From ESSC to EESI
EESI grew out of the original Earth System Science Center (ESSC), begun in the early 1980s through a strategic planning process that involved Penn State Central Administration, the Office of the Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School, and the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. The goal was to bring together faculty in the departments of Geosciences, Meteorology, Geography, and Energy, Environmental, and Mineral Economics in research activities focused on the search for links between the Earth’s physical processes and past and future global change.
After a national search, Eric Barron became the ESSC director in 1986. The Center coordinated and conducted extensive research related to the global water cycle, biogeochemical cycles, Earth system history, and human impacts on the Earth system. Under Eric Barron’s leadership, the ESSC initiated many new faculty hires to promote understanding of Earth as a system. In 1999, the ESSC combined with the Center for Integrated Regional Assessment (CIRA) and the Center for Environmental Chemistry and Geochemistry (CECG) to form the EMS Environment Institute (EMS EI). The mission of EMS EI was to enhance the visibility of College environmental research and educational programs and to create opportunities for collaborative research in these areas. Additional research centers were added to the Institute to reflect the primary research areas represented by the Institute's core faculty associates.
The Institute and its centers reflect the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ long and accomplished history of Earth sciences and environmental research. At the time of the Environment Institute's founding, computing and outreach components were incorporated so that all elements needed for a successful, effective research organization would be present for the benefit of faculty and students affiliated with the Institute.
In 2003, Susan L. Brantley became the second Director of the EI. In 2004, the EMS Environment Institute was renamed the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute. Under Brantley’s leadership, the Institute began competitions for centers and initiatives to enhance faculty and student research in environmental systems. Four research foci grew as faculty research began to investigate all aspects of Earth as an environmental system: climate science and uncertainty, energy and the environment, Earth history, and critical zone science. Since 2004, EESI has attracted new faculty in Earth system ecology, global water science, ecohydrology, and critical zone science. The Institute seeks to foster a broad portfolio of science that can address big societal questions related to the sustainability of life on Earth.