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Celebrate Earth Day with 12 Stories About the Environment

Duke projects that protect the Earth and the environment

black rhino with calf
A black rhino with calf: New tracking tools developed by Duke researchers is helping conservationists protect the species from poachers.

When it comes to a tally of the environmental research and conservation work happening at Duke, it’s hard to keep the list short. From ghost forests to plastic pollution to solar cells, here are just a few of these inspiring, environmentally friendly stories.

Species Conservation

New Tracking Technology Will Help Fight Rhino Poaching in Namibia

Each rhino’s footprint is as distinctive as a human fingerprint, and a team led by the Nicholas School of the Environment found software that analyzes the footprints of black rhinoceroses that can be used to help monitor the animal’s movements and offer protection against poaching.

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Western hoolock gibbon, aka the white-browed gibbon, are an endangered primate species found in the Gaoligong Mountains of Yunnan province. Photo by Binbin Li

Research Highlights Gaps in China’s Biodiversity Conservation Coverage

China’s largest areas of protected land are located in high altitude or arid places, but policymakers in the country should also pay more attention to threatened species in temperate and tropical forest ecosystems, according to recent study co-authored by Duke Kunshan researchers.

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Climate Change

Inland-creeping saltwater is changing U.S. coastal wetlands, and now you can see the effects from space. Credit: NASA / U.S. Geological Survey

Mapping North Carolina’s Ghost Forests from 430 Miles Up

Swaths of coastal trees are dying in eastern North Carolina as saltwater creeps inland due to climate change and extreme weather events. Using pictures taken by 430-mile-high satellites, a Duke-led team was able to map the spread of “ghost forests” in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

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Climate map showing a warming world

The Hardest Work Lies Ahead as US Re-Enters Paris Agreement

Two Duke professors talk about the importance of the international climate treaty and the urgency for the United States to make up lost time.

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Lack of Climate Risk Disclosure Mandate Threatens Financial Stability

A report from the Duke Climate Risk Disclosure Lab warns that financial markets are exposed to the downstream effects of climate change due to inadequate requirements for companies to disclose climate risks.

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Renewable Energy

Duke students Maria Ramirez Millan, Emily Conner and Lane Wallace visited a traditional McDonald's in 2014 as they conducted research for their master's project on the feasibility of a net-zero energy fast food restaurant.

Duke Students’ Energy Research Bears Fruit (and Fries) at New Global Flagship McDonald’s

Environmental management students at Duke team up with McDonald’s to design a flagship restaurant at Disney World that generates all its own energy from renewable sources.

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Twisting, Flexible Crystals Key to Solar Energy Production

Perovskites are a class of materials that can be grown into a crystalline structure that makes them particularly well-suited for energy applications. Researchers at the Pratt School of Engineering found that a key contributor to how these materials create and transport electricity depends on the way their atomic lattices twist and turn in a hinge-like fashion.

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plastic bottle in the ocean

New Website Highlights 52 Technologies to Fight Plastic Pollution in Our Oceans

Duke researchers created a directory of established and emerging technologies to aid local governments, nongovernmental organizations and others in choosing a method for plastic remediation.

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Which Water Filters Work Best?

Professor Heather Stapleton discusses which water filters work best to remove perfluoroalkyl substances, more commonly known as PFAS. The toxic substances are found in drinking water in some North Carolina communities near the Cape Fear River.


Sustainability on Campus

Duke will partner with Pine Gate Renewables, which operates solar facilities such as this one in Hampstead, to create three new facilities by 2022. Photo courtesy of Pine Gate Renewables.

Final Steps to Climate Neutrality

To meet the goal of becoming climate neutral by 2024, Duke has embraced new energy sources, adopted carbon offset programs and established sustainability as a core value.

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New Electric Buses Roll on Campus Roads

In January 2021, two electric buses took to the streets connecting East and West campuses. The new vehicles mark another step towards Duke’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2024.

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Duke Aquafarm

To learn about aquaculture, Duke students at the Marine Lab grow oysters in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. Student volunteers go out weekly to flip and clean the oyster bags, which promotes healthy oyster growth.