RWC Research Themes

No management or policy decision affects everyone equally. Research in environmental sociology, public policy, natural resource management, and other fields makes it clear that when we manage a social-ecological system, we must always ask the question, “manage for whom?”. What is most unequally distributed by management and policy decisions are costs and benefits. Countless studies now document that the best predictors of a person’s likelihood of being exposed to air, water, and soil contamination are their social class, race, and ethnicity. Poor communities and communities of color often lack the power to resist or even be included in decisions about the distribution of costs and benefits in social-ecological systems. Trainees focused in this theme will build disciplinary expertise in environmental sociology, public policy, and natural resources management.

Rivers in the CRB are experiencing chemical contamination, high nutrient loading, temperature increases, and invasive species, which alone or in combination can have dramatic effects on the health of animal and plant communities, and by extension, impacts on human communities. Exposure to contaminants or temperature extremes can harm individual species, biomagnify to higher trophic levels, and can, through consumption of water or food affected by contaminants, affect human health. Progress in understanding and mitigating the impacts of degraded water quality has focused on individual contaminants or temperature regimes in particular systems, but less is known about the distribution and multi-scale ecological effects of pollution. Trainees focused in this theme will build disciplinary expertise in human and/or environmental biology, geochemistry, hydrology, and natural resources management.

As communities deal with the impacts of climate change, urbanization, and agricultural development, they must also confront ancillary hazards, such as an increasing threat of severe wildfires and greater recognition of the unknown and unequal impacts that increased pollution from agricultural, industrial, and urban land uses pose to people and ecosystems. Trainees in this theme will focus on systems approaches and may study topics such as the impacts of more frequent/severe wildfires on water quality, ecosystem water budgets, the role of green infrastructure in mitigating urban-derived water pollution, or modeling the extent and severity of groundwater contamination in agricultural or industrial communities. Trainees focused in this theme will build disciplinary expertise in data synthesis, socio-environmental modeling, and natural resources management.