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Environmental Science at AU

Students and professor, wearing gloves and holding a bucket, work outside in a lake

Our Masters and undergrad BA and BS programs train students to become effective advocates for the environment. The curriculum consists of rigorous science- and policy-based courses and experiential learning that prepare our students for exciting careers in the environmental field. The Department of Environmental Science recommits itself to advancing informed, knowledge-based approaches to confronting local and global environmental concerns.

Our Community: Sustainability


See some of the ways AU and CAS students and faculty pursue sustainability.


In the Media

Sergio Morales (Environmental Science) and Jennah McDonald (Biology), were part of the SEA Semester voyage that discovered good news regarding coral health in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). Their discovery was featured in the New York Times. Accompanied by 21 other undergraduates, SEA Semester faculty, and researchers from the New England Aquarium and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Sergio and Jennah gathered data on the health of the islands' coral reef ecosystem in order to recommend policy implementations to the PIPA management office in Kiribati—all while sailing as active crewmembers aboard a tall ship research vessel.

Selected Publications

(Names in bold are AU students.)

Balerna, J.A., Malone, J.C. and Knee, KL. 2021. Using Concentration–Discharge Relationships to Identify Influences on Surface and Subsurface Water Chemistry along a Watershed Urbanization Gradient. Water 13(5):662

Grace, K., Siddiqui, S. & Zaitchik, B.F. A framework for interdisciplinary research in food systems. Nat Food 2, 1–3 (2021).

Sinigalliano, C., Kim, K., Gidley, M., Yuknavage, K., Knee, K., Palacios, D., Bautista, C., Bonacolta, A., Lee, H.W. and Maurin, L., 2021. Microbial Source Tracking of Fecal Indicating Bacteria in Coral Reef Waters, Recreational Waters, and Groundwater of Saipan by Real-Time Quantitative PCR. Frontiers in Microbiology11, p.3486.

Knapp, M.A., N. Geeraert, K. Kim, and K.L. Knee. 2020. Submarine Groundwater Discharge (SGD) to Coastal Waters of Saipan (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, USA): Implications for Nitrogen Sources, Transport and Ecological Effects. Water 12(11): 3029.

Kroetz, K, GM Luquec, JA Gephart, SL. Jardine, P Lee, K Chicojay Moore, C Cole, A Steinkruger, and CJ Donlan (2020) Consequences of seafood mislabeling for marine populations and fisheries management. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,

Davis, KF, S Downs and JA Gephart (2020) Environmental variability and food supply chains: Building resilience into global and local food systems Nature Food, pp. 1-12.White, ER, HE Froehlich, JA Gephart, RS Cottrell, TA Branch, R Agrawal Bejarano and JK Baum (2020) Early effects of COVID‐19 on US fisheries and seafood consumption. Fish and Fisheries.

Shepon, A, JA Gephart, PJG Henriksson, R Jones, K Murshed-e-Jahan, G Eshel and CD Golden (2020) Reorientation of aquaculture production systems can reduce environmental impacts and improve nutrition security in Bangladesh. Nature Food, 1(10), pp.640-647. Alonzo, M., Dial, R. J., Schulz, B. K., Andersen, H. E., Lewis-Clark, E., Cook, B. D., & Morton, D. C. (2020).

Mapping tall shrub biomass in Alaska at landscape scale using structure-from-motion photogrammetry and lidar. Remote Sensing of Environment, 245, 111841. Bistline, John ET, Maxwell Brown, Sauleh A. Siddiqui, and Kathleen Vaillancourt. "Electric sector impacts of renewable policy coordination: A multi-model study of the North American energy system." Energy Policy 145 (2020): 111707. 

Dumnicka, E., T. Pipan, and D.C. Culver. 2020. Habitats and diversity of subterranean macroscopic freshwater invertebrates: main gaps and future trends. Water 11:2170. Doi:10.3390/w12082170.

Eisenstadt, Todd and MacAvoy, Stephen. in production. Climate Change, Science, and the Politics of Shared Sacrifice. Oxford University Press. Final draft submitted 7/10/2020. expected publication date: 1/2021

Fong, D.W. 2019. Gammarus minus as a model system for the study of evolution.  In: pp. 451-458, D.C. Culver and W.B. White (eds.), Encyclopedia of Caves, 3rd Edition.  Elsevier Academic Press, Burlington, Massachusetts.

Geeraert N, NM Duprey, S McIlroy, PD Thompson, BR Goldstein, C LaRoche, K Kim, LJ Raymundo & DM Baker. 2020. The anthropogenic nitrogen footprint of a tropical lagoon: spatial variability in Padina δ15N. Pacific Science 74:19-29

Gephart, JA, CD Golden, F Asche, B Belton, C Brugere, HE Froehlich, JP Fry, BS Halpern, CC Hicks, RC Jones, DH Klinger, DC Little, DJ McCauley, SH Thilsted, M Troell and EH Allison (2020) Scenarios for global aquaculture and its role in human nutrition. Reviews in Fisheries Science & Aquaculture, pp.1-17.

Keany, J., M. Christman, M. Milton, K.L. Knee, H. Gilbert, and D. Culver. (2019) Distribution and structure of shallow subterranean aquatic arthropod communities in the parklands of Washington, D.C. Ecohydrology 12(1): e2044. 

Knee, K.L. and A. Masker. (2019) Association between unconventional oil and gas (UOG) development and water quality in small streams overlying the Marcellus Shale. Freshwater Science 38(1) 113-130. 

Kwon MJ, D Baker, C Tudge, K Kim, SE MacAvoy. (2018). Museum collections yield information on nitrogen sources for coastal Gulf of Mexico, North Carolina and Caribbean invertebrates 1850 to 2004. Journal of Shellfish Research 37(5):1-7.

Pipan, T., M.C. Christman, and D.C. Culver. 2020. Abiotic community constraints in extreme environments: epikarst copepods as a model system. Diversity 12:269. Doi:10.3390/d120/12071269.

Read, QD, S Brown, AD Cuéllar, SM Finn, JA Gephart, LT Marston, E Meyer, KA Weitz and MK Muth (2020) Assessing the environmental impacts of halving food loss and waste along the food supply chain. Science of The Total Environment, 712, p.136255.

Siddiqui, Sauleh, Kathleen Vaillancourt, Olivier Bahn, Nadejda Victor, Christopher Nichols, Charalampos Avraam, and Maxwell Brown. "Integrated North American energy markets under different futures of cross-border energy infrastructure." Energy Policy 144 (2020): 111658. 

Wilken RL, A Imanalieva, SE MacAvoy, VP Connaughton. (2020). Anatomical and behavioral assessment of larval zebrafish (Danio rerio) reared in Anacostia River water samples. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

Faculty awards

Barbara Balestra received a grant for $12,000 from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for her project "Predicting Changes in Ocean Habitability on Earth and Other Ocean Worlds."

Michael Alonzo received a grant for $37,914 from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for his work in improving models of forest ecosystem structure and function through fusion of 3D data derived from stereo imagery and lidar.

Sauleh Siddiqui received a $108,130 grant from National Science Foundation (NSF) March 2021

Aquila, Valentina. Tracking Volcanic Volatiles From Magma Reservoir to the Atmosphere: Identifying Precursors and Optimizing Models and Satellite Observations for Future Major Eruptions. Michigan Technological University — $296,026 (3 years)

Alonzo, Michael. (PI) Understanding tree species and site controls on urban transpiration using high resolution spatial analyses. NSF — $416,000 (3 years, 2020 – 2023)

Alonzo, Michael (CO-PI) NASA-USFS Partnership to Advance Operational Forest Carbon Monitoring in Interior Alaska. NASA Carbon Monitoring System — AU portion: $136,000 (3 years, 2020 – 2022).

Aquila, Valentina. (CO-PI): Tracking volcanic gases from magma reservoir to the atmosphere: identifying precursors, and optimizing models and satellite observations for future major eruptions. 2 September 2020 to 11 September 2023. NASA.
Total award: $1,270,000, award for AU: $310K. 

Brakel W, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Science, was elected Chair of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB;, effective 09/01/2020.  He has served on the Commission, representing the District of Columbia, since 2014.

Connaughton, Victoria. (PI). Using zebrafish to assess water health of Paint Branch Stream, an upstream tributary within the Anacostia Watershed”, DC Water Resources Research Institute, 2020-2021. USGS/WRRI. $10,000

Culver, David. (PI). A Survey of the Fauna of Seepage Springs in National Capital Parks-East (NACE). 2018-2022. National Park Service. $137,951. 

Gephardt, Jessica (CO-PI) Title: CNH-L: Interactive Dynamics of Reef Fisheries and Human Health (2018-2022). NSF. Award total:  $1,359,998, award for AU: $219,214. 

Siddiqui, Sauleh. $108,130 grant from National Science Foundation.

Knee, Karen and Kim, Kiho. (PIs). Investigating the role of groundwater in pollutant transport to Nu`uuli Pala Lagoon, American Samoa. NOAA. $161,559.00

MacAvoy, Stephen. (PI). Toxicity of organic contaminants in urban and suburban areas of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. 2020. USGS/WRRI $10,000

MacAvoy, Stephen. (CO-PI). Next-generation effects-based monitoring of contaminants in the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. 2020. USGS/WRRI $10,000

Meiller, Jesse and Brody, Michael (CO-PIs). "Central Asia University Partnerships Program" from the American Councils for International Education (State Dept.). January 2020 to June 2021. $22,500.

Siddiqui, Sauleh (PI). Time-Sensitive Human Forest and Model Forecasts for COVID-19 Vaccine and Treatment Trials (Aug 2020 - Aug 2021). NSF
Amount: $200,000

Siddiqui, Sauleh (PI). Human Forests versus Random Forest Models in Prediction (Sep 2019 - Feb 2022). NSF
Amount: $480,000

Siddiqui, Sauleh (PI). EAGER: SSDIM: Generating Synthetic Data on Interdependent Food, Energy, and Transportation Networks via Stochastic, Bi-level Optimization (Aug 2017-Aug 2021). NSF
Amount: $399,874

News & Notes

Sauleh Siddiqui, Kiho Kim, and Jessica Gephart are part of the team of researchers recently awarded a five-year, $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Titled "Multiscale Resilient, Equitable, and Circular Innovations with Partnership and Education Synergies (RECIPES) for Sustainable Food Systems,” the project will study food waste and work toward sustainability and equity in food systems under the leadership of AU principle investigator, Siddiqui.

Sauleh Siddiqui (Environmental Science) spoke on CNN about why we need to adjust our approach to infrastructure to protect the most vulnerable from climate change.

Climate Change, Science, and The Politics of Shared Sacrifice by Todd Eisenstadt and Stephen MacAvoy.

Professor Stephen Macavoy co-authors Climate Change, Science, and the Politics of Shared Sacrifice with qualitative, quantitative, and hands-on methods for empowering students to investigate and take action.

Filbert St. Garden

CAS Faculty Lead Research on Reducing Food Waste

$15 million NSF grant to develop data and solutions for businesses, policymakers, and consumers.

Read More

Prof. Michael Alonzo

When a Single Tree Makes a Difference

Read more


Edward Cascella won the Academic Achievement Award for Outstanding Achievement in Undergraduate Research. 

Jesse Cross won the Academic Achievement Award for Outstanding Leadership in Environmental Activism.

Elisa Davie (MS '22) was awarded F2020 Graduate Student Research Funds from the CAS Dean's Office to support her micro-plastics work with Drs. Meiller and Balestra.

AU ENVS alumna Jessica Balerna (BS '17) recently won an AGU Outstanding Student Presentation Award for a poster about our work on stream urbanization at Meadowood in northern Virginia.

Cheldina Jean

Cheldina Jean won the prestigious Udall Scholarship. 38 were awarded out of 384 applicants. Jean is a FUND II UNCF STEM scholar who majors in environmental science and minors in statistics and chemistry. She is passionate about becoming an environmental toxicologist, developing remediation products for environmental clean-ups and improving the quality of life of people in developing countries who are disproportionately affected by environmental degradation.

Avery Williams, MS '21 has won the prestigious The Garden Club of America, 2019 GCA Zone VI Fellowship in Urban Forestry for the project: “Using High-Resolution Satellite Data to Track Phenological Shifts of Urban Vegetation for Individual Tree Scale Analyses.” She will be working on this project with Professor Michael Alonzo and the award comes with a $5000 research stipend.

Jenna Wiegland stands with two people in front of a "" banner

Jenna Wiegand (MS expected 2019) received the Veronique Pittman Award at Less Cancer's Cancer Prevention Day at the Rayburn House Office Building.

Annika Barth

Annika Barth received the Academic Achievement Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research or Creative Work by a Senior! She worked with the Biogeochemistry, Ecosystems, and Climate Group at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory through Princeton University's Cooperative Institute for Climate Science. Her project was related to physiological impacts of ocean acidification on fish.

Jiana Blaha wears scuba gear underwater

Jiana Blaha was selected for the 2019 Academic Achievement Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research or Creative Work by a Junior! Her research uses stable isotope analysis to determine growth rates of the mangrove trees. She also recently participated in a field expedition to Saipan where she worked with Professors Knee and Kim on understanding sources and pathways of nitrogen pollution entering the ocean.

Reaching Out to Reduce Impact

I hope people see the merit of what we’re doing & are inspired to join the fight

As a Student Sustainability Educator, I like finding out what people are interested in, and then catering to those interests. The environment affects everybody, and it's really our job to show people the way in which it affects them. It helps that people are very receptive at AU, so I don't have a hard time engaging with people.

Find out how you can get involved with Sustainability at AU.