Research Areas

Gathering samples

Research and teaching in the ESE program focus on the following areas:

Atmospheric chemistry and air pollution. Atmospheric chemistry affects the composition of the atmosphere, properties of clouds, and local air quality. Research areas include cloud chemistry, aerosol chemistry and physics, trace gas photochemistry, and emission sources and transport and reaction pathways of organic species. The methods employed include laboratory studies of aerosol formation and of chemical reactions in the atmosphere; field campaigns with aircraft operated by ESE faculty; satellite missions carried out in collaboration with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and theoretical and modeling studies of tropospheric chemistry and the carbon cycle.

Faculty involved: Blake, Flagan, Hoffmann, Okumura, Seinfeld, Wennberg, Yung

Environmental chemistry and technology. Environmental chemistry and technology research in ESE addresses fundamental questions in heterogeneous atmospheric chemistry (e.g., chemistry of clouds, fogs, and haze aerosols), in aquatic chemistry, in oxidation and reduction chemistry and technology, in semiconductor photocatalysis, and in hydrogen production from sunlight via electrochemical water splitting.

Faculty involved: Flagan, Hoffmann

Dynamics of climate. Climate dynamics research in ESE addresses fundamental questions about how Earth’s climatic features are maintained, how they have varied in the past, and how they may change in the future. Research includes the large-scale dynamics of the atmosphere and oceans, the hydrologic cycle and how it responds to climate changes, monsoon dynamics, and the dynamics of the Southern Ocean, and climates of other planets. Methods employed include theoretical and modeling studies, analyses of observational data, and field campaigns to collect oceanographic data. Close collaborations exist with the Center for Climate Sciences of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Faculty involved: Bordoni, Ingersoll, Schneider, Thompson

Biogeochemistry and climates of the past. Biogeochemical research in ESE finds application at scales ranging from microbial ecosystems to the global carbon cycle. Current research includes the marine carbon cycle and its geochemical record in organic matter and carbonate minerals; microbial recycling of nutrients and carbon; and development and use of geochemical proxies for understanding the ancient environment, including its climate.

Faculty involved: Adkins, Eiler, Orphan, Sessions

Environmental microbiology. Microorganisms are the primary drivers of global biogeochemical cycles and represent the most abundant and diverse forms of life on Earth. They catalyze critical biological transformation processes such as nitrogen fixation, oceanic primary productivity, and methane cycling. Microbial ecosystem research within ESE is focused on understanding microbial processes in terrestrial, marine, and extreme ecosystems. Research areas span a range of topics and field sites, including the study of lignocellulose degradation by termite gut microbiota, anaerobic cycling of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur in microbial mats and sediments, and methane cycling in the ocean.

Faculty involved: Leadbetter, Newman, Orphan

Landscape evolution. Landscape research in ESE uses field and laboratory measurements to build and test quantitative models for the processes that cause landscape change. Current topics include the effect of wildfires on landscape sediment yield, erosion of bedrock canyons by rivers and floods, sediment transport in steep mountain streams, climate change as recorded in ancient river-bed surfaces, and connecting river sediment sources to their oceanic deposits. Applications include river restoration for fish habitats, mitigating debris flow and flood hazards, extracting paleo-climate information from landscape topography, and reconstructing water and petroleum reservoirs from sedimentary deposits.

Faculty involved: Lamb

Field work

Professor Orphan and a student search for benthic invertebrates in a sediment box core during a student cruise to the Santa Monica Basin.

Environmental Science and Engineering