U.S. Department of Energy

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Ecosystem Science

A stretch of the Columbia River.

Identify, measure, and model how dynamic microbial systems respond to perturbations and influence terrestrial Earth processes

An ecosystem is a community of organisms that houses the interactions needed to maintain life. Using competition and collaboration, the organisms generate energy, exchange nutrients, reproduce, and grow within a non-living matrix of physical and chemical influences.

Our researchers study ecosystems in soil, the plant-soil interface, extreme environments, biofilms, surface water, and in dynamic subsurface environments where groundwater and river water mix. In every case, complex biogeochemical dynamics are in play. 

Our researchers identify, measure, and model these ecosystems as they respond to perturbations such as cycles of wetting, drying, and warming. They also study the influence of these perturbations on terrestrial processes. 

These centers of biogeochemical interactivity are profoundly consequential despite being sometimes so tiny that pore spaces are measured in nanometers. Their primary living residents, bacteria and archaea, make up 60 percent of the planet’s biomass and account for most of its species diversity.

Microbial systems generate 60 percent of respiration from terrestrial habitats, recycle the most elements and electrons, and prompt most of Earth’s biogeochemical change. In all, the ecosystems our researchers study are the chief agents of physiological evolution.

Investigating these complex alliances of chemical, physical, hydrologic, and metabolic forces is uniquely interdisciplinary. Our researchers represent a diversity of expertise and deploy an array of genomic, mass spectrometric, computational, and chemical-probe technologies.


Dr. Bailey’s research addresses the role of soil physical structure on microbially-mediated soil C cycling. This research includes a focus on the role played by water as a solvent and transport agent in soils, and uses a suite of molecular chemical...
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