From major elements such as carbon and nitrogen to trace elements such as arsenic and uranium, faculty and students in the ESS department study the biological, chemical, and physical processes driving their cycling through land systems (including soils, lakes, streams, and groundwater), oceans, and atmosphere.
In our research we seek to define processes (chemical, biological, and hydrological) that control the cycling of elements ranging from iron to carbon to to arsenic within soils, sediments and surface waters. Much of our research examines reactions influencing the element availability to plants and animals, and their propensity to migrate in the environment.
Our research interests center on the molecular, biochemical, and ecological aspects of themicrobial geochemical cycling of nitrogen and metals in the environment. We are particularly interested in determining the key organisms, functional genes, and molecular mechanisms underlying these biogeochemical processes through both laboratory and field studies.
Our research interests span a range of topics including the scientific basis for water resources management, hydroecology / ecohydrology, surface - groundwater interactions, groundwater allocation policy, fluid flow and solute transport processes, innovative simulation techniques, and cutting-edge technologies in hydrogeophysics and remote sensing in hydrology.
The Vitousek Group and colleagues carry out research related to nutrient cycling, most notably nitrogen and phosphorus, throughout the range of environments and ecosystems. The Hawaiian Islands are the focus of the majority of studies. Our group has looked at nutrient dynamics in the soil profile, litter, native forest ecosystems, forest and grassland systems affected by invasive species and agricultural systems. Studies have documented how an invasive grass has changed the fire frequency and suppressed the ability of the native forest to return.