Environmental Studies

Land and Aquatic Systems Science

Solving environmental problems and using natural resources wisely require a clear and quantitative understanding of fundamental physical, chemical, and biological processes operating on land and in aquatic ecosystems. These processes must be understood in an integrated fashion across a range of spatial and temporal scales. We maintain active research programs in several areas of land and aquatic systems science. Research into Everglades soil systems includes pesticide degradation and transport, factors limiting rates of biodegradation, and mycorrhizal fungi's role in phosphorus acquisition. Aquatic systems research includes biogeochemical and ecotoxicological approaches to resolve water quality problems and support risk assessments. Coastal systems are the focus of research to address the impacts of hurricanes and beach erosion along the eastern seaboard. In the headwaters of the Amazon basin research in the FIU faculty and students are examining the impacts of land-use change and climate variability on the quantity and quality of surface water in meso-scale river systems. Faculty and students apply a broad range of field and laboratory techniques, and particular emphasis is given to computer modeling, the use of remote sensing data, and GIS-based data analysis. The department faculty is affiliated with, or collaborates with, on-campus research centers like the Southeast Environmental Research Center (SERC) and the International Hurricane Center. Faculty also actively participate in several regional, national, and international science initiatives. Individual faculty under this theme are Jayachandran, Leatherman, McClain, Melesse, Rand, Ross, Scinto, and Zhang.

Natural Resources Management

Most environmental problems as we understand them today are not inherent in the environment, but are the result of interactions with human social, political, and economic processes. To design management systems that cooperate with nature rather than degrade it requires understanding the ecological system, the social system, and how they interact to produce a particular environmental outcome. The department carries out a variety of research activities that seeks to understand management issues and propose new ways to approach them. Research on ethnobotany and natural products shows how the saw palmetto of the Everglades, whose berries are used in herbal medicines, interacts with the ecosystem and the economy. South Florida is the only place in the world where a major wilderness area directly borders on a major urban area, and we devote ourselves to grappling with the management issues that arise from this and other social/natural system interfaces in south Florida. Departmental researchers are active on issues ranging from the impact of divers on coral reef degradation in the Florida Keys to the ecological implications of year-round feral cat populations. In Mexico, research from an adaptive management perspective is being carried out in the dry tropical forests of central Quintana Roo, where one of the leading experiences in community tropical forestry in the world is being supported by departmental researchers. In the Amazon FIU researchers are investigating the socioeconomic factors driving the destruction of riparian forests and the misuse of aquatic resources. In Asia, the department has made contributions to understanding the challenges and improving protected area management in Nepal and management of marine resources in southern India, and a faculty member is now undertaking research in the newly independent state of Kyrgyzstan. Individual faculty under this theme are Bhat, Bray, Heinen, McClain, and Melesse.

Environmental Economics and Policy

Our economic system is heavily dependent on the ecosystem in many ways. A harmony between the two is essential for the sustained existence and growth of both these systems. However, environmental interests are too often compromised by economic interests that would result in unsustainable economic growth, overexploitation of natural resources, and increasing environmental pollution. The government plays a key role in stemming the pressure of the growing economy on the environment through regulatory, market-based, and other institutional policies. Researchers in the Department study how effectively government policies work in achieving intended environmental goals in the context of international environment and trade agreements, U.S. and International conservation policies, US and international agricultural and forestry programs, as well as on local environmental programs such as the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary and Everglades restoration. Ongoing research projects include measuring the non-market, economic benefits of establishing no-take marine reserves in the Florida Keys, determining the carrying capacity of the Florida Keys ecosystem, and the management of community-property forest resources in Mexico. Our researchers are also interested in the relationship between science, technology and society and the application of ethical principles in the context of environmental protection. A sample of students' research, for their masters theses, includes cost-benefit analysis of the proposed expansion of phosphate industry in Dade and the evaluation of market-based policy for sewer treatment in Broward. Individual faculty members under this theme are: Bhat, Bray, Heinen, and Scattone.

Environmental Education

Knowing about environmental problems as well as principles of ecology and thermodynamics isn't enough to solve the environmental crisis of the new millennium. There needs to be new strategies and ethics for sustainable living and even changes in lifestyles that complement intellectual understanding. Environmental education, particularly of our teachers and young children, is a key component of the environmental management concepts we promote in our program. To this end, the Department conducts research on a wide variety of areas focused on innovative environmental education approaches, programs and curricula aimed at teachers, schools, low-income minorities and the general public.

Topics covered include residential resource conservation, environmental housing, schoolyard habitats, energy efficiency and conservation, restoration ecology, sustainable communities and environmental sustainability on a university campus. The Department does research in collaboration with FIU's School of Education and a variety of community organizations including the Florida Zoological Society, the Smithsonian Institution, Miami-Dade's Department of Environmental Resource Management, and the Biscayne Nature Center. Primary faculty under this area are Parker and Pliske.