Earth Day 2023: Virginia Tech experts on hand to discuss environmental issues and research (2023)

Virginia Tech's media relations office has the following experts available for interviews on environmental, energy and sustainability issues. To make an appointment, please

Rising seas threaten US coasts and cities

A recently publishedrapportof the United Nations on Climate Change found that rising sea levels are "inevitable for centuries to millennia due to continued deep ocean warming and ice melting, and that sea levels will remain high for thousands of years".

Virginia Tech environmental safety expertManoochehr Shirzaeisays that as of the 21st century, the average rate of sea level rise and subsidence has nearly doubled annually due to global warming. "Sea level rise and land subsidence increase the hazards associated with hurricanes, storm surges, coastal erosion and flooding of low-lying coastal areas, where high population densities and assets increase the regions' exposure to hazards." He explains that subsidence can also affect the integrity of coastal structures and increase the likelihood of failure.

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Shirzaei says the solution varies from place to place depending on the individual situation. This may involve improving protective facilities (i.e. dams), raising soils, maintaining and restoring natural protections (i.e. wetlands), controlling subsidence, improving flood resilience, selectively relocating key infrastructure or installing flood warning systems.

The impact of AI on the environment and its sustainability

The rapid growth of artificial intelligence has led to developments such as autonomous vehicles, virtual reality and ChatGPT. But AI technologies and training AI models require a lot of energy, raising concerns about the impact of AI on the environment and its sustainability.

To put AI's energy consumption into perspective, it took nine days to train one of OpenAI's early model chatbots, known as MegatronLM.According to TechTarget, 27,648 kilowatt-hours of energy were consumed over the nine days. That's about the same amount of energy that three American households use in an entire year.

In an effort to make artificial intelligence more sustainable,Walid Saad,with teacher andBradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineeringhos Virginia Tech and Next-G faculty leader for Virginia Tech'sInnovation Campus, explores the concept of green federated learning or green FLin partnership with Amazon. Federated learning is a distributed machine learning technique that enables the implementation of collaborative AI algorithms.

Saad and his team want to make federated learning systems, and more generally distributed AI systems, more sustainable and energy efficient in both the training phase and the inference phase when algorithms are used to perform real-world AI tasks.

Greenwashing leaves false impressions of sustainable economic practices

Do you select companies, for example banks, based on their green initiatives – promises of CO2 reduction or planting trees? You may need to reconsider and investigate the company to see if it is true to its word. Promises to go green are more likely than not to result in companies buying more green, i.e. money, than taking care of Mother Nature.

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Jadrian Wooten, economist at Virginia TechCollege of Sciences, points to the practice of "greenwashing" - where companies give false impressions - be it photos or videos - and/or provide misleading information about how environmentally friendly their products are.

“The biggest issue with greenwashing is whether consumers are actually getting the product they think they are paying for. If your goal is to really have a more sustainable impact, it probably means that it is increasingly important that independent research wins out,” explains Wooten . .

Climate-smart agricultural practices

Adopting climate-smart practices can play an important role in agriculture's success and mitigation of climate-changing gases in the future. ThatCollege of Agriculture and Life Sciencesrecently received an $80 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pilot a program that will pay producers to adopt climate-smart practices on farms of all sizes. ThatMODERN(Rural Investment to Protect our Environment) Partnership is conducting three-year pilot programs in Virginia, Arkansas, Minnesota and North Dakota. If rolled out nationally, RIPE could help producers reduce agricultural emissions by 55% after 10 years and total U.S. emissions by 8%.

“We are proud to lead this effort that gives agricultural producers the incentives to adopt climate-friendly practices and the financial resources to do so,” saysTom Thompson, principal investigator on the project, co-dean of the college and director of CALS Global. "This is a watershed program that helps the agricultural sector take the lead in tackling climate change and achieving sustainable productivity growth." Thompson is available to talk about the RIPE partnership, the smart climate practices that will be introduced and why it is important for reducing emissions. Moreher.

Optimizing the energy consumption of electric vehicles and reducing CO2 emissions from trains

Battery life is becoming a major concern for people driving or considering purchasing an electric vehicle.Hesham Rakha, director ofCenter for Sustainable Mobilityat the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, researches optimizing routes for electric vehicles to travel and highway speeds for electric vehicles to minimize their energy use. Building these methods to optimize electric car journeys may even mean exchanging data between your car and the stoplights you encounter along the road.

Even outside of electric vehicles, the Center for Sustainable Mobility is exploring ways to reduce carbon emissions from rail freight in the United States. “In this work, we are looking at several options, including diesel hybrid, biodiesel, biodiesel hybrid, battery electric trains, overhead line electrification of trains, and hydrogen fuel cells,” he says.

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Helps businesses pay for recycling and reduce energy costs

Industries that want to be good stewards of the environment may find the cost of recycling prohibitive because they lack the technology to convert old plastic into raw material that can be used to make new plastic.Jennifer Russel, an assistant professor forInstitute for Sustainable Biomaterialsin the College of Natural Resources and Environment, has worked to build "circular economies" that make recycling an integral part of the supply chain that already includes manufacturers, retailers and consumers, making that supply chain "circular." Russell's work has focused particularly on polyurethane foam, a substance used in running shoes, car interiors and many other products.

Russell and her students have also engaged with businesses in Virginia to help them lower operating costs by recycling more and reducing energy use. “This is increasingly important for companies because they make sustainability commitments but don't necessarily have the internal resources, capabilities or tools to get started,” she says.

Saving energy and building a more sustainable electricity grid

Power outages have become more and more common in recent years. According to arapportpublished byUS Energy Information Administration, the average person living in the United States in 2020 spent a record eight hours without electricity that year.

To address grid sustainability, innovative approaches to power conversion and related technologies, Virginia Tech expertChristina DiMarinohopes to find a more sustainable and efficient network soon thanks to a new $2.9 million grant recently received fromUnited States Department of Energy.

“Electricity grid technology in the United States is more than 100 years old. Because of this outdated grid technology, it is more susceptible to power outages — especially as we experience more and more extreme weather,” DiMarino said. deployment of renewable energy sources and charging capacity, it places high demands on our grid for which it was not originally designed.

DiMarino's team is trying to create a more streamlined structure that combines the functionality of power electronics with the power density benefits of power lines to replace the bulky substations in the power grid we use today.

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Build community awareness about coping with extreme heat and its impacts

Working on community awareness and solutions to deal with extreme heat. It isTheodore Limsgoals together with more than a dozen partnersNear Roanoke. City government, libraries, public schools, Virginia Tech teachers,carillon clinic,Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action, numerous arts, faith, and service organizations, as well as mental and behavioral health providers, are all participating in the study.

Heat waves are the deadliest of all natural disasters in the United States. But as Lim, an assistant professor of Urban Affairs and Planning iSchool of Public and International Affairsexplains that residents don't often think about how their neighborhood could be endangered during a heat wave. “The neighborhoods with the highest temperatures are also those that suffer from high rates of gun violence, foreclosure and lack of affordable housing, systemic racism and mass incarceration,” says Lim.

The partners have worked together to relate the heat issue more generally to the overall improvement of the neighbourhood, the community and the best outcomes for these residents. To date, this has included the integration of STEM curricula for district heating in K12 classrooms, youth activities, collaborative planning workshops and training of doctors and health professionals. The team currently hopes to expand the programs with workforce development and more youth-based programming.

Social consequences of natural and environmental disasters

Concerns persist following the February train derailment in East Palestine, OH. Chemicals contaminated nearby streams and rivers. It is a disaster that could have major social consequences in the coming years.

As an expert in disaster resilience, it isLiesel Ritchiestask of adopting a sociological approach. Ritchie, professor of sociology and deputy director ofVirginia Tech Center for Coastal Studies, has explored devastating events such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Hurricane Katrina, and several earthquakes around the world. She travels to disaster sites around the world to work with local communities to influence government and industrial policy. "Even after a natural disaster is over, people are going to need help; they're going to need financial support and they're going to need social support," says Ritchie.


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