Earth Day 2022: Invest In Our Planet

BU Experts
5 min readApr 21, 2022

Earth and environmental health researchers share key insights for protecting the planet and ways to invest in a sustainable future.

By: Katherine Gianni and Giana Carrozza

Happy Earth Day! Originally founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970, the annual celebration serves both as a day of appreciation for our planet, and as a way for individuals and communities across the globe to demonstrate their support for environmental protection, health, and equity. This year’s theme, Invest in Our Planet, focuses on promoting solution-oriented research, thought-leadership, and action around some of the most pressing environmental threats of our time–climate change, deforestation, pollution, and environmental racism. In recognition of this year’s theme, we give you a roundup of environmental health research, advocacy, and recommendations from Boston University faculty specializing in ecology, biology, biogeochemistry, and more.

Did you know it is possible to forecast environmental processes the same way we forecast the weather? The method is known as ecological forecasting. Through a combination of ecology, physics, and physiology, researchers are able to predict how ecosystems will be impacted by different environmental factors, such as climate change. Boston University professor and ecologist Dr. Michael Dietze is one of the researchers leading the charge in this area of study. Outside of the classroom, he leads the Ecological Forecasting Laboratory, a research hub dedicated to understanding and protecting various ecosystems while making this science more understandable for society. In an effort to share more about his work, Dr. Dietze took to Reddit AMA to answer questions on subject areas ranging from what ecology is and why it matters, to how short-term ecological forecasts can help us better understand how humans are impacting the environment. Read the top 10 takeaways from the Q&A here.

When we think of earth and environmental health, the slogan “go green” often comes to mind. But recently, a group of Boston University biologists have been focused on a bluer side. In a new research project, Robinson W. “Wally” Fulweiler, a BU College of Arts & Sciences professor of biology, earth, and environment studies, postdoctoral associate Amanda Vieillard, and Harvard University collaborators Peter Girguis and Zara Mirmalek have created portable, easy-to-use sensors to measure blue carbon levels at coastlines. Eventually, the researchers say they “hope their sensors will be able to detect climate-warming greenhouse gasses like methane, and be used in other coastal ecosystems, such as mangrove forests and seagrass meadows.” Watch to see the prototypes in action at Belle Isle Marsh Reservation in East Boston, Massachusetts.

Let’s face it, consistently taking care of your physical and mental health isn’t always a walk in the park. But according to Boston University environmental health researcher Dr. Patrick Kinney it can be…literally. Named by Reuters as one of the world’s top climate scientists in 2021, Dr. Kinney has completed extensive work on the health, economic, environmental, and community benefits of urban green spaces. “The mechanisms through which green space imparts health benefits remain the subject of active research, but likely include some or all of the following,” he explains: “Psychological benefits including reduced stress; enhanced immune function; increased physical activity; social connectedness; improved air quality.” Learn more about how parks and other green spaces can positively impact our wellbeing, and the work still needed to make green infrastructure accessible for all.

From oxygen production, to reducing noise pollution, to serving as a natural habitat for countless animal species, it’s no secret that trees are a vital part of our ecosystem–both in scenic forests, and busier, city landscapes. Recently, Boston University researchers at the Hutyra Research Lab have uncovered a surprising benefit of city trees growing near or around a forests’ edge: their ability to store carbon dioxide. Previous scientific estimates assumed these trees release and store carbon at similar rates as forest interiors–but the researchers, led by biogeochemist and ecologist Dr. Lucy Hutyra, say this is not actually the case. According to their new studies, edge trees grow faster compared to those deep in the forest, and soil in urban areas can hoard more CO2 than previously thought. Learn how their findings challenge current ideas about conservation and introduce important insights for urban planning, urban greening, and the fight against climate change.

“Environmental justice can be best understood by thinking about both process and outcomes,” says Dr. Jon Levy, chair of the department of environmental health at Boston University’s School of Public Health. “On the process side, it involves everyone having an equal voice and ability to participate in decisions related to the environment around them. On the outcome side, it involves ensuring that populations that have been historically overburdened do not continue to face disproportionate exposures and health risks.” Teamed up with fellow environmental health researcher Dr. Patrick Kinney, the pair have four decades of environmental justice expertise between them–both consistently studying and advocating for solution-focused approaches to evaluate the health impacts of environmental exposures among vulnerable populations. Learn more about their research, and how individuals, communities, and institutions can work together to achieve a more equitable and sustainable future.

For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BUexperts. Follow Dr. Mike Dietze on Twitter at @mcdietze, Dr. Wally Fulweiler at @FulweilerLab, Dr. Amanda Vieillard at @AmandaVieillard, Dr. Pat Kinney at @PatrickKinney20, Dr. Lucy Hutyra at @lrhutyra, and Dr. Jon Levy at @jonlevyBU. For research updates from Boston University’s College of Arts & Sciences, School of Public Health, department of Earth & Environment, department of Biology, and department of Environmental Health, follow @BU_CAS, @BUSPH, @BUEarth, @BU_Biology, and @busphEH.



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