Environmental System Science Program


The Environmental System Science (ESS) program advances an integrated, robust, and scale-aware predictive understanding of terrestrial systems and their interdependent biological, chemical, ecological, hydrological, and physical processes. ESS is part of the Earth and Environmental Systems Sciences Division (EESSD) within the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER). The ESS program is developing an integrated framework using a systems approach to unravel the complex processes and controls on the structure, function, feedbacks, and dynamics of terrestrial ecosystems, spanning from the bedrock through the rhizosphere and vegetation to the atmospheric surface layer. The scope encompasses watersheds and coastal zones, terrestrial-aquatic interfaces, and understudied ecosystems that represent a significant knowledge gap in local and regional process models and predictive Earth system models.

ESS Website in Transition

ESS merges two former BER programs, Subsurface Biogeochemical Research (SBR) and Terrestrial Ecosystem Science (TES). Nevertheless, projects that historically were funded by one program or the other are still part of the ESS program as it continues to evolve. Until the program integration is complete, site visitors can navigate among all three sites using the ribbon menu at the top.

Research Approach

To achieve a predictive understanding of terrestrial systems, ESS uses a coupled modeling-experimental (ModEx) approach for examining terrestrial system properties that exhibit large uncertainties in their functions, feedbacks, and dynamics and, consequently, are insufficiently captured in open-source or community models. The program aims to improve the representation of ecological and hydro-biogeochemical processes in coupled models, thereby increasing the sophistication of the projected interpretations from those models. Model predictions are also compared against observations or field experiments to identify critical uncertainties that can inform priorities for future observational and field research directions.

ESS is a recognized leader in undertaking and integrating research across disciplines (e.g., microbial, vegetative, geochemical, and hydrological), as well as applying state-of-the-art ecosystem manipulations to understand inherent and emergent properties of changes to Earth and environmental systems. Ultimately, the program uses the knowledge gained from these approaches to advance models that capture the function and dynamics of watershed and ecosystem processes.