The Department of Environmental Sciences has achieved prominence among national and international environmental science programs by integrating various scientific areas to address complex global environmental problems. Faculty members intermingle as members of interdisciplinary research teams, such as the Global Environmental Change Program (GECP), the Shenandoah Watershed Study (SWAS), the Virginia Coast Reserve Long-Term Ecological Research Program (VCR LTER), and the Program of Interdisciplinary Research in Contaminant Hydrogeology (PIRCH). These Programs, and others as described in the following web pages, are reflective of the collaborative nature of our research programs and have resulted in significant scholastic accomplishment.
Research on coastal systems in the department covers a broad range of disciplines and environments. Studied systems include seagrass meadows, coral reefs, mangrove forests, salt marshes and barrier islands. Our diverse research groups study the ecology, hydrology and geomorphology of these various systems. Current research focuses include plant genetics, carbon storage, sea level rise, flow regimes, aquaculture, primary production and metabolism, invasive species and more. This research takes place in many locations, including Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Florida and the Caribbean, Israel, Panama, Hawaii and Mexico.
Geomorphology is the study of how planetary landscapes change through time in response to physical, chemical, and biological processes. Researchers in the department study landscapes over a wide range of scales, from particle-scale sediment transport to the global evolution of planetary surfaces, utilizing a variety of methods including computational modeling, field studies, and experimental work. Examples of recent research projects include investigating the effects of floods and debris flows on stream channels; quantifying rates of sediment erosion and deposition in coastal wetlands; constraining fluvial modification on the surface of Mars to assess the planet’s potential for habitability; and using computational modeling to understand landscape evolution on the icy moons on Jupiter, Saturn, and other giant planets.
Research Areas: Ecology
Ecology is the study of interactions among organisms and their environment. Researchers in the department study biotic and abiotic components of terrestrial ecosystems at levels that range from organismal to community-level, and use a variety of methods including field and greenhouse experiments, laboratory analyses, remote sensing, and ecological modeling. Research topics include carbon storage in forest ecosystems; spruce beetle outbreak dynamics; the role of invasive species in ecosystem dynamics; effects of artificial light on ecological systems; the role of volatile organic compounds in plant-insect interactions, and factors that affect behavior and colony fitness of native bees.
Research Areas: Atmospheric Science
The atmospheric sciences program at U.Va. focuses on relationships between atmospheric processes and the Earth’s biosphere and hydrosphere on a variety of spatial and temporal scales. Areas of specialization within the Department include: synoptic and dynamic climatology; air quality and visibility; atmospheric chemistry; modeling of acid depositions and trace gas transport; mesoscale meteorology and climatology; convective storms; and coastal processes. Fields of application within atmospheric sciences include: air pollution; bioclimatology and agricultural management; and meteorology and climatology research consulting.
Within the Department there is a strong focus on the interactions between the Earth’s surface and its atmosphere. These efforts integrate hydrological, ecological, and meteorological principles to understand the exchange of water, heat, and trace gases between the land and the atmosphere. Much of the interest in these mass and energy fluxes centers on the nonlinear feedback effects between the surface and the atmosphere, and the resulting impacts to the biosphere and atmosphere.
Biogeoscience is a systems approach to solving complex environmental issues. Researchers can better understand ecosystems by studying interdisciplinary processes such as nutrient cycling, ecological population dynamics, isotope geochemistry, watershed hydrology and many others. Current research topics include terrestrial carbon influence on lake ecosystems, mercury and carbon dynamics in streams, nitrogen fluxes in low-relief watersheds, recovery from acid deposition in mountain streams, nitrogen budgets on permaculture farms, and early warnings indicators of ecosystem regime shifts. Field sites include Shenandoah National Park (SWAS-VTSS), University of Notre Dame-Environmental Research Center, the Pace Estate, and Timbercreek Organics.
Research Areas: Interdisciplinary
Humans interact and alter each of the earth systems studied in the department. Researchers in the department collaborate across natural and social science disciplines to better understand the interactions between humans and the environment. Recent work in this area has focused on the environmental impacts of food production, including the development of a nitrogen footprint, possibilities for yield gap closure, and mapping the global virtual water and seafood trade networks. Additional social-environmental research aims to evaluate the effect of weather events on air quality and human health, assess the possibility of credits for carbon sequestration in sea grass beds, and understand the drivers and consequences of land use change in the tropics.