Our environmental research programs focus on the identification, prevention, and mitigation of human-caused pollution in the environment, identifying connections between land use—agriculture, mining, urban, and the environmental quality of land and water. Our faculty bring their expertise in soil science, environmental physics, chemistry, microbiology; wetland science, and waste management to bear on the challenges of environmental quality and sustainability. Our department has five signature areas in Environmental Science.

Soil and Nutrient Management  CSES soil and nutrient management research aims to increase productivity and sustainability of cropping systems, reduce losses of soil and nutrients from managed lands, and enhance ecosystem services provided by managed lands. Our research efforts are aimed at understanding the biophysical properties important to developing improved practices for managed ecosystems and identifying processes regulating nutrient cycling within no-till crop production systems. Projects are underway to refine rate, timing, placement, and fertilizer source recommendations for Virginia crops. Research and outreach projects are underway in developing countries—Haiti, Senegal, South Sudan—to improve soil management for reducing soil losses, increasing crop yields, and improving food security.

Soil Processes  Soil scientists in CSES are active in the discovery of soil processes important for productivity of managed ecosystems and improving environmental quality. This includes research in soil environmental chemistry (organic and inorganic), soil and environmental microbiology and biochemistry, pedology and soil genesis, and soil and environmental physics. We have a special interest in wetlands due to their key regulatory role in water quality. This research includes digital wetland mapping, wetland hydrology and morphology of hydric soils, and hydric soil indicator research.

Waste Management  The addition of waste by-products to managed lands (agricultural, urban) is an environmentally benign method of waste management, and often improves soil productivity. We study ways to manage by-products derived from agricultural, industrial, and municipal activities and their effects on plant health, soil properties, greenhouse gas generation, and water quality in both natural and disturbed soils. We are also studying the fate and transport of emerging contaminants (pharmaceutical compounds and personal care products) associated with biosolids, wastewater, and animal wastes.

Water Quality   Our water quality research is addressing critical causes of water quality impairment in Virginia and is developing microbial source tracking methods and protocols to determine sources of fecal pollution. We are now working on the implementation of molecular-based, rapid-detection methodologies for determining the extent and sources of this contamination. We are also studying the occurrence and impacts of bioactive chemicals such as pharmaceutical compounds and personal care products (PPCPs)  in water, and their relationship to land management practices. Another new area of research evaluates the impacts of mine spoil management on salinity (TDS) of mine drainage and runoff. 

Land Reclamation   CSES faculty are involved in research on mined land reclamation, highway and construction site stabilization, and wetland restoration. Our research aids in the development of cost-effective and reliable reclamation/revegetation strategies for many types of disturbed lands in the mid-Atlantic region, and the formulation of public policies. Active areas of research include restoration of mined lands, mined land impacts on water quality, water quality remediation, restoration of forested ecosystems, production of biomass on reclaimed coal-mine areas, and restoration of prime agricultural lands using dredge spoil materials. We also investigate the use of waste residuals for land reclamation. A major new program characterizes weathering reactions in Appalachian coal mine spoils that will predict releases of total dissolved solids and other constituents of concern.

Faculty contributing to Environmental Science research:  Badgley, Daniels, Eick, Ervin, Evanylo, Galbraith, Hodges, Maguire, Reiter, Xia, Zipper