AUSTIN, Texas—The University of Texas at Austin has established a new Environmental Science Institute in the College of Natural Sciences, with Dr. Jay L. Banner as its director. Banner, an associate professor in the department of geological sciences, is the Dave P. Carlton Centennial Fellow in Geology.
“I hope and expect that the institute will be the means of fostering new research and teaching interactions and of attracting significant additional federal, state and private funds to research and teaching endeavors in this area,” said Dr. Mary Ann Rankin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences.
The new institute will be multidisciplinary, which means it will coordinate teaching and research activities in a variety of academic subjects. Organizers said the complex interactions of the Earth’s atmosphere, bedrock and soils, water cycle and the planet’s biological resources require expertise from many fields. That’s why a multidisciplinary approach is crucial for environmental research.
The institute will draw on the resources of the School of Biological Sciences; the departments of geological sciences, geography, chemistry and biochemistry; the Marine Science Institute; the Institute for Geophysics; and the Texas Memorial Museum. Experts from the Bureau of Economic Geology, the Center for Space Research, the Center for Energy & Environmental Resources in the College of Engineering, the Institute of Latin American Studies and the LBJ School of Public Affairs also will be contributing.
Organizers said the institute would provide the infrastructure needed for large-scale research projects. Researchers will not only investigate topics of global concern but local environmental issues as well, for example, the impact of urbanization on the Edwards Aquifer in Central Texas. The institute will encourage coordination among scientists studying the aquifer.
“There is a lot of research going on in the Edwards Aquifer by people at UT Austin and at city, state and federal government agencies, but with little coordination or interchange of ideas,” said Banner. “This includes biologists, botanists, geologists, hydrologists and others. As we face a doubling of population in Central Texas and uncertain climatic patterns over the next generation, it’s imperative that we do better at learning the most we can about how the aquifer works.”
Fluctuating water levels in the aquifer are of major concern to Austin, San Antonio and nearby Williamson County, one of the fastest growing counties in the United States, as well as to farmers and ranchers and the tourism and recreation industries. As populations grow, maintaining water quality and quantity is essential, Banner said.
Banner said the institute would be focused more on studies of the fundamental processes involved in the environment’s physical, chemical and biological systems, rather than on studies that develop environmental policy.
“I think a big part of this institute also should be about education and public outreach — to be able to disseminate scientific data in a way that’s clearly understandable to people who need that information, including those who are not scientists,” said Banner. “I see one role of the environmental science institute really as providing some of the data that will help clarify the debates on environmental issues.”
Banner has been at the UT Austin department of geological sciences since 1990. His research focuses on carbonate and groundwater geochemistry, including the application of field, petrologic and chemical methods to studying the chemical evolution of groundwater and ancient oceans and the control of variable climate on these processes. He teaches undergraduate classes in environmental issues, sedimentology and field geology, as well as graduate classes in environmental isotope geochemistry and geologic records of environmental change.
Banner received his Ph.D. at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1986 and continued his education with a post-doctoral fellowship, jointly appointed by the California Institute of Technology and Louisiana State University from 1986 through 1989.
For more information, contact Dr. Jay L. Banner at (512) 471-5016 or e-mail: email@example.com