ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH AT ISRAEL’S UNIVERSITIES
In addition to the Ministry of the Environment, environmental research is carried out within the framework of a significant number of government and other organizations. However, the bulk of environmental research is undertaken by Israel’s universities, listed here in alphabetical order.
Bar Ilan University
Research studies, largely concentrated in the Department of Geography, include: environmental quality in Jewish tradition; effects of fire on vegetation and soil nutrients of the Mediterranean forests and shrublands; spatial and temporal changes in the natural landscape; river and coastal monitoring; impact of Jerusalem’s sewage on water quality in regional wells; soil- vegetation-erosion relations under diverse climatic conditions in arid and semi-arid regions; climatological studies; wind energy utilization; airborne and satellite-borne remote sensing of urban climate; analysis of building density and changes in the land-use system in urban areas and their environs.
In the Department of Life Sciences, research focuses on a variety of subjects, including: the ecology and physiology of intertidal invertebrates, mainly their resistance to desiccation and high temperatures; symbiosis in corals; the roles of environmental conditions, genetic backgrounds of plants and genetics of pathogens in determining epidemic outbreaks and their severity; relationship of soil invertebrates and detrital food web structure to primary production in arid and semi-arid ecosystems; assessing the success of rehabilitation efforts on disturbed rangelands; reverse desertification processes and rehabilitation of coal strip mines; and the ecology of microflora and micromeso fauna
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev – Institute for Desert Research
While scientists at several faculties of Ben-Gurion University conduct environmental research (particularly in the Department of Geography and Environmental Development), the Sde Boker-based Institute for Desert Research serves as a national center for research on the desert. The Institute includes fourteen research units which concentrate on such subjects as desert meteorology, desert ecology, hydrology and water resources management; experimental run-off farms; remote sensing; energy and environmental physics; desert architecture; closed systems agriculture; applied microbiology; ecophysiology and introduction of desert plants; desert agrobiology; algal biotechnology; and aquaculture.
The Mitrani Center for Desert Ecology, one of the research units of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research, carries out research on the following:
Ecological responses to global climate change: This long-term research project aims at predicting responses of populations, communities and ecosystems to global climate change, to verify the predictions by developing a long-term ecological monitoring scheme, and to investigate means of utilizing biogenetic resources of climatic transition zones for ecosystem restoration and rehabilitation. Five long-term ecological research sites have been established covering the variation within an ecotone in rainfall (75, 100, 150 200 mm) and in habitat (loess plain, rock watershed, sand dune).
Management and monitoring for the promotion of biodiversity: Various projects are being carried out with the aim of improving nature conservation and promoting ecosystem services. They include: evaluation of census data of endangered species and development of effective census methodologies; the effect of human visitation in protected areas on behavior and number of endangered species; identification of biological indicators for monitoring the effectivity of conservation and management measures in protected areas; quantitative methods for determining the geographical location of ecological transition between biotas; assessment of species richness and diversity of spiders in the Negev; and the effect of reintroduced species on the ecosystem of the Negev.
Biological control of agricultural pests: Projects deal with foraging behavior of nocturnal pests as affected by predation risk, and implications with respect to artificial illumination and the geometry of crop plots as measures of protection; foraging behavior of natural enemies of pests and implications to strategies and tactics of biological control.
Environmental research in Haifa University is distributed within the framework of several departments and faculties, as follows:
Center for Maritime Studies: Ecology of artificial reefs in the Southeastern Mediterranean; feeding ecology and distribution of the nomadic jellyfish Rhopilema nomadica in the coastal waters of Israel; ecology and distribution of dangerous marine organisms along the coasts of Israel; and macrobenthic communities along the shallow Mediterranean continental shelf of northern Israel.
Institute of Evolution: Detection of marine pollution using genetic allozymic markers; restoration ecology and ecological management of the Hula wetlands; community ecology of temporary pools; biodiversity and conservation studies of Lower Nahal Oren ("Evolution Canyon"); environmental impacts of mole rats on the plant community; development of genetic resistance of crops to pollutants and pests; and pollination ecology.
The Resources and Environmental Research Center of Haifa University conducts a wide variety of research projects in the areas of air, water, energy, landscape and nature sites, recycling and environmental planning and land-use. Select projects include: the assessment of the economic costs of changing ambient air pollution levels from industrial sources in the Haifa Bay region; the economic benefits of reducing air pollution-induced morbidity damages; economic analysis and damage assessment of groundwater pollution from industrial spills; an economic perspective on sharing scarce fresh water resources in the Mediterranean basin: developing a methodology for evaluating the options for clean energy production in Israel; glass bottle recycling; environmental and economic analyses of various physical masterplan scenarios for the Haifa bay area.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
For decades, the Hebrew University has promoted ongoing research projects in vital areas such as air quality control, water pollution management and environmental health. Today, as a result of increasing pressures on the environment, both worldwide and in Israel, research efforts have mounted. Environmental research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is carried out within the framework of a large number of departments in all faculties, most prominent of which are: the Environmental Sciences Division of the School of Applied Science and Technology, the Center for the Study and Management of the Environment and the Department of Ecology, Systematics and Evolution at the Faculty of Science, the Department of Geography at the Faculty of Social Sciences, the Faculty of Agriculture, the Institute for Marine Biological Research in Eilat and the Department of Medical Ecology at the Hebrew University- Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine.
Following is a short summary of the interdepartmental research on the environment which is conducted in the university:
Water quality research: Development of technologies to examine water particles and to characterize organic and inorganic materials found in water and wastewater; development of new technologies for the filtration of drinking water and the treatment of sewage; study of the biology and ecology of wastewater stabilization ponds and storage reservoirs; investigation of the ecology of the Gulf of Eilat; investigation of the coastal aquifer.
Air pollution and atmospheric research: Development of sophisticated technologies for measuring extremely small concentrations of compounds in the atmosphere; atmospheric transport and pollution processes; effect of air pollution on plants and stone structures; air pollution and rising ozone concentrations in Jerusalem.
Environmental health research: Disease incidence of populations exposed to pathogens from wastewater irrigation sprinklers; microbiologic and health aspects of the use of treated wastewater effluent in aquaculture; health effects of exposure to asbestos and to electromagnetic fields.
Soil contamination research: Study of the behavior of contaminants in desert settings (especially with regard to the siting of the Ramat Hovav hazardous waste site); hazards and advantages of subsurface injection of hazardous waste.
Ecological, geological and botanical research: Coexistence of plants in desert and Mediterranean ecosystems; desert adaptations and interaction of abiotic and biotic factors in desert ecosystems; evolution of ecological systems in the Middle East; physical anthropology; and environmental physiology.
Other areas of study include research into desert ecosystems (within the framework of the Arid Ecosystems Research Center); work on alternative energy sources, especially solar energy; and study of the legal and economic aspects of environmental problems including transportation policy and industrial development.
The Rehovot-based Faculty of Agriculture of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is recognized as a world leader in agricultural science. Environmental research in various departments focuses on the reduction of soil erosion, better use of water resources, reduction of fertilizer use, recycling of agricultural waste and development of a variety of methods for biological pest control. Most of the environmental research is carried out in the Department of Soil and Water Sciences, the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology, the Department of Field and Vegetable Crops, the Department of Agricultural Botany and the Department of Animal Sciences.
A representative sampling of research studies on agriculture and the environment includes: utilization of coal ash in greenhouse agriculture; purification of water using organo-clays; development of a method for removal and photochemical destruction of organic pollutants from water; risk assessment for soil pollution by heavy metals in forested and agricultural lands in Israel; recycling of municipal and agricultural solid waste and its utilization in agriculture; use of organo-clays in slow-release formulations of herbicides; biological control of weeds by pathogens and optimization of chemical control of plant diseases; changes in Israeli flora following continuous herbicide application; environmental fate of herbicides in soil and water; reduced application of pesticides via breeding for multiple pest resistance in plants; removal of heavy metals from industrial effluents by plant biofilter and development of novel biofiltration technology; and control of rodents by biological means.
Technion – Israel Institute of Technology
Several departments of the Technion are active in environmental research. A representative sampling of research studies undertaken in the various faculties includes:
Department of Civil Engineering: Most environmental research is carried out through the Center of Research in Environmental and Water Resources Engineering and the Water Research Institute. Research facilities include laboratories for all aspects of water quality and treatment, wastewater treatment and reuse, atmospheric pollution, environmental chemistry and microbiology and solid waste treatment.
Faculty of Agricultural Engineering: Water quality management in the Lake Kinneret watershed; regional water and drainage management in the Jezreel Valley; operational, economic, and mechanical aspects of municipal solid waste recycling; reuse of compost in agriculture; development of clean energy sources; and minimization of pollution by fertilizers.
Department of Chemical Engineering: Dynamics of the catalytic converter; sulfur removal from combustion gases; adsorption models for soil contaminants; synthesis of ceramic aerogel and xerogels for catalytic combustion with reduced NOx emission; capillary absorption of liquid spills; emulsion liquid membranes for metal ions purifications; and development of zero-discharge evaporation equipment.
Department of Chemistry: Modeling of atmospheric processes; atmospheric sampling by supersonic molecular beams; and several aspects of environmental analytical chemistry. Special attention is accorded to in situ environmental analysis and water treatment.
Faculty of Mechanical Engineering: New methods for gas cleaning and filtration; development of self-cleaning filtration systems based on porous ceramics; development of a new method for pesticide dispersion by ground spraying to reduce toxic residues; improvement of air quality by reducing the asphaltene content in fuel oils; and study of the biological effects of exposure to aldehydes and PAH emitted from diesel engines using low methanol concentration fuel.
Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv University, the largest of Israel’s higher education institutions, has recently intensified research in several pertinent areas including cloud and rain physics and chemistry, climate modeling, radiative transfer and remote sensing, atmospheric chemistry, plant and animal ecology and biology, ecophysiology, biomonitoring and reduction of environmental pollutants, biotechnology of recycling industrial waste, pest control and soil sciences. Over 100 faculty members deal with research in the various environmental fields.
Recognition of the complex and multidisciplinary nature of environmental and ecological studies has led Tel Aviv University to establish the Porter Super-Center for Environmental and Ecological Studies which will allow for basic and applied research projects on logistical and time scales transcending single scientists and departments. The Super-Center will be affiliated to the Faculties of Life Sciences, Exact Sciences, Social Sciences, Engineering, Humanities and the Medical School in each of which unique facilities and programs related to the environment already exist. The Super-Center will further expand and coordinate current research efforts within these departments.
Other institutes and facilities that will form part of the Super-Center include: the Museum of Natural History, the Zoological Gardens, the Botanical Gardens, the Institute for Nature Conservation Research and the new Institute for Biotechnology. The Environmental Research Institute at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, the Gordon Center for Energy Studies
(Engineering and Exact Sciences) and the new Minerva Center for Dead Sea Research will also be affiliated with the Center.
Following is an outline of current research efforts in the various faculties:
Faculty of Life Sciences: Basic research on flora and fauna in various parts of the country; conservation of endangered species of flora and fauna; reactions of ecological systems (forest, desert, sea, rivers) to man-made pollution. Applied research on the detection and monitoring of environmental pollutants; development of biomonitors; development of molecular technologies for pollutant neutralization; production of food sources through genetic improvement of grains; biotechnological development through genetic engineering of biologically active products.
Faculty of Engineering: Treatment of water reservoirs; pollutant dispersion in the atmosphere; prevention and treatment of pollutants in groundwater and aquifers; pollutant impact and particulate distribution; remote sensing as a means of detecting and studying marine pollution.
Faculty of the Humanities: The relationship between man and the environment and the ways in which socio-spatial processes (urbanization, population growth, immigration, climate change, cognitive-spatial perception, environmental planning) are related to the creation of environmental problems and means of solution.
Faculty of Exact Sciences: Changes in global climate; study of atmospheric-ecological interactions; operation of a radar station for cloud research and rain; quantitative models for forecasting atmospheric-climatological phenomena; use of remote sensing for studying climate change; study of natural materials with biological activity.
The Environmental Research Institute of the Medical School of the University (part of the Ministry of the Environment) deals with the detection and monitoring of environmental pollutants; treatment of hazardous waste; technologies for reducing pollutants from industrial plants and power plants; and radiation monitoring.
Faculty of Law: Environmental legislation and enforcement measures.
The Super-Center for Environmental and Ecological Studies, inaugurated in May 1994, will further expand and coordinate these research efforts while developing new ones.
The Weizmann Institute of Science
The Institute’s research in the environmental sciences is spearheaded by the Department of Environmental Sciences and Energy Research. Research projects concentrate on water (extending from rainwater and surface waters to the unsaturated zone and deep aquifers), atmospheric pollution and climate change, and energy research, especially solar energy.
Areas of water research include: Isotope hydrology to trace the source and pathways of natural recharge; the geochemistry of Lake Kinneret and the Dead Sea; groundwater hydrology including macroscale studies of contamination trends in regional aquifers both in the saturated and unsaturated zones; development of methods for the removal of toxic metals from polluted waters; monitoring and forecasting of water and soil pollution; and developing nonpolluting approaches to agriculture.
Areas of atmospheric pollution study include: The effect of ozone depletion on plant life; effect of effluent irrigation and deforestation on climate change; effect of oceans on global climate; and paleoceanography and paleoclimatorology studies.
Energy research focuses on developing nonpolluting energy options, especially solar energy.
Work performed in the Department of Plant Genetics relates to environmental damage to photosynthesis, effects of stress on plants, breeding of high-protein wheat and development of novel herbicides.