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Changwoo Ahn’s research centers on wetland ecosystem ecology, system ecology, and ecological engineering. Ahn’s dissertation work focused on designing and constructing wetlands to improve water quality by reuse of combustion by-products (i.e., wastes for landfills) from power plants in the Midwest, incorporating system ecological approaches. Ahn studied biogeochemical and ecological processes in a human-created wetland complex at the Olentangy River Wetland Research Park (ORWRP), now designated as the 24th Ramsar (i.e., a wetland of international importance) site in the United States. Ahn served as a consultant and participant in the making of the television documentary titled “Restore wetlands as a resource for the future” by Korea Broadcasting System (KBS ) for the RAMSAR International Conference in 2008.


Ahn’s work includes planning, designing, and analyzing different scenario (simulation)-based restoration alternatives for the Illinois large river-floodplain ecosystem targeting the Emiquon site, the largest floodplain re-connection project on the Upper Mississippi River, working with The Nature Conservancy, National Science Foundation, Corps of Engineers, USGS, farmers, landowners, and other stakeholders.


Upon joining GMU in 2003, Ahn launched a long-term study of functional development and design elements for created mitigation wetlands, specifically collaborating with Wetland Studies and Solutions, Inc. and USGS. The work includes microtopography, hydrologic connectivity, and planting diversity as design elements that can be created and managed to enhance the development of ecological functions, thus restoring ecosystem services of wetlands while mitigating the loss of natural wetlands. The work also covers carbon and nitrogen processes in freshwater wetlands. Ahn's work touches upon soil ecology, especially soil microbial community structure and function by use of molecular techniques. Ahn completed constructing an outdoor field station titled "Ahn Wetland Mesocosm Compound" in 2009    ( on the west campus of GMU and has been directing and managing the infrastructure for research and scholarship activities as well as outdoor classes related to wetland ecology and ecological sustainability. The compound has also been used for K-12 summer science internships and training. The Wetland Mesocosm Compound currently houses 60, 150-gallon stock tanks to study the effects of plant diversity on the development of wetland ecosystem structure and functions, which includes plant morphological characteristics, carbon accumulation efficiency, soil microbial community patterns, denitrification, and biomass production.  The compound has been visited and/or used by Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, the Chinese delegation of Shandong Department of Forestry, students and scholars from Korea University, students from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Lake Braddock Secondary School, Northern Virginia Community College, The Washington Youth Summit on the Environment, and Global Problem Solving Consortium.


To date, Ahn has published over 100 peer-reviewed abstracts and journal articles, authored several book chapters, and participated in translating two books (Ecological Engineering and Ecosystem Restoration; Silenced Rivers) into Korean.  He has been serving on the editorial boards of Ecological Engineering (Elsevier), Wetland Science and Practice, Environmental Engineering Research, and The Ecological View.  Ahn was also a book review editor for Ecological Engineering - the Journal of Ecosystem Restoration (2011-2016, Elsevier). Ahn was a founding director of EcoScience + Art , the campus-wide interdisciplinary initiative, and designed and directed The Rain Project, which has been featured as an outstanding example of cross-disciplinary art-science collaboration in higher education for community engagement by the National Academies in its 2018 report titled "The Integration of the Humanities and Arts with Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Higher Education- Branches from the Same Tree."  Ahn participated in ART + ENVIRONMENT  conference 2014 at the Nevada Museum of Art and presented at Balance-Unbalance (Water, Climate, Place Reimagining Environments) 2015. Ahn was also an invited speaker for The DASER (DC Art Science Evening Rendezvous) by Cultural Programs of National Academy of Sciences (CPNAS) in Washington, DC, Art-Science Panel of Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University, and a2RU (Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities) conference. Ahn organized and curated a symposium for INTECOL 2017 in Beijing, China, titled "Interdisciplinary Collaboration Among Ecological Engineering, EcoScience, and Eco-Art to Enhance Ecological Restoration Research", sponsored by National Science Foundation (NSF) as a PI. Ahn is currently a founding director of SAC initiative (Science, Art, and Culture) at GMU which focuses on interdisciplinary collaboration on environmental sustainability between science and art.


Ahn is currently a Professor in Environmental Science and Policy, and an affiliated faculty member in a number of departments in different times, including Civil, Environmental & Infrastructure Engineering, Biology, Molecular Ecology and Evolution, Food Studies, Global Affairs, and the School of Art. Ahn has served as a University Life Faculty Fellow for several years and was a Faculty Research Fellow appointed by the Center for Real Estate Entrepreneurship (School of Business, 2017-2018). Ahn is currently a Head of the Climate Change and Society concentration, Environmental & Sustainability Studies BA program. Ahn also served as a Graduate Program Director for ESP (2020-2022). Ahn teaches Wetland Ecology and Management, Ecosystem Modeling and Analysis, Ecological Sustainability (Mason Core Capstone), Ecological Engineering and ecosystem Restoration, Urban Ecosystems and Processes, and  Nature and Culture in Global Wetlands (Mason Core Global Understanding) along with summer GEO (Global Education Office) programs at GMU. Ecological Sustainability (Mason Core for Capstone) and Urban Ecosystems and Processes are R&S (Research and Scholarship) intensive courses for undergraduates sponsored by the Students as Scholars (OSCAR) program. Ahn is an affiliated faculty with Institute for a Sustainable Earth. Ahn was a recipient of both the Mentoring Excellence Award (in both 2016 and 2023) and Teacher with Distinction in 2017. Ahn is dedicated to developing and innovating methods of interdisciplinary teaching that will incorporate strong research experiences into undergraduate education.

Changwoo is originally from Seoul, South Korea.  He received his Bachelor’s degree in Forest Resources and Master’s in Environmental Planning from the Graduate School of Environmental Studies, both at Seoul National University. He completed his Ph.D. at The Ohio State University, followed by postdoctoral research in the Illinois Water Resources Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before coming to GMU. Changwoo's research focuses on finding ecological design principles and system approaches applicable to sustainable land and water management. Changwoo is also deeply interested in strong interdisciplinary efforts to build creative linkages among different disciplines to facilitate much-needed communication and collaboration for higher education.

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