Skip to main content

KNOXVILLE — The United States and China may occupy nearly opposite points on the globe, but researchers from the two nations are united in their concern over the impacts of human activities — chiefly economic growth and development — on the natural environment.

Through a recently launched initiative, scientists from the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will join researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in establishing the China-U.S. Joint Research Center for Ecosystem and Environmental Change.

The center, which will occupy research facilities at UT, ORNL and CAS, will address the combined effects of climate change and human activities on regional and global ecosystems and explore technologies for restoration of degraded environments.

The United States and China rank first and second, respectively, in emissions of carbon dioxide — the most prevalent of the greenhouse gases, which are associated with global climate change. Meanwhile, China boasts one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

U.S. participants in the initiative include the UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Biological Sciences (JIBS) and UT’s Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment and Center for Environmental Biotechnology.

Participating units from the Chinese Academy of Sciences include the Institute of Geographical Science and Natural Resources Research and the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Study.

“Through this collaborative effort, we will create multi-scale research projects, encourage the exchange of scientific information between U.S. and Chinese researchers, and provide students and young scientists with educational and training opportunities,” said Gary Sayler, JIBS director and UT distinguished professor of microbiology, ecology, and evolutionary biology. Sayler will co-chair the U.S. component of the project with John McCarthy, a research professor in UT’s Department of Earth and Planetary Science.

McCarthy notes the crucial role Jie (Joe) Zhuang, a research assistant professor in UT’s Department of Earth and Planetary Science, played in creating the center.
“Acting as intermediary and creative partner, Joe, who earned his Ph.D. from Shenyang Agricultural University in Shenyang, China, assisted UT and CAS in formulating appropriate wording for the final framework agreement,” said McCarthy. The agreement was signed on July 20.
Among their other tasks, center researchers will explore the relationship between economic development and ecosystem disruption.

“Existing evidence has shown that ecosystem fluxes and environmental problems in these systems are closely related to the economic development, energy use, social structure, and natural geographical conditions,” says Gui-Rui Yu, director of the Key Laboratory of Ecosystem Network Observation and Modeling and the Chinese Ecosystem Research Network, both subunits of CAS.

“Comparison of ecosystem processes and environmental changes in our two nations will help advance our understanding of the mechanisms that affect global and regional environments,” Yu says.

Yu will co-chair the Chinese component of the project with Gui-Bing Jiang, who serves as director of the State Key Laboratory of Environmental Chemistry and Ecotoxicology of China and vice director of the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences. Both organizations are part of CAS.

In its initial phase, which extends from October 2006 to September 2011, the center will pursue research related to four themes: ecosystem processes and management, environmental sustainability of bioenergy production, ecological foundation of water resources and quality, and technologies for improvement of eco-environmental systems.

Creation of the new center aligns with UT’s “Ready for the World” initiative, which seeks to increase international and intercultural awareness among UT faculty, staff, and students. “Ready for the World” is part of a long-range plan to transform the campus into a culture of diversity that best prepares students for working and competing in the 21st century.

Gary Sayler (, 865-974-8080)
Jay Mayfield (, 865-974-9409)