CCSI scientists help train next generation of Earth scientists

Apr 11, 2016

The Climate Change Science Institute’s (CCSI’s) Colleen Iversen feels a special affection for the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UTK) graduate program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB), from which she earned a graduate degree; CCSI’s Virginia Dale is similarly disposed. While Dale was working on degrees in mathematics at UTK, an EEB class introduced her to the field of mathematical ecology, which became the theme of her dissertation.

This spring Iversen, Dale, and another CCSI scientist, Natalie Griffiths, are contributing to the Ecology Core class for EEB graduate students. Iversen is leading a class on terrestrial ecosystem ecology; Griffiths, a class on aquatic ecosystem ecology; and Dale, sessions on landscape ecology and sustainability.

This is not the first time Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) scientists have taught classes or given guest lectures at UTK, and it’s not the first time for these three either. Griffiths says she enjoys teaching and sharing her passion for aquatic ecology, but it’s also “a chance to interact with the graduate students, hear about their research, and discuss potential synergies with research in CCSI and at ORNL.”

Walker Branch Watershed (

“Teaching isn’t something that’s part of our job description at ORNL,” says Iversen, “but this is an important way for us to interact with the next generation of researchers and expose them to things they might not have been exposed to before”—including what goes on at a national laboratory. Iversen says she wasn’t fully aware of that herself until she did much of her dissertation research here at ORNL.

ORNL has a long history of large-scale ecosystem experiments, ranging from early work on acid rain and CO2 enrichment, to changing precipitation regimes, to foundational studies in aquatic ecosystem ecology. The concept of nutrient spiraling in streams, now a core concept in the field of stream ecology and biogeochemistry, was developed based on ORNL research in Walker Branch Watershed, which is located on the Oak Ridge Reservation. Iversen, Griffiths, and Dale are highlighting this and other important research that has been carried out at ORNL, including key ORNL papers.

For more information on the UTK EEB graduate program, please go to

By VJ Ewing.