D’Odorico’s research focuses on the role of hydrological processes in the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems. Starting from analyses of mechanisms underlying the coupling between hydrological processes and the biota, this research has contributed to the emergence of the relatively new field of ecohydrology. His work has provided a framework to investigate the role of soil moisture dynamics in biogeochemical cycles, vegetation water stress, ecosystem productivity, land-atmosphere interactions, and soil susceptibility to wind erosion. Through field observations and modeling studies he is investigating “new” mechanisms of desertification, which involve positive feedbacks between vegetation dynamics and resource availability or disturbance regime. His work has shown how environmental variability may increase the complexity of ecosystem dynamics by inducing new bifurcations, enhancing biodiversity, stabilizing vegetation dynamics, or inducing vegetation patterns.
He is currently investigating global patterns of water scarcity for societies living in water limited environments. In particular he is analyzing how the global trade of massive amounts of food makes societies less reliant on locally available water resources, thereby allowing some populations to exceed the limits posed by their local water budget. The international trade of food commodities implies a virtual transfer of water resources from areas of food production to importing regions. While it is recognized that in the short term the establishment of a global network of virtual water transfer may prevent malnourishment and conflicts, its long-term effects on the coupled human-natural system remain poorly investigated. Therefore, using global commodity trade data, he is reconstructing the network of virtual water trade and studying the long term effects of the globalization of water resources, including impacts on equity, societal resilience, and ecosystem stewardship.
Learmonth’s research has resulted in the development of the UVa Bay Game®, which is a participatory simulation of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The simulation model is a highly aggregated model of the non-point sources of pollution reaching the Bay. In the environmental components of our IGERT program students will be exposed to big data problems through aggregating copious amounts of detailed input data to build proper models of ecological processes. These natural data sets can be combined with political and social datasets to create the environment for both participatory simulation games and detailed simulation models of natural and human processes. The work on the Bay Game is a superb foundation for understanding the social and economic impacts in the research of the IGERT students.