Horn Point Laboratory Professor Jeffrey Cornwell receives highest university award

April 20, 2018

University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Research Professor Jeffrey Cornwell has received a 2018 USM Regents’ Faculty Award for Excellence in Public Service, the highest honor that the Board bestows to recognize exemplary faculty achievement.

Dr. Cornwell, a geochemist and oceanographer at UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory, was recognized for decades of dedication to community service and his balanced leadership on some of the most challenging scientific questions related to Chesapeake Bay. His research has had national and international relevance for management of coastal natural resources and water quality, and his publications in peer-reviewed journals underscore the influence of his science beyond Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay.

“Cornwell is committed to independent and objective science that can inform best management practices within the State of Maryland,” University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science President Peter Goodwin said. “He exemplifies the leadership, collaborative skills, and willingness to apply his work towards solving complex ecosystem issues, such as Poplar Island restoration, understanding the impact of Conowingo Dam, and the role of oyster reefs in reducing pollutants in Chesapeake Bay.”

Dr. Cornwell has led research teams to address critical environmental issues for the State of Maryland and served on numerous advisory committees where he has helped to inform major management decisions made by state and federal agencies.

“Throughout Jeff Cornwell’s career at UMCES he has provided essential service and advice to the State of Maryland regarding the restoration and responsible stewardship of Chesapeake Bay,” said Mike Roman, director of the UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory.

He exemplifies the leadership, collaborative skills, and willingness to apply his work towards solving complex ecosystem issues, such as Poplar Island restoration, understanding the impact of Conowingo Dam, and the role of oyster reefs in reducing pollutants in Chesapeake Bay.

Peter Goodwin
University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science President


Dr. Cornwell has done pioneering work on oyster recovery programs in Chesapeake Bay and leads ongoing research on the ecological benefits of oysters, demonstrating the importance of oysters in removing excess nitrogen from the Bay and improving water clarity. Serving on the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Oyster Best Management Practices Expert Panel, he led a diverse group of scientists and managers who developed the first approved in-water best management practice in Chesapeake Bay that supported efforts to improve water quality and the oyster aquaculture industry. Cornwell’s expertise in oyster filter-feeding, nutrient cycling dynamics, modeling, sediment biogeochemistry, oyster ecology, and population dynamics were instrumental in developing the guidance document, and the group’s calculations and recommendations provide a model for other impacted ecosystems.

He has been key to understanding the impact of dredged material from shipping lanes in Chesapeake Bay, including the conditions under which contaminants are released, and how to use the material to create wetlands or maintain the elevation of existing marshes. Cornwell led a team of scientists studying the establishment of marshes on Poplar Island, a disposal beneficial use of the sediments dredged to maintain efficient shipping to the Port of Baltimore. Poplar Island now provides essential habitat for a variety of bird species and nest sites for terrapin turtles. His research is fundamental for understanding the successes and failures of the created wetlands and has led to changes in the way wetlands are created.

“It is rare for a person to possess the knowledge, skills and ability to create scientific studies that answer previously impenetrable questions, and to do so in a manner that is collaborative, comprehensible, and easy-going,” said James White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration. “Jeff has always been approachable, and he has a way of conveying information that allows everyone from lay persons to fellow researchers to understand the applicable nature of the outcomes of his studies.”

His pre-eminence in the field of fate and transport of sediments and the chemical constituents attached to the particles is also reflected in his appointment to lead a major feasibility assessment of removing sediments from Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River. Cornwell was the lead investigator of a team of scientists that provided critical data to the State of Maryland on the type of sediments and pollutants stored behind the dam, how much material enters the Chesapeake Bay under different flood conditions, and how the sediments impact Bay water quality. This information is essential for the State of Maryland to make a sound decision regarding relicensing of the dam, as well as meeting Chesapeake Bay water quality goals. The results were instrumental in helping to inform Chesapeake Bay 2017 Mid-Point Assessment.

Dr. Cornwell joined the faculty at the UMCES' Horn Point Laboratory in 1986. He has contributed to teaching and training the next generation of natural resource custodians through his Biogeochemistry course, has served as advisor or co-advisor to 20 graduate students, and mentored 20 Maryland Sea Grant Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) interns. He completed his B.S. in Chemistry at Hobart College and his Ph.D. in Oceanography from University of Alaska. 

The Board of Regents Faculty Awards publicly recognizes distinguished performance by educators and researchers within the University System of Maryland. Award categories include collaboration, mentoring, public service, teaching, research, scholarship, and creative activity. This year’s awards were given by the Chancellor and Board Chairman at the Board of Regents meeting at University of Maryland Baltimore.

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science is renowned for its groundbreaking research on coastal and terrestrial ecosystems and boasts a number of globally eminent faculty scholars. Dr. Cornwell joins an impressive group of UMCES faculty members who have received Regents’ Faculty Awards in past years, including Drs. Mario Tamburri, Russell Hill, Tom Miller, Andrew Elmore, Keith Eshleman, Patricia Glibert, Rose Jagus, Rodger Harvey, Ed Houde, Michael Kemp, Tom Malone, Margaret Palmer, Allen Place, David Secor, and Diane Stoecker.