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Research Areas

Research Areas

Resilience: Building resilience is about managing change. But context matters - resilience of what and for whom? At IREES, our research focuses on building capacity to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to change to help enable a more sustainable, inclusive, and prosperous future.

windmills and solar panels

Transforming Energy and Infrastructure Systems

Low-Carbon Energy & Infrastructure

Waste carbon-based emissions from energy and infrastructure systems are among the largest sources of heat-trapping gases (greenhouse gases) that are contributing to the growing threat of climate change. The impacts of climate change—increasing heat extremes, changing rainfall patterns, rising sea level, declining snowpack, and worsening air quality— are, in turn, increasing the vulnerability of our critical infrastructure. Stormwater systems are failing to cope with record-breaking rainfall events, extreme droughts and declining snowpack are limiting hydropower productivity, summer heatwaves are leading to more blackouts, and more intense hurricanes are disrupting energy transmission and distribution lines along with other critical infrastructure.

In response, countries around the world are taking measures to reduce the rate and magnitude of future climate change by committing to decrease emissions of greenhouse gases and accelerate efforts to directly remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These endeavors must include solutions that enable deep decarbonization of the energy systems that underpin our economies in order to mitigate the worst effects of climate change and secure our energy future. However, the opportunity to reduce emissions is present across all sectors, and the need for solutions is vast. Durable solutions toward a “net-zero” emissions future where emissions are removed from the atmosphere at the same rate they are added, however, must consider social, economic and environmental dimensions—with a deliberate focus on transitions that are just.

IREES will support and expand the university’s energy and infrastructure expertise and leverage Oklahoma’s considerable wind, solar, biomass, and natural gas resources to drive innovation and accelerate implementation of solutions. We aim to design our energy and infrastructure systems—from the nano-scale to the regional scale—for a future that is resilient to climate change, sustainable and equitable for all communities.

The IREES community of scholars pursues research in hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels, energy efficient buildings, climate-adaptive transportation and freight infrastructure, photovoltaics, bioenergy and carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS), and more. Our initiatives in these areas combine researchers from natural, physical and social science, engineering, petroleum engineering, and mathematics fields with external contributors and stakeholders to better understand decision-making and behavior, including the roles of economic incentives, political institutions, cultural and social influences, and ethics in shaping those decisions. With this convergence approach and wide focus, we see endless opportunity to help enable just transitions toward a sustainable future

earth and data

Co-generating Community Resilience and Environmental Justice 

Sustainable Societies

Two global trends similar in speed, scale, and systems impact are changing the way we live, work, and relate to one another. These trends have no historical precedent, are driven by science and technology, and the changes they bring are wholly transformative. The first is technology-based. Digitization, artificial intelligence, robotics, quantum computing, advanced materials, 3D printing, and biotechnology are reshaping industries and creating entirely new ones—online learning, self-driving cars, genetic editing, and e-commerce. The second trend is Earth systems-based. Climate change, resource depletion, loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification, and chemical pollution are straining the planet’s life-sustaining services. These two trends are tightly linked, and on their current trajectory, they are neither sustainable nor equitable.

Governments, investors, business and civil society are transitioning away from emissions-intensive energy sources and manufacturing practices and taking steps to build more resilient, sustainable communities and economies. Managing a just transition toward these goals requires inclusive decision making and equitable distribution of benefits and burdens—but this is easier said than done.  Patterns of environmental injustice have made disadvantaged communities, especially communities of color and Indigenous Peoples, disproportionately vulnerable to environmental harm and excluded from the benefits of new technologies. We need transformational change to break these patterns.

IREES connects stakeholders and scholars in research endeavors that seek to understand the multiple interacting dimensions of transformational change. IREES teams work together with national, regional, and place-based partners on solutions that strengthen and empower communities, create new economic opportunities, and support environmental improvement. Our integrated approach considers how social, political, economic, cultural, technological, and environmental conditions interact to shape outcomes. We are asking questions that explore, for example, who decides what kind of transitions are needed, how are vulnerable groups included in decision making processes, who is affected by the benefits and the burdens of change, and how can mitigation and adaptation efforts be distributed in safe and just ways. 

earth and data

Observing and Predicting Earth Systems

Earth Systems & Global Change

Extraordinary advances in science and technology have enabled the collection, storage, and analysis of massive data streams monitoring the Earth’s systems, improving our understanding of the impact of human development not only on our immediate, local environments, but on the global environment as well. We know that the current concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has not been seen on our planet in over 3 million years. Climate change is increasing the severity and frequency of extreme weather events around the world. Today, one in five species on Earth faces extinction. Widespread nitrogen and phosphate pollution in rivers has created oxygen-starved “dead zones” downstream and diminished water quality.

These conditions are observed as a shift from a steady-state, predictable global environment that has allowed humanity to flourish, to a planet trending toward a state that is less predictable, less stable, with fewer natural resources. Addressing the trajectory of these trends and guiding society toward a more sustainable, resilient future will rely on our ability to observe, understand, and predict the complex interactions among Earth’s coupled natural-human systems.

To address this challenge, IREES connects teams of scholars from fields as diverse as public health, meteorology, political science, geology, engineering, urban planning, ecology and agriculture with stakeholder communities in convergence approaches that maximize the social value of our research and creative endeavors. We are asking questions such as how will future climate change impact the function and diversity of soil microbiomes; can next-generation radar imaging be used to detect and predict insect and avian migration; how can we build resilience to climate change; what are the connections between air pollution and urban heat island effects; can we design “smart wetlands” and other green infrastructure to improve water quality;  how is climate change affecting the frequency, intensity, and duration of severe storms; using satellite and networked observation systems how can we improve understanding of the global carbon cycle.