Department of Earth and Environmental Science
The mission of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science is to bring the time perspective of the Earth scientist/historian to bear on contemporary problems of natural-resource conservation and environmental quality.
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PublicationA Quantitative Analysis of the Pennsylvania Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard: And Options for the Future(2007-05-01) Tichich, NicholasThis study evaluates Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard and its effect on promoting the development of new, utility-scale electricity generators fueled by alternative sources. The energy profile of Pennsylvania for 2005 and 2006 is determined from the Generation Attribute Tracking System, which tracks the creation of compliance credits according to the policy guidelines. The future energy profile is projected from the PJM Interconnection Queue, which lists the proposed future generating plants in the state. The forecast for electricity use in Pennsylvania is derived from the Energy Information Administration’s 2007 Energy Outlook. The study shows that the Tier II goals of the policy are currently met, with no need for further developments. The study predicts that Tier I and solar PV developments will fall short of the policy goals. Compatible Tier I technologies are profiled, and recommendations are made to meet future compliance. PublicationSolving the ‘Wicked Problem’ of China’s Environmental Future: Cautious Optimism in the Face of Unprecedented Threats(2019-09-01) Maley, JamisonChina’s global position as an exporter of inexpensive, low-value goods has been sustained by a coal-fired growth model whose devastating environmental and social consequences are only recently being acknowledged properly by party leadership. A systematic review and analysis has been conducted of the most current academic literature addressing China’s environmental challenges. A sizeable amount of research (around 360 publications) was amassed in this pursuit, covering not only China’s environment, but also related governmental, economic, and social factors. The author has defined China's environmental future as a 'wicked problem', which creates two allowances by default. First, it communicates that the problem is highly complex, involves multiple stakeholders, and has no easy solutions. Second, it recognizes that only a uniquely multi- sectoral approach can achieve accurate forecasting and sound recommendations. This paper follows this multi-sectoral approach, crossing institutional lines in search of developments economically and politically, as well as prevailing trends in both technology and culture. Scenario building of divergent futures has been visualized in order to generate confident and informed forecasting of China's environmental future. The author remains cautiously optimistic regarding these future projections. However, heroic innovations in technology and environmental efficiency must be matched by seismic shifts in economic, social, and political policy. Real solutions and recommendations are prescribed in the final section of this Capstone. The importance of these recommendations cannot be overestimated. Expert consensus has equated humanity's avoidance of climate fallout with the need for transformative solutions in China. PublicationSustainability Rankings: Impacts on Corporate Sustainability(2013-05-01) Muli, SharonCompanies are increasingly being held responsible for their actions because of pressure to maintain a positive public perception, comply with legislation, fulfill their company vision, and outperform competitors. An increasing number of organizations now publish sustainability rankings to evaluate the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of companies. While the purpose of many sustainability rankings varies and may range from informing the public to informing investment decisions, many rankings also aim to improve the sustainability of companies. This report identifies changes, both improvements and declines, in the sustainability rankings of eight companies in the health care industry and attempts to connect these changes to corporate sustainability efforts. Interviews of sustainability professionals from within several of these companies provide insight on the causes for changes in rankings, the internal impacts of these changes, and the general impacts of sustainability rankings within their company. This analysis found that many companies have experienced a notable change in one or more sustainability rankings over the past several years. While it was challenging to identify the causes or impacts of a single ranking using externally available information, the interviews proved valuable. The causes of changes in rankings included changes to the company’s sustainability strategy and the development of a cohesive effort to perform well on the rankings that were considered most influential. Rankings that are well-recognized tend to have a greater impact on companies than those that are newer, focus on a specific topic, or are located in only one region. Rankings can generally impact companies by sparking discussion among employees, encouraging companies to evaluate their strategy to communicate sustainability, and providing a platform for sustainability professionals to communicate the company’s successes. Because employees are often drivers for a company’s sustainability, these findings indicate that sustainability rankings may provide a means to drive sustainability when this opportunity is recognized and utilized. PublicationRMP Compliance(2006-06-20) Roth, Stephen TAfter the Clean Air Act Amendments became finalized in 1996, the subsequent requirement of Risk Management Plan (RMP) submission by certain large chemical facilities to the EPA was mandated within 3 years. Because of the complexity of many environmental regulations on facilities and the natural gap created by different levels (and agencies) of Government, total compliance with this most important emergency planning regulation could not be verified. This project is meant to assist in bridging the gap between the Local and State knowledge of facility information and assisting the EPA in identifying all potential RMP facilities. By sharing information in both directions, the hope is also to narrow the gap among emergency planning entities to ultimately make the community a safer place. PublicationSwan Creek Reservoir Investigation(2018-01-01) Nogier, Matthew JSwan Creek Reservoir is 23 acres in area and located within West Amwell Township, New Jersey. The reservoir serves as a source of public drinking water for residents of the surrounding area and is owned and operated by SUEZ Water New Jersey Lambertville, a water utility. Prior to distribution, SUEZ Water New Jersey Lambertville treats reservoir water to applicable drinking water standards. An investigation of current phosphorus levels in the reservoir was investigated to aid in the future management of algal blooms within the reservoir as it was hypothesized that nutrient levels had increased. A monthly sampling program was developed from four locations during January, February and March 2018. Water quality parameters recorded at each location included appearance, dissolved oxygen, pH, oxidation-reduction potential, specific conductivity, temperature and turbidity. Ammonia-N, chlorophyll a, nitrate-N, soluble reactive phosphorus, total dissolved phosphorus, total particulate phosphorus, total phosphorus and total suspended solids were also analyzed. All collected data was compared to applicable historic data made available by SUEZ Water New Jersey Lambertville with results showing that the reservoir is hypereutrophic, similar to other nearby water bodies. Additionally, total phosphorus levels were found to have increased over time in the reservoir, and as overland flow is a primary mechanism for phosphorus transport, it was hypothesized that phosphorus was being carried via overland flow from neighboring agricultural lands where phosphorus containing fertilizers may have been applied. Therefore, the uses of properties within or adjacent to the reservoir’s approximately 690 acre watershed were examined. Information regarding these properties was reviewed from EDR, Inc., government databases, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, StateInfoServices.com and West Amwell Township. This review, however, did not identify a source of phosphorus to the reservoir as the majority of surrounding land is either undisturbed woodland/wetland habitat or land utilized for farming on a small-scale. PublicationDistribution and Habitat Characteristics of a Freshwater Gastropod, Pleurocera Proxima, in Eastern Pennsylvania(2012-05-01) Windecker, SarasPleurocera proxima is a small, freshwater gastropod that has been recently discovered in four headwater tributaries in the Christina River watershed. The species was previously known only as far north as Virginia, so nothing is known about the species in Pennsylvania or Delaware. The purpose of this study was to determine if the species existed in additional locations in this region, and to assess the habitat where it is found. Fieldwork was conducted in Winter 2012 in the Red Clay Creek, White Clay Creek, and Brandywine Creek subwatersheds of the Christina River basin. In addition to the four streams where P. proxima was already known, 102 new streams were surveyed in this field season for presence of the species. Water chemistry and surrounding land use data were collected at all sites, and substrate characteristics and physical stream data were collected at sites with P. proxima. Only four of the 102 new sites had P. proxima. These data suggest the species is very rare in the region, and mostly populates small, headwater streams in areas with low developed land cover and high forest cover. The streams where P. proxima is found show lower levels of conductivity and salinity than other streams, but it is apparent further research is needed to identify the exact habitat conditions that predict P. proxima presence and density. PublicationRestoring Habitat in Densely-Populated Suburbs in the Northeast: A Demonstration Project(2016-01-01) Westervelt, Mary AResearchers have documented the decrease in populations of native birds and other wildlife, as well as the fact that this decrease correlates with loss of natural habitat in the suburbs. Suburban sprawl has also led to increased stormwater runoff, which carries road and lawn chemicals into local streams and erodes stream banks. Suburban homeowners may be unaware of these problems or unsure of how they can remedy the situation. While model pollinator gardens and rain gardens exist, they are often in out-of-the way places such as nature centers, where the average person will not see them without special effort. Furthermore, the models often lack design appeal, appearing as a random collection of plants. In order to provide an accessible model of appealing landscaping using native plants, a multi-year project to re-landscape the gardens was begun at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Berwyn, Pennsylvania, in 2015. Church members embraced the plan to beautify the property while improving the ecosystem function of the church's gardens and reducing stormwater runoff. The project thus had the dual purpose of improving the property's ecosystem function and appearance, and of providing an example for the congregation and the local community to emulate. A key element of the project has been to get congregation members involved in the planning, funding, and actual installation of rain gardens, terraced beds, and pollinator gardens. Installation of the first rain garden provided an opportunity to also get the larger community involved: A local public garden (Jenkins Arboretum and Gardens) donated over 100 plants, and the project became the Eagle Scout project for a local Boy Scout, Connor Bryan. In the second year (2016), more plants were added and the gardens were expanded, successfully enlisting more active involvement from the congregation. The next step of the project is to create a brochure that could be shared with congregations, schools, and municipalities interested in pursuing a similar project. PublicationFish Production in Streams With and Without Natural Broan Trout Populations(2010-08-01) Weisinger, ScottBrown trout (Salmo trutta) have been introduced into the waterways throughout the United States, including Pennsylvania, since the 1800’s. They may have limited interactions with native fish species in regions where they do not reproduce successfully, but where they do concerns have arisen regarding the impact they have on native species. Are brown trout having a negative effect on the native fish? If so, could they be outcompeting the natives to the point of localized extirpation? This project compared fish communities, densities, biomass and production in two similar stretches of stream in the White Clay Creek, one known to hold brown trout (the East Branch) and the other without (the Middle Branch). Fish in each branch were collected in June and October 2009 using backpack electrofishing equipment to determine species composition and abundance, population densities and community diversity. Fish were aged using scales and further examination revealed biomass and production of the species present. The fish communities within the branches were stable between June and October (Jaccards index = 0.75 for both branches), but differed between branches (Jaccards index = 0.64 in June and 0.58 in October). The stream without brown trout showed much lower density, biomass, and production of most species, which went counter to our hypothesis that fish would show lower levels of these factors in the presence of brown trout. Only the common shiner and longnose dace showed effects in each of these categories while favoring the branch without brown trout over the branch with brown trout. Although the results do show a possible negative correlation between these species and the brown trout, our study design did not allow us to rule out other factors. Also, the fewer number of fish in the Middle Branch as compared to the East Branch leads us to believe that something may be wreaking havoc with the natural balance of this section (e.g. land-use changes, environmental stressors or climatic factors). Continued research regarding brown trout interactions on the East Branch and stream quality of the Middle Branch is highly recommended. PublicationFraming Climate Change in Local News Before and After Hurricane Sandy(2014-05-01) Werner, Brian AHurricane Sandy came ashore in Brigantine, NJ on October 29, 2012. This study examines the frequency and framing of newspaper coverage of climate change during the year before and the year after Hurricane Sandy. It focuses only on high-circulation newspapers that serve populations in the areas in New York and New Jersey that were hardest hit by the storm: The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), The Press of Atlantic City (Atlantic City, NJ), and Newsday (Long Island, NY). A total of 408 articles about climate change were coded and analyzed. In general, the frequency of coverage of climate change increased during the year following the storm. Four frames emerged in coverage before and after the storm: coverage in which “deniers” of climate change were the central focus, stories that acknowledged the reality of climate change and/or discussed actions or proposals to mitigate its effects (“it’s real”), coverage that “balanced” denial with acknowledgment and/or mitigation of climate change, and, coverage that focused (beyond mitigation) on the need for “adaptation” to climate change. This study found that during the year prior to the storm, coverage of climate change included the first three frames, with almost no coverage of “adaptation”. During the year following the storm, coverage using solely a “deniers” frame disappeared, and framing shifted toward coverage that acknowledged rising sea levels, more intense storms or extreme weather and other effects of climate change, and discussed mitigation. In addition, coverage that framed climate change beyond acknowledgment and mitigation of its effects – in terms of the need for “adaptation” – rose sharply. PublicationBridging the Disclosure Gap: Investor Perspectives on Environmental, Social, & Governance (ESG) Disclosures(2018-01-01) Sridharan, VisveshThe corporate sector and the investment community are key players towards achieving sustainable development. By measuring and disclosing the economic as well as social and environmental impacts, companies can work towards this goal. Investors on the other hand are increasingly looking to integrate ESG metrics into their investment analyses for improved decision making, enabling them to minimize risks and maximize returns over the long-term. Sustainability reporting, as an enabler, is an essential tool that can guide the corporate sector to meet investor expectations on ESG metrics. However, there continues to be a disparity between what is being reported and what investors consider material while making investment decisions. The aim of this research was to throw light on the prominent ESG metrics and reporting frameworks investors are looking at while managing their investment portfolio and the current difficulties that needs to be addressed to achieve full ESG integration. The study was based on a macroeconomic perspective looking at how corporations generally report their sustainability practices globally and the metrics investors use in their decision-making strategies. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards remains the most popular framework for sustainability reporting worldwide and the annual report is held in highest regard for non-financial disclosures by most of the investors. Results show that while the types of ESG metrics sought by investors differs across sectors, Governance, which includes board accountability, executive compensation, human capital management and board diversity seems to be the overriding issue across all industries. Environmental and Social risks are equally critical to financial performance and investors will demand for greater disclosure as more data becomes available. Clarity on investor goals matched with a framework of ESG metrics that meet a high standard of methodological rigor would enable systematic analysis of company performance. It is only a matter of time before full ESG integration becomes mainstream, and by bridging the disclosure gap, both the corporate sector and the investment community can work together towards sustainable development.