Researcher at work

Environmental and Water Resources Engineering (EWRE) has evolved over the past 20 years beyond just air quality engineering, water and wastewater treatment, hazardous waste remediation, and drinking water resources. It now includes clean energy, indoor air quality, climate change, emerging contaminants characterization, eco- and socio-hydrology, and ocean engineering. A more systems oriented evaluation of challenges in EWRE has also emerged, with the goal of characterizing and designing for sustainability.

Cutting-edge research has led the evolution in EWRE, and we broadly categorize current research activities in EWRE at UT Austin into one of four broad (and sometimes overlapping) areas:

  1. air, climate and energy
  2. sustainable water systems
  3. water resources and the environment
  4. contaminant fate and transport.

Research activities in these areas in EWRE at UT Austin are described below.

Air, Climate and Energy

Research in this area is interdisciplinary, and encompasses atmospheric chemistry, ambient air quality monitoring and modeling, indoor air quality, air pollution control, and climate change mitigation. Projects currently underway in this area include characterization and control of hazardous air pollutants in both indoor and outdoor environments, acid deposition modeling, ozone and fine particulate matter field studies, indoor air quality assessments in schools, indoor air chemistry, vapor phase bioreactor development, and geological carbon sequestration.

Sustainable Water Systems

Current research in sustainable water systems encompasses three main categories of treatment processes: separations, biological transformations, and chemical transformations. Applications include drinking water treatment, municipal and industrial wastewater treatment, hazardous waste management and treatment, soil remediation, and industrial process waters. The objectives of specific projects include understanding fundamental molecular- and nano-scale mechanisms, developing new (nano)materials and treatment processes, and improving the technical, economic, and social quality of existing treatment processes.

Water Resources and the Environment

This area encompasses computational, laboratory, and field research relevant to basic and applied fluid flow phenomena in the environment and oceans, surface and ground water hydrology, and water resources planning and management. Current projects include laboratory studies of flow through highway culverts, computational studies of cavitation around ship propellers and wave-body interactions, field studies linked to modeling of transport processes in lakes, and modeling of circulation in estuaries, hydrologic modeling using geographic information systems, computer and statistical methods in water resources, spatial water balances, flood mapping, water resources systems analysis, groundwater modeling and management, multiphase flow, and optimization, uncertainty, and reliability analysis. The objectives of the research are improving our understanding of the fundamentals of fluid-flow, and development of techniques for improved modeling, application of laboratory, field, and modeling studies to the solution of engineering and water resources problems.

Contaminant Fate and Transport

Research on water quality management focuses on the processes and engineering systems that control the quality, transport, and fate of pollutants in surface and subsurface waters. Pollutants include legacy pollutants remaining from decades-old releases, nutrients, emerging contaminants of increasing concern (e.g., pharmaceuticals and personal care products), and nanomaterials with unknown environmental consequences. Applications include stormwater quality management and control, estimation of receiving water total maximum daily loads, assessment of effects of transport processes on water quality in lakes, reservoirs, and groundwater aquifers, and characterization and modeling of chemical releases from contaminated soils and their impact on remediation endpoints.