Research Clusters & Centers

Clusters

Each research cluster is meant to oversee a series of interlinked projects addressing various components of the larger questions; but no cluster operates in isolation: continued information exchange, discussions, and joint efforts are catalyzed through regular research forums (e.g., weekly Sustainability Seminar Series), sharing of lab equipment placed in strategic locations within the core-labs space and between established research cluster labs, and proximity of all research laboratories. In addition to MSU faculty and research adjuncts, the clusters are adequately supported by industry professionals who play a vital role in training the PhD students. Every dissertation committee is required to include at least one external industry professional in the broad area of environmental management to provide a "window to the world out there" to the doctoral trainees.

Research in the PhD program can be broadly classified into the following clusters:

Cluster 1 - Environmental Quality and Remediation

Key Researchers:
Drs. Sarkar, Deng, Feng, Kruge, Rakshit, Wu, Barrett (adjunct), Datta (adjunct).
Key Questions:
What are key pollutants affecting the New Jersey environment? How do environmental factors impact the fate and transport of these pollutants? What kinds of risks do these pollutants pose to human health and ecology? What sort of "green" remediation measures can be developed/adopted to lower or even eliminate such risks?
Scope of Research:
Characterization/quantification of various physico-chemical processes that determine the behavior of inorganic/organic contaminants in soils and sediments. Evaluation of data (field/greenhouse/experimental) to investigate plant/human bioavailability, aqueous and solid phase speciation, precipitation and adsorption mechanisms of chemicals (contaminants and nutrients) in soils resulting from domestic/industrial wastes. Evaluation of chemical, microbial and phytoremediation techniques to clean up environmental contaminants, e.g., heavy metals.
Primary Tools:
Spectroscopy, chromotography, spatial analysis, statistical analysis.
A Model Finding:
A fast growing, tropical grass, vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides) is capable of removing certain antibiotics (such as tetracycline, monensin) from wastewater, thereby posing a strong possibility of being utilized in artificial wetlands designed for wastewater treatment.

Cluster 2 - Environmental and Urban Ecology

Key Researchers:
Drs. Prezant, Bologna, Egan, Hazard, Kight, Monsen, Vanderklein, Wu, Weinstein (adjunct).
Key Questions:
How do invasive species, issues of exploitation, current and through time, and environmental perturbations influence organismal behavior and ecosystem health?
Scope of Research:
Understanding interactions among hydrological, geological, biogeochemical and biological systems in urbanized, freshwater, estuarine, and coastal environments. Analyzing the relationships between habitat and the production of certain species, including finfish and shellfish, to identify critical habitats that link "bottom up" recruitment of juveniles to the adult stages. Primary Tools: Remote sensing; spectroscopy, chromotography, and biomolecular analysis.
A Model Finding:
Phragmites australis (m-haplotype) has been shown to quantitatively degrade marsh habitat and, although nutrients from P. australis contribute to the trophic spectrum of the estuary, trophic support in energy reserves for reproduction, migration and overwintering was deficient in resident and transient fishes residing in Phragmites-dominated marshes.

Cluster 3 - Earth Systems and Climate Change

Key Researchers
: Drs. Brachfeld, Passchier, Chopping, Galster, Pope, (New Earth Systems Science faculty starting Fall 2011).
Key Questions:
How can environmental changes induced by human activities be quantified and separated from those forced by naturally-occurring climate cycles?
Scope of Research:
Monitoring of Earth's surface processes from the ground, air, ocean, and space. Earth's climate systems include regularly-repeating cycles, positive and negative feedbacks, and abrupt events—processes that affect Earth's surface temperature, the chemistry of the atmosphere and ocean, soil moisture, and the size and stability and ice sheets; and in turn affect societal communities through sea level rise and fall, the frequency and intensity of storms, the type and extent of vegetation, changes in the geographic range of flora, fauna, and pathogens.
Primary Tools:
Sediment coring, remote sensing, materials analysis.
A Model Finding:
Sedimentary records from the Larsen Ice Shelf embayments demonstrate that the northerly section of the ice shelf has collapsed and reformed at least three times during the last 4000 years, but the southern sections have been stable since the Last Glacial Maximum. The modern collapse of the Larsen-B ice shelf is unprecedented during the Holocene, and this unique event is likely related to the modern warming trend.

Cluster 4 - Environmental Modeling and Visualization

Key Researchers:
Drs. Chopping, Yu, Feng, Ophori, Sarkar, Billings, Robilla,Vaidya,Verde, Barrett (adjunct), (New Earth Systems Science faculty starting Fall 2011).
Key Questions:
How can remote sensing be used to quantitatively describe changes in the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, or geosphere and predict future anthropogenic changes in the earth system? How accurately can one model reactive transport of contaminants in surface/subsurface environments at both spatial and temporal scales?
Scope of Research:
Application of remote sensing techniques to quantitatively model ecosystems' structure, function and health; hydrodynamic modeling of water flow; and sediment and contaminant transport in aquatic systems; and modeling of urban systems using GIS/spatial analysis (e.g., GIS-based design of urban streets to lessen stormwater runoff and flooding). Design of mobile sensing arrays/platforms in random "noisy" environments. Analysis of effects of sustainable environmental remediation technologies, e.g., natural drainage applications of bioremediation and management practices.
Primary Tools:
Remote sensing GIS, geochemical and hydrogeological modeling codes, statistics.
A Model Finding:
Shrub abundance, crown shape, and forest canopy cover, height, and above ground woody biomass, are interpreted by using a geometric-optical model ulti-angle red band remote sensing data from NASA's orbiting MISR and MODIS instruments analyze.

Cluster 5 - Geodynamics

Key Researchers:
Drs. Brachfeld, Galster, Gorring, Ophori, Passchier, Pope, Vaidya, Yecko.
Key Questions:
How are deep earth processes manifested at the earth's surface? What role do natural surface and interior geologic processes play in the Earth's climatic system at both short and long timescales? How does the morphology and disturbance dynamics of continental shelf sediments affect benthic community structure? What models can be used to acquire fast and accurate multidimensional imaging and delineation of hydrocarbons in deep and ultra deep Gulf of Mexico strata?
Scope of Research:
Understanding of impacts of large-scale geological processes, interactions within and between layers, and large-scale cycling of material between the layered structures. Investigating the nature of weathering and soil-forming processes and their expressions sedimentary basins and hydrocarbon traps) at the Earth's surface.
Primary Tools:
Seismology, magnetism, petrology, GPS, InSAR, and geophysical data analysis.
A Model Finding:
Combined experimental petrology and rock magnetism study of synthetic Mars basalts have aided in interpreting crustal anomalies mapped by the Mars Global Surveyor mission. Synthesis at moderately oxidizing conditions and moderate-to-high cooing rates optimized TRM acquisition with samples possessing stable-single-domain grain, TRM intensities up to 40-200 A/m, and moderate Curie temperatures implying stable mangetizations down to depths of several 10s of km in the Martian crust.

Cluster 6 - Environmental Policy, Social, and Management Impacts

Key Researchers:
Drs. Taylor, Vedwan, Batkay, Kay, Siegel, Wishnick, Mukherjee, Chatterjee, Zhang,Weinstein (adjunct), (New Environmental Economics faculty starting Fall 2011).
Key Questions:
How should public policy and urban development practices be influenced by research in sustainability science? What are technical, economic, social barriers to the development of sustainable energy practices (e.g., solar, geothermal, etc.)?
Scope of Research:
Constructing indicators and establishing models for monitoring urban systems. Finding opportunities for enhancing sustainability, equity, and vulnerability reduction in communities and institutions. Estimating ecological and human health risk for environmental decision-making.
A Model Finding:
Mangrove mudflat dwelling laternulid bivalves are part of the subsistence and small sales harvest by many villages in rural Thailand, yet the population dynamics of affected species reveals a paucity of distinct and separable cohorts with very few juveniles. This suggests cooperative management protocols with local villages, possibly including moratoria on harvests with economic solutions that may include alternative farming.

Centers

In order to administratively coordinate these and future research activities in the area of Environmental Management, several Centers of Excellence and a School have been created in the College of Science and Mathematics. They include the following:

Passaic River Institute (PRI)

The Passaic River Institute serves as an important repository of knowledge as related to the severely impacted Passaic river basin in Northern New Jersey. PRI, directed by Dr. K. Barrett conducts scientifically sound research, monitoring and assessment, publishing findings in technical reports and peer-reviewed journals. Research areas include contaminant biological uptake, ecotoxicology, pollutant fate, transport and distribution, ecosystem degradation and restoration, and effectiveness of environmental policy. The Institute vigorously seeks external funding to support this research. PRI also develops scientific content for environmental education programs and supports science teachers in delivering this content. PRI organizes academic and public conferences to facilitate exchange of ideas and information regarding the basin – three Passaic River Symposia have been organized between 2004 and 2008. PRI cooperates and collaborates with public and private sectors including federal, state and local agencies, corporations, schools and environmental advocacy groups.

PSEG Institute for Sustainabilty Studies (ISS)

The PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies (ISS) at Montclair State University was founded in 2009 to play a transformative role in transdisciplinary research and education to address the relevant sustainability issues of our time.

Sustainable development is a catch-phrase for the need to reconcile human dominance of the earth's natural resources with the planet's ability to provide them over the long-term. In part it is a need borne of recognition that the human condition has placed potentially irreversible stresses on the relationship between the environment and human progress, and the recognition that more needs to be done to reverse these and other unsustainable practices.

The mission of the ISS is to conduct research, education and outreach to balance conservation and preservation of Earth's life support systems with their production of sustainable goods and services for human welfare, now and in the future.

New Jersey School of Conservation (NJSOC)

NJSOC is the Environmental Education Field Campus of Montclair State University. It is the oldest university-operated environmental education center in the US. It is located 57 miles (92 km) from the Montclair campus on a 240-acre (0.97 km2) tract located in Stokes State Forest in Sussex County, New Jersey, with dormitories and complete food service. Directed by Dr. William Thomas, the mission of the School is to convey knowledge of how Earth systems operate and how human actions affect these systems. The School’s goal is to educate and cultivate environmentally responsible behaviors that lead to the resolution of current environmental problems, the avoidance of future environmental problems, and the promotion for sustainable environmental practices. The environmental education programs provide field experiences in the environmental sciences, humanities, outdoor pursuits, and the social sciences. Each academic year the School provides environmental education programs for nearly 9,000 elementary/secondary school students, and nearly 1,000 teachers from about 100 schools. It serves as an excellent field site for research projects conducted by the masters and doctoral students in Environmental Management.

Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL)

RSL is located in the Department of Earth and Environmental Studies and promotes the goals of the graduate and doctoral education in Environmental Management. Research activities in the lab, headed by Dr. M. Chopping are sponsored by NASA. Current projects include: using data from NASA's Earth Observing System satellite instruments to map carbon pools in arid environments of the southwestern US; exploiting data from the Compact High Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (CHRIS) flown on the European Space Agency's PROBA satellite. A current research focus is the use of data from the unique NASA/JPL Multiangle Imaging Spectro-Radiometer (MISR), including cutting-edge work on mapping forest canopy height as well as crown cover; and mapping woody plant cover and community type in desert grasslands. Equipment comprises Sun and Mac Unix workstations linked via high speed networking to CSAM servers, as well as PCs, plotters, and a high resolution drum scanner. Software includes ERDAS Imagine, Arc/INFO, ENVI, IDL, ArcGIS, and proprietary codes.