West Texas A&M University

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Environmental Science Program Information

Environmental Science Program Information

WTAMU Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Science

Program MissionEnvironmental 1

The mission of the Environmental Science program is to promote the rigorous science-based education, laboratory research, field study and service in environmental and geological sciences. Our curricular and educational activities target teaching environmental and geological science to all age groups in the Texas Panhandle community. Combining the topics of environmental and geological science is an efficient and interesting tool to connect audiences with fundamental science by demonstrating how science is applicable to interpret, digest and solve every-day life problems. Our students will be trained to prepare for a wide possibility of career paths through participation in our program. We aim at fostering self-directed learners who are creative, productive, collaborative and agile. Students in our program will develop their problem-solving skills that can be directly applicable in real-world environmental issues. Providing theoretical principles and sponsoring real-world applications of science in a multitude of environments are key for the students to acquire problem solving and critical thinking skills, strengthening their cultural competence and leading to their scientific breakthrough. Our program serves the needs of students preparing for an advanced environmental- and/or geo-science career, understanding the interaction between people and the environment, safeguarding the public from environmental hazards, and preserving critical environmental and geological resources. Our goals fit with the Department’s curricular goals and program evaluation. Our department houses museum quality collections of environmental and geological specimens for use by students, faculty, and qualified outside researchers. We furnish well-equipped laboratories and field equipment for use in research by both students and faculty. The faculty members serve the region with educational and consulting expertise in select areas of the environmental and geological sciences.

Environmental Science as a ProfessionEnvironmental 2

Environmental science is an interdisciplinary science which focuses on the interaction between people and the environment. The environmental scientist has two challenging, sometimes conflicting, goals in preparing to meet the challenges of the 21st century:

  • to protect the public from environmental hazards and
  • to preserve critical environmental resources

To accomplish these goals, the environmental scientist must be well trained in the fields of agriculture, biology, chemistry, economics, geography, geology and mathematics, and must be able to apply information drawn from these fields to the solution of environmental problems. The work of the environmental scientist is highly varied.

  • Environmental scientists in an academic field work on air quality research, climate science, water resource management and sustaining other environmental resources.
  • Environmental scientists working for governmental agencies may direct and conduct stream monitoring programs, underground water and soils cleanup programs or programs to protect them from pollution or help make and enforce regulations to protect endangered ecosystems of plants and animals.
  • Environmental scientists with public utility companies help select the most environmentally appropriate routes for power transmission lines, manage air emission programs and hazardous waste management.
  • With a petroleum company or a mining company, an environmental scientist might help design a waste-water treatment facility or monitor air quality in the vicinity of a refinery or open-pit mine.
  • An environmental scientist with a consulting firm might advise a municipal government on the most suitable location for a sanitary landfill or a department store chain on the best place for a mall.

The demand for environmental scientists continues to increase as world population grows and the need for safeguarding people and protecting the environment increases. Environmental science is a field with equal opportunities for men and women. Those who choose environmental science as a profession generally find the work to be both exciting and meaningful. Salaries typically exceed those in other fields of science.

Because environmental science is an applied science, students who choose to major in it should have a greater-than-average ability in science and mathematics. They also should have a strong interest in environmental protection and a commitment to public service.

The environmental science program is administratively based in the Department of Life, Earth and Environmental Sciences. Most of the required courses are taught in the Agriculture and Natural Sciences Building which has well equipped classrooms, laboratories and offices. Killgore Research Center, the Computer Center, the Alternative Energy Institute, the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center, the Texas A&M Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and other local research entities provide additional opportunities for study and student research. Within the region, many opportunities for internships and employment exist in consulting firms, manufacturing, petroleum production, agriculture, renewable energy research and regional governmental centers.


Environmental Science at West Texas A&M University

Environmental 3

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved West Texas A&M University’s application for an undergraduate environmental science program in 1992, followed by its graduate program in 1994. Because environmental problems involve all aspects of the natural environment as well as the human population, the curriculum is multidisciplinary with a strong emphasis on basic sciences. Required courses for the major total approximately 80 semester hours concentrated in the areas of biology, chemistry, geology, geoscience and mathematics. A feature of the program is a series of courses in environmental science, including an internship to provide practical work experience. Courses in environmental impact statements, law and economics are also included. The program provides a multidisciplinary perspective but also provides adequate depth in technical areas. For students who want additional training in one of the basic sciences, the environmental science degree can be combined with a degree in biology, chemistry or geology.

Degree Requirements in Environmental Science

BS Environmental Science – Option I
BS Environmental Science/Geology Emphasis – Option II
MS Environmental Science

Environmental Science Research at WTAMU

Undergraduates are encouraged to conduct or to participate in emerging and ongoing research activities at WTAMU. This hands-on experience makes WTAMU’s environmental science graduates very competitive in the job market. In addition, many environmental science graduates are able to obtain research grants or local employment and are able to pursue a Master’s Degree in Environmental science. This early research experience provides the student with a head start on his/her advanced degree. Some research areas are listed below:

Research on Vertical Profiling of Ambient Aerosols

Environmental 4Dust clouds have long been known to affect regional air quality in the Texas Panhandle. Despite previous efforts, the knowledge gap still remains on vertical variabilities of ambient properties and aerosol concentrations. In particular, near-surface vertical profiling of ambient aerosol properties is cumbersome due to a lack of reasonable experimental platforms that can offer reliable measurements. To fill this gap, we developed the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) outfitted with air quality remote sensors. An array of our low frequency wave (λ ~ 33 µm) transmission environmental sensors measured gradients of temperature, pressure, relative humidity, PM1 (ultra fine particulate matter that has 1 micrometers or less in diameter), PM2.5 (fine particulate matter that has 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter) and PM10 (coarse particulate matter that has 10 micrometers or less in diameter) concentrations in a rural setting in the Texas Panhandle.

 

Laboratory investigation on Arctic aerosols collected in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard

Environmental 5The change in cloud feedbacks affects the Arctic atmosphere, known as the Arctic polar amplification, where the temperature is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet. Our scientific knowledge regarding the contribution of aerosol-cloud interactions on the Arctic amplification remains scarce. In March of 2017, we collected aerosol samples to study the atmospheric ice nucleating particles in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard. Our research may contribute in revealing the identity of Arctic INPS and provide information regarding how they interact with water vapor and/or supercooled water droplets in the Arctic mixed-phase clouds. This data will be crucial to constrain current atmospheric models and estimate their potential impact on aerosol-cloud-climate interactions of the Arctic region.

Environmental Risk Assessment Research

Environmental 6We have on-going research projects on environmental assessment, decision support modeling, environmental risk modeling, toxicology, environmental remediation, waste management and handling with emphasis on natural resource and environmental quality protection. Currently, we are directing a project sponsored by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to development a database and tool to derive ecological protective cleanup levels for contaminated sites.

Research in Nano-liter Droplet Freezing

Environmental 7The West Texas A&M Cryogenic Refrigerator Applied to Freezing Test (WT-CRAFT) is a cloud simulation chamber that uses droplet freezing technique to detect ice nucleating particles (INPs) submersed within super-cooled water droplets. The objective of this research was to improve the ice detection capabilities  by installing a high-resolution microscopic video system and reduce the probability of observed artifacts for the WT-CRAFT by reducing the individual droplet volume ( < 3 µL).  The use of HPLC grade ultrapure water without any added INPs will be an indicator of any background influences affecting the experimental procedures in the cloud simulation chamber. A series of experiments using a varying droplet volume to measure the frozen fraction as a function of temperature has been analyzed.

 

Investigating the Contribution of Agricultural Dusts to Atmospheric Hail Formation

Environmental 8A minor fraction of the atmospheric aerosol forming ice particles, so-called ice-nucleating particles (INPs), can have a major impact on the local weather (e.g., hail storm formation) in the Texas Panhandle. In particular, agricultural soil dusts are recently found as an important INP due to their abundance and ice nucleation efficiency. To gain more knowledge, we investigated a unique/rich set of aerosol and ice crystal residual (i.e., leftover particle after evaporating water content) samples derived from an agricultural operation. We characterized the nanoscale surface morphology and elemental/molecular composition of such pair of samples to identify and classify any specific mineral and organic inclusions that may have promoted atmospheric ice nucleation and hail storm formation. Comparing total aerosols to residuals will shed light on the composition and abundance of certain particle types in INPs and what aerosol properties trigger atmospheric ice nucleation.

Research on the Laboratory-synthesized Lead Oxide Particles as the Proxy of Lead-containing Aerosols

Environmental 9Atmospheric aerosols, in particular lead oxide (PbO), act as ice nucleating particles (INPs), and influence rainfall. Ultimately, atmospheric ice nucleation derived from PbO may contribute to affecting the distribution of water across multiple ecosystems as well as weather patterns. It is known that aerosols affect the environment but not much is known on how much is from PbO. Here, lead-containing aerosols is of particular interest because it is emitted in large quantities worldwide with an estimated 13,156 tons in Europe in 2010 and about 1,207 tons being emitted in the U.S. during 2008. We investigated PbO as a potential INP and how it affects the onset of immersion freezing (i.e., ice nucleation of immersed PbO particles in water droplets) in simulated supercooled clouds.

Laboratory investigation of non-proteinaceous and proteinaceous biological particulate proxies

Environmental 10Glaciation of atmospheric clouds by immersion freezing is an important atmospheric process, which is affecting the formation of cloud and precipitation, as well as Earth’s energy budget. Our research using surrogates of biological ice-nucleating particles is important in the Texas Panhandle where both non-proteinaceous and proteinaceous biological aerosols are abundant in the atmosphere. This study presents the differences in the laboratory-measured freezing capabilities of the biological aerosols to determine which has more potential to impact the ice nucleation in the clouds. Our research outputs will be valuable for predicting regional impact of aerosol-cloud interactions in the Southern Great Plains.

 

Combustion Coal Ash Research in the Texas Panhandle

Environmental 11Immersion freezing is a primary pathway for the development of ice nucleating particles (INPs) in super-cooled water droplets in the atmosphere, which can impact local weather and public health (i.e. hail formation and air quality). The diversity and quantity of INPs has influenced investigation into the physico-chemical properties of coal combustion ash. We examined the molecular composition, nanoscale surface morphology, and freezing efficiency for two by-products of coal combustion relevant to the local Texas Panhandle region, specifically fly ash (F_Ash_TX_PH) and bottom ash (B_Ash_TX_PH) (sieved to <45mm).  We demonstrate the diversity between the coal combustion ash by-products and their effect on ice nucleation efficiency.

 

Environmental Science Society

Environmental 12The environmental science society (a.k.a., ESS) provides the student with an opportunity to meet and to work with their peers. The ESS takes field trip to such locations as the Nevada Test Site, Rocky Flats Colorado, and even fun trips such as white water rafting down the Colorado and the Guadalupe Rivers. The organization holds bimonthly meetings.

env.sci.soc@gmail.com

 

Financial Aid

Environmental 13Scholarships and other forms of financial aid are available. In addition, advanced undergraduate students are employed as assistants in laboratory courses each semester. Undergraduate students may also be employed as research assistants on funded research projects. Work study and student loans are available through the University. For More Information, contact the Environmental Science program faculty members (contacts available through web links below). West Texas A&M University serves people of all ages, regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, gender, religion, disability or national origin. WTAMU is an affirmative action/equal employment opportunity institution.

Faculty

Dr. William Jim Rogers

Dr. Naruki Hiranuma