Engineering is the application of science through design to create systems to benefit humans. Design is the essence of engineering. Engineering has its basis in math and physics, but subfields are based on a particular science. For example, chemical engineering is based on chemistry, mechanical engineering on mechanics, and electrical engineering on electricity. The concepts of ecological engineering were introduced in the United States in the 1960s by H. T. Odum. Ecological engineering, as the name implies, is an engineering subfield that is based on ecology. Ecology includes aspects of all of the sciences that study living or nonliving components in an ecosystem, for example, biology, botany, geology, hydrology, soil science, zoology, and specifically addresses the interactions among the living and nonliving components ofthe ecosystem. Historically ecologists have viewed many engineering projects as destructive of natural systems making ecological engineering a contradiction in terms. Likewise, engineers often have little appreciation for ecological knowledge, which is usually less precise and mathematical than traditional engineering science.
Ecology is the study ofthe interrelationships between biotic (living or previously living, e.g., plants, animals, carcasses) and abiotic (never living, e.g., water, sediment, chemicals, temperature) components of the environment. Ecological engineering incorporates elements of the sciences used in ecology to create engineered designs that reflect and incorporate ecological processes. The goal is to provide for human welfare with engineering projects while also protecting the goods and services that are provided by a natural environment. These goods and services include production of oxygen, air and water purification, carbon storage, flood control, regeneration of soil and soil fertility, pollination of food crops, waste decomposition, and protection from ultraviolet rays.
Recognizing that all social and economic systems depend on a functioning ecological system implies that ecological engineers acknowledge the values of sustainability and protection ofnatural systems even as they design systems for the benefit of humans. These concepts define an engineering discipline based on ecological science with an explicit recognition that the values of sustainability and protection of natural systems are incorporated in designs for the benefit of humans and the environment.
Increasingly, natural scientists with no training in design methods are engaged in applied science as they address and try to solve environmental problems such as wetland loss, river and water quality degradation, and soil contamination. Engineers are addressing similar questions with more formal design procedures but with little training in the relevant scientific areas. This can create a variety ofunin-tended consequences that can diminish the ecosystem's ability to provide the goods and services upon which all life on Earth depends. Ecological engineering uses ecological knowledge and theory and standard engineering design procedures to address environmental problems. Standard design procedures allow for the collection of information on which design criteria are successful and which are not. Documentation ofthe design process allows for others to learn from either design errors or less than perfect designs and contributes to improved future designs. Numerous authors have discussed design principles for ecological engineering all of which derive from the overarching principles of thermodynamics and evolution.
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