Consortium for Inter-Disciplinary Environmental Research (CIDER)
Conflicts between the need to provide for an expanding human population while
also protecting the natural environment from anthropogenic impacts are accelerating
rapidly. Such environmental problems are inherently multidimensional and therefore
resolved only by interdisciplinary approaches. CIDER integrates and unites the
outstanding expertise in environmental sciences that exists among many of Stony
Brook University’s leading departments and institutes with that of neighboring
world-class laboratories and industries in the natural, social, engineering,
and health sciences. By combining strengths across disciplines, CIDER positions
Stony Brook to become a leading institution in environmental research and
education at regional, national and international levels, and to seize emerging
opportunities and challenges that stem from the complex interactions between
humans and the natural world.
(1) Unite the outstanding collective research and teaching expertise of Stony Brook
University’s natural, social, engineering, and health science programs with that of nearby private
and federal laboratories and industry to develop coordinated, team-based research on environmental issues.
(2) Focus on complex environmental problems that have multiple causes and effects and that therefore
require multi- and interdisciplinary efforts.
(3) Promote an approach to graduate training that emphasizes in-depth knowledge of a particular
discipline combined with a commitment to apply that expertise to broad, inherently
multidisciplinary environmental problems that are best tackled by teams of scientists working collaboratively.
(4) Educate managers, public officials and the public about environmental issues and suggest appropriate
policies that can be employed to provide solutions, including cost/benefit analyses of various alternatives.
There is a wide spectrum of exciting, state-of-the-art research in many areas of
environmental science at Stony Brook University. Most environmental issues are
multidimensional and must be addressed from an interdisciplinary perspective
that includes the natural, social, health, and engineering sciences. With the
establishment of CIDER, more formalized ties and new collaborations are being
generated among faculty from various administrative homes but with a common
interest in environmental issues. Synergistic interactions among faculty and
graduate students of varying disciplines lead to new and innovative approaches
to address environmental problems. Stony Brook University is a particularly
appropriate place for this consortium due to its unique blend of talent and
important geographic considerations. First, there are few universities that
have leading science and social science departments, marine and atmospheric
scientists, and a research-oriented medical school all co-located on the same
campus. Further, the close administrative and geographic ties with the Brookhaven
National Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory bring added value and
unique facilities to interdisciplinary efforts. The geographic location of
Stony Brook is also ideal for such a consortium. Stony Brook has a wide range
of oceanic, coastal, and terrestrial ecosystems close at hand, and also lies
about halfway along a gradient in human population density and environmental
degradation (habitat destruction, contamination, etc.). Furthermore, it is
also located in a region that is solely dependent upon an aquifer as its sole
source of freshwater and that is also inextricably linked to coastal waters
for recreational and commercial purposes. Consequently, the studies conducted
here could serve as a model for many of the world’s cities, particularly those
in coastal regions. No other program or institution on the Eastern Seaboard
has a public mission to identify, study, publicize, and resolve the unique,
multidimensional environmental problems of New York’s coastal zone from a
Potential Focal Areas
Six foci are described here as examples where CIDER enhances Stony Brook’s
intellectual environment and capability to address multidisciplinary
environmental problems. For each case, it would be considerably more
difficult to involve scientists from the appropriate disciplines without
the formation of a consortium of environmental scientists. The areas described
below are only examples: there are many other opportunities that can be developed.
Environment and human health
Establishing the impact of human activities on environmental health, and
relating environmental factors to human health, are two of the most critical issues of our times.
The urban environment in the New York metropolitan area presents an ideal setting within
which to evaluate these issues. The interdisciplinary approach that many Stony
Brook University faculty embrace, and the broad spectrum of expertise available on this
campus, provide an excellent opportunity to make important new contributions at understanding
environmental impacts at the organismal, community and ecosystem levels, and as well draw links
between diverse environmental factors and public health.
Many human diseases can be linked to environmental causes, including exposure to pathogens
and chemical contaminants. An important route of contaminant and pathogen exposure to humans
is through food consumption, including seafood, and risks associated with the consumption of
contaminated seafood need to be addressed. This is particularly important in urban areas
where aquatic organisms are frequently exposed to elevated contaminant concentrations.
Critical pathway analyses should focus in particular on subsets of the population that
rely on locally caught animals as a source of protein, as they may be at high risk. Faculty
at Stony Brook University are well suited to lead a multidisciplinary effort to describe
the cycling and bioaccumulation of select contaminants in coastal and freshwater systems;
this information would provide a data base to help quantify the exposure of humans to select
contaminants (pesticides and maybe other organic contaminants, metals [e.g., mercury],
metalloids [e.g., arsenic, selenium], and radionuclides from regional facilities and
accidental or terrorist releases).
Scientists at Stony Brook’s Health Science Center can incorporate these data
into physiological and epidemiological studies to explore links between environmental
contamination and disease.
An emerging area of future research involves the interface between ecology and the spread of
infectious disease. It is well known that spatial arrangement of the landscape,
human interaction, and population fluctuations of natural vectors figure importantly
in the spread of disease, both within humans and naturally occurring species populations.
Examples include certain pests (ticks, mosquitoes) and exploited fishery resources.
Stony Brook is a major center for understanding important diseases of this sort, namely
Lyme disease and West Nile virus. Exploring the interface between humans and the ecology
of natural disease vectors would provide important new advances in our understanding of
the spread and genetic diversity of virulence.
The link between sewage and pathogens will also be explored. Marine scientists at Stony Brook
employing new methods for detecting sewage related contaminants and tracers of sewage inputs
will collaborate with microbiologists, infectious disease experts and epidemiologists.
Pathogens can affect human consumers of seafood and affect populations of marine animals
themselves. Further, scientists associated with the Marine Animal Disease Lab at MSRC could
be involved to evaluate impacts on aquatic species and explore potential links to human
consumers through this vector.
The potential link between groundwater contamination and human health is especially
critical on Long Island. The reliance of Long Islanders on a sole source aquifer,
and its use for irrigation water in farming enterprises in Suffolk County (NY State’s
most valuable agricultural county), and the high level of concern regarding increased
cancer incidence among the populace make this an especially good study site. There are
risks associated with pharmaceutical agents, hormones, pesticides, and more conventional
persistent contaminants that Stony Brook faculty will play a significant role in addressing.
The establishment of CIDER helps the faculty in various science departments to take
advantage of the proximity to a major medical center (HSC and Stony Brook Hospital),
one of the world’s foremost laboratories on molecular genetics (Cold Spring Harbor),
and a major federal laboratory with an environmental sciences program (BNL) to address
this important problem. It facilitates increased collaboration between environmental
scientists and faculty in the medical community, including epidemiologists and specialists
in community medicine, as well as basic scientists in infectious diseases, pharmacology
and other units. This interdisciplinary endeavor is also a platform to attract top
Regional climate change: science, impact, mitigation, and policy
Global climate change as a result of increasing amounts of atmospheric greenhouse gases
caused by human activities has received much attention in recent years. As increasingly
definitive observational signatures of global warming are becoming evident from measurements,
societal emphasis will necessarily shift to regional patterns of global climate change.
Regional climate change, however, involves unique multidisciplinary problems. Aside from
global influence, human activities around large cities such as New York City impact regional
climate through urbanization, land use, construction, and pollution. Evidence exists, for
example, that changes in certain climate variables in NYC differ greatly from those near
Stony Brook on Long Island.
There has been little research focusing on regional climate change, yet it is the
regional climate change that directly influences living standards, economic activities,
energy consumption, insurance, transportation, resource management, and public policy.
The science of regional climate change involves the quantification of human forcing on
the regional climate system and the physical, chemical, and hydrological feedback processes
associated with local circulation such as sea-land breeze, clouds, precipitation,
turbulence, convection, biomass, and human behavior. A complete understanding of
these processes requires mathematical modeling of the coupled land-ocean-atmospheric
system with regional landscape and human activities, which also bring challenges and
opportunities in computational sciences and computer graphics, imaging, satellite
technologies and human-environmental interactions. Successful development of a computer
based modeling system of the regional climate also has the potential to be applied to
long-range environmental forecasting, insurance, risk management, financial weather
derivatives, and homeland security. These issues therefore require application of
atmospheric and marine sciences, physics, chemistry, mathematics and computer sciences
to understand the cause and response of the physical system. It also requires economics
and management sciences to describe and project human forcing factors specific to the
Regional climate change will impact marine and terrestrial ecosystems, including
human societies, and such factors as energy consumption, health, transportation, and
management. Quantitative understanding of these links can help stimulate interdisciplinary
thinking that brings together many disciplines in natural and social sciences. The problem
naturally requires a mitigation strategy. Significant engineering opportunities exist to
explore new energy resources and methods to offset the inadvertent human impact on the
natural environment. Policy and management are also an integral part of the mitigation
strategy. This focus area therefore needs social scientists, ecologists, economists, a
nalytical chemists, and medical scientists to address the regional climate change impact,
and engineers and managers to study mitigation and public policy.
One of the leading challenges, and opportunities, facing environmental science in
the 21st century involves the conservation of biological diversity (CBD). From an
ecological perspective, CBD lies at the heart of the functioning of environmental
systems. That is, all environmental processes are mediated, and many regulated, by
organisms. From a public policy perspective, CBD is at the heart of nationally
prominent legislation, e.g., the Endangered Species Act of 1972. As a vehicle for
both education and outreach,
biological diversity is one of the most effective ways to capture the attention and interest
of both students and the public.
Stony Brook is superbly suited to address the breadth and depth of issues involved
in CBD. Faculty from diverse departments are leaders in research on biological
diversity in areas ranging from microbial biology at both geochemical and evolutionary
scales to vertebrate diversity across landscapes. For example, studies on microbial
diversity at Stony Brook have been useful in highlighting the dynamics of disease causing
bacteria and the interplay of microbial ecology and pathogen virulence. Studies on
vertebrate diversity at Stony Brook have played a major role in both basic ecology and
land-use policy in regions as diverse as the Long Island Pine Barrens and the rain forests
The role of organisms and the importance of diversity in mediating biological processes
provide a central core in modern environmental science. On issues ranging from phytoremediation
to toxicology to air and water pollution, biological diversity is crucial. For example, the
plants in terrestrial ecosystems are important sinks of ozone in the lower atmosphere, and
the diversity of plant species is important in modulating ozone concentrations. Bacterial
diversity is essential for the cycling of important nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus,
and human activities that reduce fertility often act through effects on microbial diversity.
Also, in the realm of human disease, studies of microbial and viral diversity have proven
essential to understanding the dynamics of disease transmission and virulence.
In the realm of public policy, much environmental policy is based on legislation
designed to preserve biological diversity or that uses indices of diversity to
evaluate environmental impacts. As noted above, the ESA of 1972 is central to
many environmental efforts in the USA from local to national scales. Other crucial
legislation, e.g., the Clean Water Act, uses biological diversity as a core criterion
for evaluating the impacts of human activities on the environment. Diversity, per se,
has become an important tool in the shaping of public policy. Many conservation
efforts are grounded upon in the goal of diversity preservation, and diversity as
a concept has been highly successful in shaping public debate.
Stony Brook particularly has great cross-departmental strength in the study of the
conservation of tropical environments. Topics range from the design and surveying of
large tropical preserves to multidisciplinary ecological studies of threatened species
of groups such as primates; these have major ecological impacts on forests and are also
of great interest to the public.
Many of the world’s most precious and ecologically valuable marine habitats
have declined dramatically, some to the brink of collapse. The causes are a
combination of over-harvesting, pollution, over-development in the coastal zone,
and habitat damage due to excessive human activity. These pressures will accelerate
in the near future as global fishery landings continue to decline and new forms of
offshore development, such as the creation of wind energy farms, increase. In New
York, the problem is especially severe. Nearly all of New York’s shellfish fisheries
(hard clams, oysters, scallops, lobsters) are economically extinct, hypoxia and
harmful algal blooms plague our waters, and salt marshes are being lost at an alarming
rate. With sea level expected to rise another 1-3 feet within the next 50-100 years,
combined with shoreline hardening (e.g., by sea walls) caused by human development,
New York may lose much of its productive shallow habitat in the very near future.
The rapid pace of marine ecosystem decline in many parts of the world has led many
scientists to argue that a completely new approach to protection of the marine environment
is needed. As has been done for years in terrestrial habitats, human activities
in the marine environment may need to be regulated in a spatially-explicit manner
so as to protect ecologically sensitive habitats. Some areas would be set aside as
fully protected marine sanctuaries or reserves, while other areas would be designated
for recreational or commercial fishing, transportation and dredging (shipping, ferries),
wind energy farms, jet skiing, and waste disposal, etc. The U.S. Oceans Commission Report
strongly endorsed this approach in January 2004 and the Pew Foundation Oceans Commission
has already called for extensive use of protected areas. Such plans remain controversial
and their implementation and/or likelihood of success is a multidimensional problem,
involving not only marine scientists but also social scientists, economists, and public
planners. With strengths in many of these areas, SBU will play a leadership role in
designing new approaches to protecting marine biodiversity while sustaining economic
benefits provided by ocean resources.
Transferable Development Rights
The State of New York passed the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act in 1993. This
began one of the most interesting ongoing experiments in limiting development in
environmentally fragile areas. It is based on the concept of transferable development
rights. For a number of reasons, now is a good time for a multidisciplinary team to
evaluate how well the Act has done in protecting the Pine Barrens. One reason is that
the Act has now been operational for long enough for its effects to be observable. A
second reason is that CIDER can now bring together a multidisciplinary group with a
great deal of experience both with environmental change in the Pine Barrens and with
the economics of transferable development rights policies. The lessons from the Pine
Barrens are potentially important for producing better environmental policies across
a wide spectrum of problems. Because transferable development rights policies are relatively
market-friendly they can often achieve good results at a comparatively low social and economic cost.
Environmental engineering and industrial outreach
A consortium approach is extremely valuable for pursuing new research and
educational directions related to environmental engineering. For example,
a systems approach to energy issues needs to incorporate electrical and
mechanical engineering, materials expertise, environmental science, computer
science, operations research, risk analysis, and economic and management skills
to be successful. An integrated approach to environmental remediation must take
into account various technological issues (such as materials science, molecular
and dynamic computer modeling, sensor technology and bioengineering) as well as
issues related to societal impact (such as long-term site stewardship by communities),
human and ecological health, the political landscape and economic feasibility of
new methods for pollution prevention and clean up. Without this type of integrated
approach -- highlighted by access to diverse skills and knowledge – the process of
identifying opportunities, competing for new funding, and succeeding in development
of sustainable collaborative programs is extremely difficult (if not impossible).
Likewise, using engineering approaches to problem solving can bring added value to
collaborative efforts in the basic sciences and other areas. Hence a model for
university-industrial collaboration could be developed for industrial outreach
and partnering for design, research and development, and technology transfer.
An important reason for creating CIDER is to enable SBU and its partners to
compete more effectively for large interdisciplinary grants that require
integration across traditional academic boundaries while also providing
enhanced opportunities for education and public outreach. In 1998, the
National Science Board established the Task
Force on the Environment within its Committee on Programs and Plans. The Task
Force provided guidance to the National Science Foundation (NSF) in defining the
scope of its role with respect to environmental research, education, and scientific
assessment and in determining the best means of implementing related activities.
The report, Environmental Science and Engineering for the 21st Century:
The Role of the National Science Foundation was issued in February 2000. One major
result of this report was the establishment of the NSF Working Group on
Biocomplexity in the Environment, later renamed the Working Group on Environmental
Research and Education (ERE). NSF’s commitment to ERE is underscored by the followi
integrate holistic multidisciplinary investments with disciplinary-intensive
opportunities. Because of the tremendous opportunity for advances in environmental
science and engineering revealed by this integrative approach, NSF considers
environmental research and education a strategic priority for the Foundation.
In FY 2001, funding in ERE areas totaled approximately $825 million, roughly
one-fifth of NSF's research budget.” NIH also has large programs that deal with
the connection between environmental science and human health.
Currently, faculty in many departments at Stony Brook are engaged in different facets of
environmental science and are associated with CIDER. Additionally, various institutes and
cross-disciplinary research programs at Stony Brook are active in environmental research,
including the Center for Environment Molecular Science,
the Long Island Groundwater
Research Institute, the
Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments, the Living Marine Resources Institute,
the Waste Reduction and Management
Institute for Terrestrial and Planetary Atmospheres, and 3MT. CIDER has a core faculty whose
principal goals are to build the institute
through research and teaching in collaborations that extend across departments and other
organizations both on and off campus.
Each of the faculty members has a home in one of the existing Stony Brook University
departments or at Brookhaven National Lab, but also has a commitment to the activities
and mission of the Consortium. They form the core faculty from which, together with many
affiliated and adjunct faculty, would emerge an intellectual community dedicated to
broad-based environmental research, education, and policy issues.