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Environmental and Climate Sciences


Mallory Ladd performing field research in Alaska.

Although climate change is often characterized as an environmental issue — not dissimilar from air and water pollution, implying that it can simply be addressed by “cleaning up” some bad habits — it is first and foremost an energy issue.

Nearly 90% of the world’s energy is supplied via the combustion of fossil fuels. This combustion process releases carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, resulting in the warming of our planet. Warmer temperatures and other impacts of climate change such as variations in precipitation and increasing frequency of storms, flooding, and sea level rise, are already impacting every stage of energy use, from generation and conservation to transmission and storage.

Bredesen Center students in Environmental and Climate Sciences engage in research at UT and ORNL spanning many different scientific fields — biogeochemistry, geology, environmental chemistry, molecular biology, agroecology, computational sciences and more — all with the goal of better understanding the relationship between climate and energy systems.

They conduct lab, field, and modeling studies to develop new knowledge, technologies, products, and solutions to questions regarding bioenergy, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), water-based energy production, sustainable agriculture, soil and plant ecology, and our ability to predict how climate will impact all sectors of society. Students bridge the space between urban and natural systems and travel to remote areas of the world, from the Amazon rainforest to the Arctic tundra, to examine the fundamental drivers and controls that affect energy use and the flow of carbon between terrestrial, aquatic, and atmospheric systems.

The interdisciplinary nature of this program enables Bredesen Center students to gain the scientific, economic, and political knowledge and experience necessary for solving some of science’s most pressing questions around food security, sustainable energy platforms, and our changing climate. Graduate students in the Environmental and Climate sciences have started new businesses, are writing and communicating public policy and legislation, and are working at the cutting-edge of their scientific fields to lead efforts in improving energy systems and our ability to mitigate and adapt to global climate change.

For more information on specific dissertation projects visit our page highlighting the Bredesen Center Graduate Students and their research projects.

Kristine Cabugao and Mallory Ladd are PhD candidates pursuing the Energy Science and Engineering PhD. Please visit their individual biographies for more information about their work in this area.