Areas of expertise within the Department include: studies on arid land geomorphology; barrier island evolution and coastal erosion; systematic mineralogy and petrology; tectonic history of the Appalachians and other mountain belts; volcanology; estuarine water quality and sediment geochemistry; the effects of acid precipitation on biogeochemical cycles of metals in small watersheds and lakes; the solution chemistry of carbonate groundwaters, the kinetics of geochemical reactions; and the occupance of trace metals in groundwaters in Virginia. Fields of application within geosciences include: coastal process consulting; engineering geology; land use planning and management; groundwater pollution research and consulting; and sedimentary process modeling.
Also part of: Hydrology
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.
Although there is no formal program in Marine Studies at the University of Virginia, a large number of faculty in the Department of Environmental Sciences have active research programs in marine environments. These include studies of the impact of storms on coastal environments, vegetation in marsh, lagoon and barrier island systems, evidence for climate change in ocean sediments, and isotopic studies related to hydrothermal vents. The Department maintains a field station on the Eastern Shore of Virginia as part of NSF’s Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program where interdiscplinary studies are underway of ecological and physical processes in a barrier island environment.
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.
Also part of: Hydrology
Aqueous geochemists, hydrolgists, and microbial ecologists interact on a number of hydrogeological problems. Topics under investigation include: modeling of catchment hydrochemistry; bioremediation and biodegradation; solute, colloid, and bacterial transport through porous media; and modeling of groundwater flow, mass transport, and biogeochemical reactions. The Program of Interdisciplinary Research in Contaminant Hydrogeology (PIRCH) focuses on problems of contaminant hydrogeology, and involves researchers from Chemical and Civil Engineering.
Also part of: Ecology, Hydrology, Atmospheric Science
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.