Berkeley Lab Director Paul Alivisatos announced (March 2015) the creation of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Area to position Berkeley Lab’s programs to have greater impact in environmental sciences, climate sciences, and subsurface energy resources. The organization of the Area is in development and currently stewards the Earth Sciences Division.

Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division (ESD) research and operations activities are supported at a level of more than $60 million a year, with a total of nearly 450 employees, UC faculty, affiliates, and students. ESD is organized into five Departments and four Program Areas, and, in addition to access to Berkeley Lab’s major user facilities, has its own research resources (facilities, tools, technologies, and analytical/experimental capabilities), which support researchers in conducting computational modeling, rock physics, isotope geochemistry, systems biology, microbial ecology, and field work in the subsurface, atmosphere and ocean.

Evolution of the Earth Sciences Division

Founded in 1977 to support research in geothermal, nuclear waste, and geosciences programs, ESD has evolved into a premier Earth sciences research entity—conducting fundamental research in climate studies, geophysics and geomechanics, geochemistry, hydrogeology and reservoir engineering, and microbial ecology. It is a world leader in the study of climate change, in the search for new energy resources, and in cleaning up the environment. ESD has a unique breadth of core competencies and characteristics, guided by common values. Thirty-seven years after its initiation, many of the characteristics that typified early ESD research are now deeply enshrined in ESD culture. Then and now, it is common for ESD scientists with different expertise to team together to tackle “big science” energy as well as environmental and climate challenges. Then and now, most ESD research projects iteratively integrate numerical, theoretical, observational, and experimental approaches to quantify complex Earth system processes. Many scientists are involved with both fundamental and applied research, providing a favorable feedback loop for innovation. Developing a predictive understanding of process coupling across scales is a common quest of many energy, environment, and climate projects in ESD.

Our scientists thrive in the collaborative and resource-rich Berkeley Lab environment.

Scientists within ESD commonly collaborate across Berkeley Lab, forming strong partnerships with biological, material, chemical, and computational scientists. ESD takes advantage of many of the world-class DOE facilities in Berkeley Lab, including DOE’s Advanced Light Source, the Joint Genome Institute, the Molecular Foundry, and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC). The close proximity and relationships with UC Berkeley adds to the vibrancy of ESD; many UC Berkeley faculty members are affiliates of ESD and vice versa. ESD scientists are sought after and value collaborations with others in the community; scientists in the Division are currently engaged in research with over 50 universities and laboratories in over 30 countries.

A Commitment to Pioneering Science

ESD’s overarching commitment to pioneering science is recognized by the scientific community and DOE. These achievements are documented by the significant number of publications in high-impact journals, patents and technology disclosures, numerous positions on advisory and editorial boards, our scientists’ range of scientific leadership positions, and our many national and international awards. DOE identifies core competencies as distinguishing capabilities at National Laboratories that are critical to the DOE mission. Among those identified for Berkeley Lab are environmental subsurface science, climate sciences and biosciences. ESD scientists work closely and respectfully with sponsors to help shape new research directions. In doing so, they contribute to creating enduring National Laboratory capabilities and knowledge to meet urgent national environment and energy challenges.

In the 21st Century

ESD scientists are developing 21st century approaches and scientific understanding relevant to both energy and the environment, and are working with a sense of urgency to translate our knowledge into new classes of environmental and energy solutions. Among other research avenues, ESD is:

  • Improving fundamental understanding of Earth materials properties and behavior at molecular through pore scales, as needed to underpin many environmental and energy strategies;
  • Improving understanding of how microorganisms interact with the natural environment to influence biogeochemical cycles relevant to water quality and terrestrial ecosystem services;
  • Improving Earth system models to better predict climate change at the resolutions needed to inform optimum mitigation and adaptation strategies;
  • Promoting efficient and environmentally responsible extraction of available energy from subsurface reservoirs, including tight shales, to dramatically and predictably increase recovery;
  • Developing methods to enable subsurface energy recovery from renewable sources, such as geothermal and energy storage using compressed air;
  • Developing the knowledge and understanding needed to implement safe subsurface storage of energy by-products, including CO2 and nuclear waste;
  • Using synthetic biology and bioengineering to produce advanced biofuels from plants, algae, and bacteria (including cyanobacteria); and
  • Developing advanced approaches for imaging and simulating complex Earth systems.

About Our Mission and More

In keeping with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and with Berkeley Lab’s collective mission, it is ESD’s mission to address local, national, and global problems focusing on fundamental, crosscutting science common to many energy resource problems and environmental issues. ESD would like to thank its sponsors and collaborators, including the DOE and the University of California, the scientific community, and Berkeley Lab for their support.

Click on the links below to read more about the Earth Sciences Division:


We gratefully acknowledge the support of our major sponsors in the Department of Energy, which include the Office of Science, ARPA-e, Basic Energy Sciences, Biological & Environmental Research, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Environmental Management, Fossil Energy, Nuclear Energy. We also appreciate the support received from other state and federal agencies and through partnerships with other National Laboratories and Universities. Lastly, we must also acknowledge and thank our industrial, as well as international collaborators, who provide both financial and in-kind support through various partnership projects, and who bring additional ideas, data, and experience to ESD.