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Research and scholarship in ecosystem modeling and sustainability science

Bill Currie is a Professor of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan.  He studies ecosystems and human societies as coupled human-natural systems in which the ecological, economic, and social dimensions are interwoven in complex feedbacks. This is a key perspective used in the growing field of sustainability science.  Having a background in physics and engineering, Prof. Currie leads the development of ecosystem computer models, often working in collaborative groups where a model is used to provide synthesis and increased understanding of applied problems.

Photo of Bill Currie

With strong interdisciplinary interests, Currie is committed to the idea that researchers must work together across traditional fields to address the complex, large-scale, interconnected environmental and sustainability issues of the 21st century.  Currie feels that calls to simply stop economic and industrial development in order to protect and preserve environmental quality miss the mark.  To find true solutions we need to figure out how to continue economic development, both in the developed world and globally, while also improving environmental quality and restoring the functioning of ecological systems, and while also maintaining the ability of the Earth system to support future generations.  He believes this is one of the greatest challenges we face as a post-industrial civilization.  In his research at the University of Michigan, Currie collaborates with field ecologists, geographers, remote sensing scientists, hydrologists, and land management professionals.  He has published over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles on a wide range of topics from biogeochemistry and ecology to land management decision-making, food security, and ecological economics.

Prof. Currie teaches an undergraduate course using a case-based approach to examine sustainability issues in the Great Lakes region, together with graduate-level courses on wetland ecology and management, landscape ecology, and ecosystem modeling.

Professional and university service

Dr. Currie is an editor for the peer-review journal Ecological Applications.  He serves on program review panels for the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

In professional outreach and engaged research, Dr. Currie currently collaborates or works with the Saginaw Bay CISMA (Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area), the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes Landscape Conservation Cooperative (UMGL-LCC), the Great Lakes Commission, and The Nature Conservancy.

At the University of Michigan he formerly served as Associate Dean, and in 2016-2017 he chaired the Faculty Transition Team assembled by the UM Provost to plan the new School for Environment and Sustainability.

Background and interdisciplinary interests

Prof. Currie came to this field through a circuitous route. As an undergraduate, he studied physics and philosophy at Brown University, graduating in 1983. He then worked in a variety of non-academic settings before returning to graduate school. He worked as a systems engineer on the Space Shuttle for its primary contractor (Rockwell) in the plant where the Shuttle was assembled, in Downey, CA. Later he moved to the consulting firm Booz, Allen & Hamilton in Washington DC, conducting studies for the Department of Defense on a number of classified systems-engineering projects in the 1980s.  Leaving engineering, he spent a couple of years as a professional stock options trader with a seat on the San Francisco Stock Exchange.  He then spent half a year backpacking through Alaska, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and Southeast Asia.

During these career changes and travels, and with a growing interest in the environment, Prof. Currie developed a sense that ecosystems and landscapes could be studied from a systems science and modeling perspective.  He also developed a sense of idealism that we in the developed world can apply the knowledge and advanced tools available to us to better understand human impacts on the environment and to lead the research and new ways of thinking that are needed to find sustainable solutions.

Currie completed a MS in Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia and a PhD in Natural Resources at the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space at the University of New Hampshire.  He completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Woods Hole, MA at the Marine Biological Laboratory in the Ecosystems Center.  He served on the faculty at the University of Maryland beginning in 1997 and moved to the University of Michigan faculty in 2003.

Follow Dr. Currie on Twitter:  @WilliamSCurrie

Dr. Currie has two grown children and as a hobby he pursues drawing and painting (see his artist website).


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