Areas of Environmental Research
CEP Research Approaches
CEP Research Initiatives




In a university as diverse as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, it is impossible to do justice to all of the faculty expertise. The following is a summary that emphasizes only a portion of Carolina’s research capabilities and sets some research directions for the future. For more details on these and other areas, please contact Dr. David N. McNelis, deputy director and associate director of research programs.

Environmental Health

Within the nationally recognized School of Public Health and School of Medicine, UNC-Chapel Hill has vast resources to address the environmental determinants of human health. Current research emphasizes the study of cancer, reproductive and developmental abnormalities, infectious diseases, diseases of the respiratory tract and many others that may be related to environmental exposures. Expertise includes toxicology, pathology, molecular biology, microbiology, epidemiology, risk assessment and biomathematical modeling. Each of these areas is backed up by state-of-the-art capabilities. One area of current research and outreach interest is determining those environmental factors, such as airborne particles, contributing to elevated incidences of asthma and other diseases in children, especially in North Carolina rural and disadvantaged communities. Unique facilities include the environmental chambers in the Center for Environmental Medicine and Lung Biology for in vivo exposure of healthy and diseased human subjects to inhaled agents.

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Earth System Science

UNC-Chapel Hill has approximately 70 faculty involved in the study of the earth’s natural systems and the corresponding effects of human civilization. Special expertise exists in atmospheric sciences, marine and geological sciences, especially in estuarine and near-coastal waters, water chemistry and limnology, chemical ecology, evolutionary and organismic biology and in ecosystem studies. An example of multidisciplinary research within the CEP is the study of the physical and chemical nature of airborne particulates. Another is the study of the biogeochemical processes that describe the transport and transformation of pollutants within coastal ecosystems, including the atmospheric and hydrologic transport of nutrients into coastal waters and their effects. An extensive array of advanced instrumentation supports work in this field, including isotope mass spectrometry (MS), GC/MS, HPLC/MS, PCR, DNA-sequencing and synthesis and remote sensors. Part of this instrumentation is located at the Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, North Carolina.

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Environmental Modeling and Analysis

UNC-Chapel Hill has substantial faculty resources in the field of environmental modeling, an area that is playing an increasingly important role in virtually all subdisciplines within the broad field of environmental sciences and engineering. This area includes new approaches in the modeling and visualization of natural and perturbed environments, including the development of new mathematical, computational and visualization tools for these purposes. Application areas include porous media systems, surface water systems, indoor air systems, atmospheric systems, coupled systems including ecosystems, exposure analysis, biomathematical modeling and integrated exposure-health effects analysis. Both the curriculum of environmental modeling and the research focus of the students reflect this range of scientific inquiry. An example program involves the development of multi-scale, multimedia models to describe the sources, transport, transformation, fate and effects of contaminant substances being introduced into estuarine or terrestrial environments. Laboratories for simulating ocean processes, hydro-ecology and tropospheric meteorology, aerosols and chemistry are examples of specialized modeling facilities available for these studies.

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Sustainable Environmental Management

This research area uses methods taken from the management and social sciences to analyze the impacts of human activity on the environment, both in historical and contemporary settings, and to develop or assess new approaches to mitigate the impacts of trends such as pollution, population and urban growth. Examples include a thorough reassessment of the major industries of North Carolina and the world and of the management practices of the private and public sectors involved so as to effect minimization of energy consumption and environmental impacts. Research groups in Kenan-Flagler Business School, The Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, the School of Law and several departments in the College of Arts and Sciences are uniquely qualified to lead efforts of these types.

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Environmental Biology and Biotechnology

This research area focuses upon the study of biota for the purpose of understanding the genetic and environmental factors that determine species and ecosystem diversity and vitality. In the CEP the focus of this work is especially in relation to human influences such as land-use effects on biological diversity, effects of pollution on stream and estuarine ecosystems and the use of new biotechnological developments for pollution control and clean manufacturing. The area takes advantage of fundamental studies in molecular, cellular and organismic biology of humans, especially in the School of Medicine and School of Public Health, and systematic, population, evolutionary and organismic studies of other sentinel species or entire ecosystems in the Department of Biology and the Marine Sciences Program. Many studies are closely linked to modeling and biogeochemical studies of natural and impacted ecosystems. State-of-the-art tools such as isotope and molecular mass spectrometry, spectroscopy and electron and light microscopy, plus molecular modeling and bioinformatics laboratories, support these investigations.

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Environment and Human Culture

Faculty in this research area examine the social, legal, cultural and philosophical aspects of environmental protection from both the historical and contemporary viewpoints. The area brings to bear research methods from the social sciences and the humanities and provides innovative perspectives on the factors that contribute to a sustainable society.

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Carolina Environmental Program
CB# 1105, 100 Miller Hall, UNC-Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-1105
Phone: 919-966-9922 | Fax: 919-966-9920 | E-mail: