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by Mark Putnam
Earth science is not just about geology and geophysics anymore, and the Department of Geosciences at the University of Houston is broadening the field.

The department’s expanded focus includes successful research programs like the Institute for Multi-dimensional Air Quality Studies (IMAQS) and the new bachelor of science degree in environmental science. In addition, the department has proposed new MS and PhD programs in atmospheric sciences. Investigations of the earth’s air quality, air and ocean circulation, and weather systems leads to improved living conditions and quality of life and helps attract more students to earth sciences.

“Questions concerning atmospheric sciences, local and global air quality, and global climate change are some of the most critical issues of our day,” explains John Casey, chair of the Department of Geosciences. “Today, students are increasingly interested in problems of the environment and sustainable development.”

The university is beginning to gain significant notoriety for its increasing contributions to earth system science.

Scientists from IMAQS are currently collaborating on the Texas Air Quality Study II (TexAQS II).  The goal of this project is to gain a better understanding of Houston’s unique atmospheric chemistry and the problems it poses to the community. The study is capitalizing on the UH Moody Tower Atmospheric Chemistry Facility and other resources unique to the university. In addition, UH atmospheric scientists now provide 48-hour ozone forecasting, updated daily for the Houston region on the IMAQS Web site.

The development of research programs in atmospheric sciences also led to UH being voted in as a member of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) in 2005. The University of Houston is only the fifth Texas university to be granted membership in UCAR.

Dr. Robert Harriss, president of the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Earth System Science Education, believes this is a great opportunity for Houston.

“It’s exciting to see UH investing in the earth and atmospheric sciences. The integration of these disciplines is a crucial element for designing sustainable solutions that address state and national needs.”

Some of the most rapidly growing research areas in the department include atmospheric chemistry, climate change, air quality monitoring, hurricane dynamics, plate tectonics, and applied and earthquake seismology.

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© University of Houston 2006