The Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Science (ARIES) supported investigations in the Central Appalachian States of Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Ohio. This research encompassed four topic area categories, which were 1) Impacts on Ecosystems, 2) Waste and Water Management, 3) Environmentally Responsible Mining Technology, and 4) Health, Social and Economic Impacts. A brief description of each category is provided in the paragraphs that follow:
Changes to habitat, water chemistry, and other environmental variables from human development have direct implications for upland and aquatic ecosystems. Although some seemingly minute stressors result in minor impacts when acting individually, cumulative impacts and interactions may result in dramatic ecological effects. ARIES researchers investigated both issues of concern as well as the more subtle, complex stressors were suspected of affecting the ecological balance around energy production industries. For this area, the impacts, if any, of mining activity and other notable anthropogenic activities on the Appalachian ecosystem were evaluated. If any effect was either identified prior to research or elucidated from the research, possible means for preventing or mitigating negative effects were also examined. A copy of the executive summary detailing key findings in this research area can be found at the following link: Impacts on Ecosystems
Concerns have been raised about the impact of mining operations on the chemistry of surface and ground water, especially implications for aquatic ecosystems and human health. The waste treatment methodology, placement of waste materials, and wastewater flow paths has been shown to affect impacts on surface and ground water. ARIES researchers expanded the current state of waste and water management methodologies by improving management principles and developing new water treatment methodologies/technologies. Additionally, ARIES researchers also addressed issues related to the prediction, impacts, and treatment of water chemistry concerns. A copy of the executive summary detailing key findings in this research area can be found at the following link: Waste and Water Management
Mining activities, similarly to any large industrial or commercial project, generally result in significant disturbance of existing natural features. Research completed in this area examined technologies that would allow energy production industries to perform primary functions in a manner that improved the long-term sustainability of natural resources and geologic features relative to presently implemented methods. ARIES researchers investigated techniques and technologies that would allow mining activities to be conducted in a manner that minimized effects on air, water, and ecosystems. A copy of the executive summary detailing key findings in this research area can be found at the following link: Environmentally Responsible Mining Technology
Among the most controversial issues related to coal mining in Appalachia are the alleged impacts on community health in the context of both economic and human health. In terms of the economy, allegations have long existed regarding the “resource curse” that accompanies mining, which states that mining perpetuates poverty. For human health, mining operations have recently been identified as possible causes for a range of diseases from birth defects to cancer. To address these concerns, ARIES researchers evaluated the impacts of coal mining on the Appalachian community. A variety of research approaches were applied including standard epidemiologic, pathway analysis, and factor association techniques to determine specific causes, if any, for these issues. A copy of the executive summary detailing key findings in this research area can be found at the following link: Health, Social, and Economic Impacts
These research areas were addressed by 30 different departments with more than 60 academic researchers and 70 student researchers, which produced nearly 100 peer-reviewed research publications. As a result, ARIES represents the most comprehensive, multi-disciplinary research initiative for energy production environmental considerations in the Appalachian region.