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Stephen MacAvoy Associate Professor Environmental Science

Additional Positions at AU
MS Director, Environmental Science
PhD Environmental Science, UVA
MS Environmental Science, UVA
BS Biology, Fairfield University

Working in biogeochemistry and ecology, Professor MacAvoy has been particularly interested in how both nutrients and contaminants flow through, and are incorporated by, aquatic ecosystem components. Research and consulting activities have taken him to the deep ocean, the West Indies, Europe and 12 USA States. Stephen MacAvoy obtained his PhD from the University of Virginia in 2000 and conducted post-doctoral work at the University of Georgia. He joined the faculty of American University in 2003 and was Chair of the Department of Environmental Science from 2016 to 2022. Recent journal articles have appeared in Applied Geochemistry, Environmental Science and Pollution Research, Ecological Engineering and Marine Mammal Science. He is currently conducting research on the geochemistry of urban rivers and the resilience of aquatic invertebrates to climate change. In 2022 he co-authored the book "Climate Change, Science, and the Politics of Shared Sacrifice" with Professor Todd Eisenstadt in the School of Public Affairs.
See Also
Biogeochemistry Laboratory
Environmental Science Dept
Biology Dept
For the Media
To request an interview for a news story, call AU Communications at 202-885-5950 or submit a request.


Spring 2024

  • ENVS-160 Biodiversity and Ecosystems

  • ENVS-160 Biodiversity and Ecosystems

  • ENVS-260 Energy and Pollution

  • ENVS-260 Energy and Pollution

  • ENVS-260 Energy and Pollution

  • ENVS-260 Energy and Pollution

Summer 2024

  • ENVS-150 Nature of Earth

Partnerships & Affiliations

  • American Geophysical Union
    Member (1998-present)

  • American Society of Limnology and Oceanography
    Member (1997-1999)

  • American Fisheries Society
    Member (1994-1995, 2001-2002)

Scholarly, Creative & Professional Activities

Research Interests

I am currently involved in examining where and how organics in the Anacostia River (Washington DC) originate and are transformed. I am also working on models that can describe how organisms incorporate nutrients of different quality and how that is related to metabolic rate. For many years now I have been interested in the role of migrating river herring as marine nutrient vectors to freshwater systems.

Honors, Awards, and Fellowships

  • Outstanding Teaching Award: Biology Department, American University (ENVS 581 Environmental Science II), Fall 2008 (for Spring 2008 term)
  • Outstanding Teaching Award: Biology Department, American University (BIO 240 Oceanography), Fall 2008 (for Spring 2008 term)
  • Outstanding Teaching Award: Biology Department, American University (BIO 396/696; Environmental Geology), Spring 2008 (for Fall 2007 term
  • Outstanding Teaching Award: Biology Department, American University (BIO 499; Senior Seminar, Fall 2005 (for Spring 2005 term)
  • Trout Unlimited Award: For outstanding contributions to cold water fisheries research.

Professional Presentations

  • 2/14/07 American Geophysical Union Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA" Biogeochemical snapshot of an urban water system: The Anacostia River, Washington DC" S.E. MacAvoy*, E. Ewers, and KL Bushaw-Newton
  • 9/5/06 University of Virginia, Department of Environmental Science, "Exploring the Deep-sea communities of the Gulf of Mexico"
  • 4/21/06 Virginia Commonwealth University, Center for Environmental Studies, Rice Collaborators Group. "Anadromous fish as nutrient vectors to tidal freshwater: seasonal pulse utilized by primary producers and consumers"
  • 10/5/04 Fairfield University, Environmental Studies Program, Seminar Series (honorarium). "Mysteries of the Deep Ocean: Life Without Light"
  • 10/12/01 Georgetown University, Biology Department (honorarium) “Life without light: Exploring the trophic interactions among chemosynthetic and heterotrophic fauna in the Gulf of Mexico”

Work In Progress

  • MacAvoy SE, Ewers E, Bushaw-Newton K. in review. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. A Biogeochemical Survey of the Anacostia River, Washington DC.E
  • Eushaw-Newton KL, Ewers E, C. S. Fortunato CS, Ashley JT, D. Velinsky DJ, SE MacAvoy. Microbial diversity snapshots from sediments of the Anacostia River. in prep for Applied Microbiololgy

Selected Publications

  • Wilken RL, A Imanalieva, SE MacAvoy, VP Connaughton. (2020). Anatomical and behavioral assessment of larval zebrafish (Danio rerio) reared in Anacostia River water samples. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

  • Min Jung Kwon, D Baker, C Tudge, K Kim, SE MacAvoy. (2018). Museum collections yield information on nitrogen sources for coastal Gulf of Mexico, North Carolina and Caribbean invertebrates 1850 to 2004.   Journal of Shellfish Research 37(5):1-7.

  • Mucha S, G Williamson and SE MacAvoy. (2018).  Pollution reduction in throughflow from vegetated and non-vegetated, foam-based surfaces and green roofs. Nitrogen 1: 21-33.

  • MacAvoy SE, N Cortese, J Cybulski, A Hohn, SA Macko. (2017). Sources of stable isotope variation among stranded Western Atlantic dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in North Carolina. Marine Mammal Science 33(4):1224-1234.  DOI: 10.1111/mms.12425.

  • MacAvoy SE, A. Braciszewski, E. Tengi and D. Fong.  (2016). Trophic plasticity among spring versus cave populations of Gammarus minus: examining functional niches using stable isotopes and C/N ratios. Ecological Research 31(4): 589-595.  DOI 10.1007/s11284-016-1359-6

  • MacAvoy SE, Katie Plank, Sydney Mucha and Glenn Williamson.  (2016).  Effectiveness of foam-based green surfaces in reducing nitrogen and suspended solids in an urban installation.  Ecological Engineering 91: 257-264
  • Kraeer K, L Arneson, SE MacAvoy. (2014). The intraspecies relationship between tissue turnover and metabolic rate in rats.  Ecological Research 29(5): 937-947.
  • Connor NC, Sarraino S, Frantz D, Bushaw-Newton K, MacAvoy SE. (2014). Geochemical characteristics of an urban river: influences of an anthropogenic landscape. Applied Geochemistry 47:209-216.
  • MacAvoy SE, S Lazarov, K Kraeer and L Arneson. (2012). Sex and strain differences in isotope turnover rates and metabolism in mice (Mus musculus). Canadian Journal of Zoology 90(8): 984-990.

Grants and Sponsored Research

SPONSORED RESEARCH: EXTERNAL GRANTS RECEIVED: Approximately $207,000 in external funding since 2006.


  • USGS Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI)2019. Concentrations of siloxanes, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and cations in urban and suburban areas of the AnacostiaAward amount; $10,000
  • USGS Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI)2018. Inorganic geochemistry and endocrine disrupters in urban streams: quantifying links between development patterns and water chemistry. Award amount; $10,000
  • NASA DC Space Grant Consortium.  2017.  Development of a biomonitoring system to assess water quality using an interdisciplinary approach. (co-PI with Prof. Connaughton).  Award amount; $5,250
  • USGS Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI).  2017.  Examination of nutrient and land use patterns in the tidal Anacostia River.  Award amount; $10,000
  • Cave Conservancy of Virginia: 2016-2018. "Assessing the trophic ecology and climate change resilience of Stygobromus tenuis potomacus”.  Award amount; $14,445
  • USGS Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI).  2015/16. Evaluation of “green roof” effectiveness for nitrogen, phosphorus and suspended solid reduction in runoff from precipitation events.  Award amount; $10,000
  • USGS Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI). 2014/15.  "Geochemical characteristics of an urban river: detecting the influences of an urban landscape". Award amount; $15,000
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, through Washington DC Fire and Emergency Management Service. 2012-2015. "Nutrient, TSS and Organic Carbon Reduction Associated with Aqualok". Award amount: $64,526 total. Year 1 (2012/13) $25,902; Year 2 (2013/14) $16,313; Year 3 (2014/15) $22,311.
  • USGS Water Resources Research Institute. 2012/13 "Episodic changes in water chemical composition and nutrient loading in the Anacostia River". Award amount; $15,000
  • USGS Water Resources Research Institute. 2011/12. "Hormone disruption and environmental pollutants in Anacostia and Potomac River fish, Washington DC". Award amount; $15,000
  • USGS Water Resources Research Institute 2010/11. "Determination of Seasonal Source Variation of Hydrocarbons, Fatty Acids, Organics and Nutrients in the Anacostia River: stable isotope ratios of individual compounds" Award amount; $15,000
  • Cave Conservancy of Virginia: 2007/08. Metabolic Differences between Surface and Cave Amphipods: The Evolution of Life Style Differences. Award amount $10,000.
  • Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI)  2008/09. Assessing the distribution of synthetic organics and the degradation of polyaromatic hydrocarbons in the Anacostia river through microbial and stable isotope studies (co-PI with Prof. Bushaw-Newton). Award amount $15,000.
  • Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI)  2006/07. Nutrient flow and biological dynamics in the Anacostia River (CO-PI with Karen Bushaw Newton). Award amount $15,000.
  • American University Mellon Grant:  2006. Marine nutrient contributions to two tidal creeks in Virginia: spawning marine fish as nutrient vectors to freshwater ecosystems. Award amount $2,000

Media Appearances

  • FOX NEWS CHANNEL 5, WTTG TV, 9/18/2006. Fish used to detect attacks on water supply
  • National Public Radio, Morning edition. 10/2/2006.  Interview about snakehead catfish in the DC area.

AU Experts

Area of Expertise

Fracking, Hydrocarbons, Effects of Acid Rain on Fish, Petroleum Disasters, Drilling in Gulf of Mexico

Additional Information

MacAvoy researches freshwater coastal fisheries and pollution; deep sea ocean resources; and urban water/runoff and combined sewage outflow in Washington, D.C.

For the Media

To request an interview for a news story, call AU Communications at 202-885-5950 or submit a request.

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