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Mary Beth Adams

Mary Beth holding a koala


Much of my research is in the Fernow Experimental Forest in Tucker County. I track water and nutrients as they move through the forest as a way to understand something about the health and productivity of the forest that could be affected by different stressors like air pollution or climate change or harvesting. 


I’ve spent a lot of time working on acid rain and acidic deposition. That’s been the most interesting because it continues to evolve and remain a relevant issue today. I do experiments that last a long time, decades. What I’m trying to do is understand how forests live and how they cope with changes in atmospheric deposition, changes in temperature and CO2. I’m still working on acidification of the soil and how that affects forests. I’m still working on the relationship between below ground productivity and above ground productivity.

What jobs did you have before coming to WVU?

After graduate school, I worked on a postdoctoral research position at Oakridge National Laboratory looking at the effects of ozone and acid rain on loblolly pine trees. Then, I joined the Forest Service and was an assistant program manager looking at spruce for a research program. We were evaluating air pollution effects on high elevation spruce fir forests in the eastern United States. And 30 years ago I came to West Virginia to work on the Fernow Experimental Forest. I haven’t had a lot of different employers. Once I got to West Virginia, I found the place I figured I needed to be for a while.

What has been the best or most enjoyable time/class/moment in your education?

My very first soils class just totally captivated me. It was an Introduction to Forest Soils class at Purdue. It really just captivated me and that’s why I’m a soil scientist now. 

What has been the best or most enjoyable time/class/moment in your job?

I don’t do much teaching at WVU because I’m more of a research person. What I really like doing and what I really enjoy at WVU is the opportunity to work with graduate students. It’s been a really positive experience. They’re bright; they’re energetic; they like field work almost as much I do. It’s just been really good to get to work with so many wonderful graduate students.

What’s one thing you wish you had known in college? 

It’s OK to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. Maybe that it’s important to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. I used to be a bit of a perfectionist and I figured that perfect isn’t necessarily what you need to do or be.

If you won a billion dollars, what would you do with the money?

I think I would find somebody who could directly apply it to solving problems related to climate change and global problems. There are some problems that really just need a lot of money thrown at them and I think climate change is one of them. 

What were you most grateful for in 2020?

My mother passed away in 2020, so I think I’m most grateful for the support from friends and colleagues to help me deal with that and get through that. Even though it was expected, you’re never prepared.

What have you been surprised by in 2021?

To see how people move forward as Covid eases. I’ve been really impressed with some of the innovation and creativity that people have displayed in how to survive covid and how to thrive and how to care for other people. There has been lots of scientific ingenuity, but there has also been lots of personal creativity. As the situation improves, I think there’s a lot of opportunity for more creativity in how we help people and how we move forward.


Just for Fun

What are you currently reading? Landmarks by Robert McFarland

What’s your favorite meal? Bacon and eggs with all the trimmings

What’s a song that you can listen to on repeat? Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”

What’s one thing you can’t live without? Chocolate