Earth Systems Science Division
The Earth Systems Science Division (ESSD) conducts research and provides expertise to improve the management of natural resources and energy and to solve challenging environmental problems. The Division focuses on two key issues:
Carbon Management [+ expand/ - collapse]
ESSD provides solutions for increasing domestic energy content while reducing the quantity and impact of greenhouse gases. Specific areas of research and development include the following:
- Carbon capture and geologic sequestration — provide solutions to the U.S. Department of Energy and industry that enable continued use of domestic fossil fuel sources.
- Alternative energy sources — develop sources such as methane-hydrates, enhanced oil recovery, geothermal energy and more efficient hydropower.
- Clean nuclear power — conduct environmental and safety/hazards assessment in support of site licensing; and conduct experimental and model-based research for development and evaluation of waste forms directed at safe disposal of waste generated from nuclear power production.
- Energy development — improve efficiency of processes while simultaneously minimizing adverse impacts to the environment; provide a technical basis for management decisions on energy development, hydropower operations and siting of new facilities dependent on an adequate water supply.
- Climate change — predict local and regional watershed responses to predictions from global climate models.
- Aquatic, terrestrial and human ecology — evaluate interactions within and between ecosystems in response to natural and human activities and identify optimal management strategies.
Legacy Waste Management [+ expand/ - collapse]
The ESSD has a long history with environmental management, restoration and monitoring of contaminated sites. Areas of focus include:
- Cleanup of legacy waste — provide expertise and tools to aid the U.S. Department of Energy and other agencies address complex contamination problems. We determine the chemistry and source release behavior of high-level waste tank solid waste residuals and the stability and contaminant release behavior of waste forms, develop new and innovative soils and groundwater cleanup remedies, evaluate groundwater-surface water interactions, conduct site characterization, predict contaminant fate and transport, evaluate ecotoxicology, address deep vadose characterization and in situ remediation using sustainable techniques and strategies, conduct environmental monitoring to ensure public safety and monitoring and protection of cultural resources, and provide environmental risk assessments and project decision support to guide effective management of cleanup programs.
- Regional water issues — identify tools and techniques to understand and protect regional water sources and aquatic ecosystems impacted by climate change, energy development, water use and hydropower system operations.
ESSD capabilities include applied geology and geochemistry, hydrology, multiphase modeling, characterization and monitoring, aquatic and terrestrial ecology, ecotoxicology, and risk and decision sciences. Our researchers use a suite of well-equipped chemical, geologic, soil and plant laboratories to accomplish our mission. We use the laboratories in conjunction with field experiment facilities to collect data that are integrated into models with a range of complexity matched to the problems being solved. In addition, ESSD has the following unique facilities:
- Carbon Capture and Geologic Sequestration Laboratory — to understand key processes that control efficient and effective CO2 capture and geologic sequestration, including co-sequestration of other gases.
- High Volume Analytical Laboratory — to characterize wastes, soils, sediments and groundwater containing chemical and radiological contamination.
- Aquatic Research Laboratory — to study fish survival as a function of hydropower management, environmental and ecotoxicological conditions, and Hanford Site cleanup actions. This facility has access to Columbia River water and Hanford Site groundwater.
- Aerosol Intermediate-scale Test Bed — to evaluate transport and dispersion of aerosols (e.g., dust and toxins) in response to temperature and wind speed in a controlled environment. The test bed supports ecotoxicology and environmental detection systems testing.
- Hanford Cultural Resources Laboratory — to meet National Historic Preservation Act responsibilities and use the HAMMER complex to provide training and hands-on experience with cultural resource management practices.
- Ecosystem Biomarker Laboratory — to discover biomolecular signatures of ecosystem function in order to manage and mitigate the impact of environmental stressors such as contaminants, nanomaterials and climate change.