Multiple lines of scientific evidence have shown that Earth’s ecosystems and our economic system are very vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, and are already experiencing increased impacts of persistent extreme weather events such as droughts and hurricanes, heat waves, and sea-level rise (IPCC 2013; NCA 2014). Increasing temperature, change in rainfall patterns and its regional and seasonal imbalances affect the growth of plants and animals with substantial changes in ecosystem services and functions. Heat wave and extreme precipitation events are breaking records in each successive year in different parts of the world. Climate change – especially droughts and desertification – will likely alter local and regional water supply, threatening water availability, accessibility and even quality. Population growth and increased demand for food-water-energy further stress the delicate balance between human and natural systems. Climate change also affects human health through changes in air and water quality and the spread of infectious diseases, exposing human populations, plants, livestock and wildlife to new diseases. On the other hand, emission of pollutants in the air, including greenhouse gas emissions, affect global and regional climate. Increases in tropospheric ozone concentration warms the climate, while particulate matter (PM) can either cool or warm the climate.

We conduct research to improve our understanding of ecosystem health and functioning, and environmental and societal impacts of climate variability and change. We study a variety of topics including the impacts of climate variability and change on ecosystem goods and services, wildlife and human health, global and regional water supply, and air quality. In addition, we also investigate the impact of human activity on greenhouse gas balance, and the emission of air pollutants on global and regional climate. Some of the key areas of climate research led by our faculty include:

  • The carbon cycle, greenhouse gases, and their interactions with climate
  • Seasonal to decadal climate predictability focusing on the role of land processes
  • Land-atmosphere interactions and hydroclimatic extremes
  • Biogeochemical and hydrological cycles at the land-ocean interface
  • Climate change impacts on carbon and water fluxes of forest ecosystems, particularly southern pine ecosystems and tropical forests
  • Interactive effects of air pollution and climate change on terrestrial ecosystems (forest, crops, grassland)
  • Impacts of climate change and climate extremes on food security, forest health and water resources in the critical regions of the world: Asia, Africa, South America, and USA
  • Climate change, infectious diseases, wildlife and human health
  • Climate change mitigation through displacement of petroleum based resources with sustainable feedstocks