The ESE program offers five major themes that draw from seven core course areas.
Earth Systems Interactions
Observe the dynamics of earth systems interactions through climate, hydrologic, and land use systems study at landscape to global scales. Earth systems research often requires the use of spatially explicit data and capabilities such as remote sensing from space-based, airborne, or UAV platforms and geographic information systems combined with modeling in ways that address policy at relevant scales. Study of the earth system may involve historical analysis and forecasts of earth system interactions across years, decades or millennia via simulation models which may need to be implemented on supercomputers.
Innovate changes in daily life through materials production, product/system design, and system realization to provide a healthy quality of life without compromising the ecosystem, human health, or the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Approaches for greening technological systems include life cycle assessment, source reduction, resilience engineering, material flow analysis, and responsible decision making which can simultaneously promote economic development and environmental stewardship. Green technology challenges include new means of generating and evaluating energy and energy efficiency, environmentally friendly and energy-efficient buildings/building materials, chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate use and generation of hazardous substances, energy efficient manufacturing processes, and green nanotechnology.
Human Impacts on Biosphere Processes
Both deliberate and inadvertent human practices have led to negative or unintended consequences on health and natural resources including water quality, quantity, and movement, soil health, air quality, and biodiversity. Biosphere studies involve geology, ecology, soils, atmospheric processes and climate, hydrological sciences, and biogeochemistry. Impacts of current concern include climate change, endocrine disruption, human health, and water wars.
Apply cross-disciplinary approaches to ecological and environmental assessment and management of complex ecosystems including agriculturally-dominant landscapes, forests, wetlands, conservation lands and refuges. The focus is on understanding process dynamics in open systems with spatio-temporal variation in the intrinsically coupled biological, physical, and social processes. Examples of current areas of importance are environmental and socio-economic consequences of intensive land use for bioenergy production, adaptation to climate change and its impacts on human and ecosystem health, carbon cycling and sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems, mitigation strategies for degraded wetlands, and ecological restoration of riverine and prairie systems within managed ecosystems.
Sustainable Urban Environments
Design urban communities that provide a high quality life-style that meets the needs of more people with a reduced carbon and ecological footprint. Ecologically friendly and healthy urban environments require integration of innovative multi-functional energy efficient buildings, healthy personal and public transportation systems, appropriate accessible green space, integration of local food systems, and incorporation of the natural environment into interior and exterior living space. Sustainable urban ecosystems foster physical and mental well-being, individual economic prosperity, more efficient per capita consumption of water and energy, a higher return on public investment in municipal infrastructure and more opportunities for development of creative and ecologically responsible non-renewable materials cycling and natural resource utilization.