Timing and climatic drivers for glaciation across monsoon-influenced regions of the Himalayan-Tibetan orogen.  Quaternary Science Reviews, 88: 159-182, doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2014.01.013.
  • McClelland JW, A Townsend-Small, RM Holmes, F Pan, M Stieglitz, M Khosh, and BJ Peterson.  2014.  River export of nutrients and organic matter from the North Slope of Alaska to the Beaufort Sea.  Water Resources Research, 50: 1823-1839, doi:10.1002/2013WR014722.
  • Beaulieu JJ, *RL Smolenski, CT Nietch, A Townsend-Small, MS Elovitz, and JP Schubauer-Berigan.  2014.  Denitrification alternates between a source and a sink of nitrous oxide in the hypolimnion of a thermally stratified reservoir.  Limnology and Oceanography, 59: 495-506, doi:10.4319/lo.2014.59.2.0495.
  • Townsend-Small A, DE Pataki, H Liu, Z Li, *Q Wu, and *B Thomas.  2013.  Increasing summer river discharge in southern California, USA, linked to urbanization.  Geophysical Research Letters, 40: 1-5, doi:10.1002/grl.50921.
  • Prokopenko MG, MB Hirst, L De Brabandere, JP Lawrence, WM Berelson, J Granger, BX Chang, S Dawson, EJ Crane III, B Thamdrup, A Townsend-Small, and DM Sigman.  2013.  Nitrogen losses in anoxic marine sediments driven by Thioploca-annamox bacterial consortia.  Nature, 500: 194-198, doi:10.1038/nature12365.
  • Townsend-Small A, SC Tyler, DE Pataki, X Xu, and LE Christensen.  2012.  Isotopic measurements of atmospheric methane in Los Angeles, California, USA: Influence of “fugitive” fossil fuel emissions.  Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres, 117: D07308, doi:10.1029/2011JD016826.
  • Chong LS, MG Prokopenko, WM Berelson, A Townsend-Small, and J McManus.  2012.  Nitrogen cycling within suboxic and anoxic marine sediments from the continental margin of western North America.  Marine Chemistry, 128-129: 13-25, doi:10.1016/j.marchem.2011/10.007.
  • Prokopenko MG, DM Sigman, WM Berelson, DE Hammond, B Barnett, L Chong, and A Townsend-Small.  2011.  Denitrification in anoxic sediments supported by biological nitrate transport.  Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 75: 7180-7199, doi:10.1016/j.gca.2011.09.023.
  • Townsend-Small A, DE Pataki, LY Tseng, CY Tsai, and D Rosso.  2011.  Nitrous oxide emissions from wastewater treatment and water reclamation plants in southern California.  Journal of Environmental Quality 40: 1542-1550, doi:10.2134/jeq2011.0059.
  • Townsend-Small A, DE Pataki, CI Czimczik, and SC Tyler.  2011. Nitrous oxide emissions and isotopic composition in urban and agricultural systems in southern California.  Journal of Geophysical Research – Biogeosciences 116: G01013, doi:10.1029/2010JG001494.
  • Townsend-Small A, BJ Peterson, RM Holmes, and JW McClelland.  2011.  Seasonal and hydrologic drivers of dissolved organic matter and nutrients in the upper Kuparuk River, Alaskan Arctic.  Biogeochemistry 103: 109-124, doi: 10.1007/s10533-010-9451-4.
  • Townsend-Small A, and CI Czimczik.  2010.  Carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions in urban turf.  Geophysical Research Letters 37: L02707, doi:10.1029/2009GL041675 [Correction, L02707, doi:10.1029/2010GL042735].
  • Manizza M, MJ Follows, S Dutkiewicz, JW McClelland, D Menemenlis, CN Hill,  A Townsend-Small, and BJ Peterson.  2009.  Modeling transport, fate, and lifetime of riverine DOC in the Arctic Ocean.  Global Biogeochemical Cycles 23: doi:10.1029/2008GB003396.
  • Townsend-Small A, ME McClain, B Hall, CA Llerena, JL Noguera, and JA Brandes.  2008.  Suspended sediments and organic matter in mountain headwaters of the Amazon River: Results from a one-year time series study in the central Peruvian Andes.  Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 72: 732-740, doi:10.1016/j.gca.2007.11.020.
  • Mutchler TR, KH Dunton, A Townsend-Small, S Fredriksen and MK Rasser.  2007.   Isotopic and elemental indicators of nutrient sources and status of coastal habitats in the Caribbean Sea, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.  Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science 74: 449-457.
  • Townsend-Small A, JL Noguera, ME McClain, and JA Brandes.  2007.  Radiocarbon and stable isotopic constraints on organic matter cycling in the Pachitea River Basin, Peruvian Andean Amazon.  Global Biogeochemical Cycles 21, GB2029, doi:10.1029/2006GB002835.
  • Townsend-Small A, M McCarthy, J Brandes, L Yang, L Zhang, and W Gardner.  2007.  Stable isotopic composition of nitrate in Lake Taihu, China, and major inflow rivers.   Hydrobiologia 581: 135-140.
  • Townsend-Small A, ME McClain, and JA Brandes.  2005.  Contributions of carbon and nitrogen from the Andes Mountains to the Amazon River: Evidence from an elevational gradient of soils, plants, and river material. Limnology and Oceanography 50 (2): 672-685.

Honors & Awards

  • University of Texas Continuing Fellowship, 2005 to 2006.
  • P.E.O. Scholar Award for female doctoral candidates, 2005 to 2006.
  • Science and Community Award, Ohio Environmental Council, 2014.
  • University of Texas Preemptive Recruitment Fellowship, 2001 to 2002.
  • National Science Foundation GK-12 Graduate Student Fellowship, 2002 to 2003.
  • Phi Beta Kappa, 1998.
  • Invited Speaker, McMicken Lecture Series, University of Cincinnati, 2013.
  • Invited Speaker, American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, 2010.
  • Invited Speaker, American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, 2013.
  • Excellence in Faculty Research Award, Department of Geography, 2012.
  • Invited Speaker, Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, 2011.
  • Invited Speaker, American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, 2011.
  • Invited Speaker, American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, 2012.
  • Invited Speaker, American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, 2013.
  • Invited Speaker, American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, 2014.

Experience & Service

Post Graduate training and Education

  • 2006 to 2007, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, The University of Texas at Austin.
  • 2007 to 2010, Project Scientist, University of California, Irvine.


  • Journal of Environmental Quality Associate Editor,

Other Experience and Professional Memberships

  • American Geophysical Union,
  • American Society of Limnology and Oceanography,
  • Soil Science Society of America,

Courses Taught

    Level: Undergraduate
    Term: 10A
    Level: Undergraduate
    Term: 11S
  • EVST/GEOL 2025: Hydrology and Biogeochemistry
    Level: Undergraduate
  • EVST/GEOL 6035: Carbon Cycling and Greenhouse Gas Emissions