Assessing the urban ecosystem health of Maryland and West Virginia using emergy synthesis

Author/Creator ORCID





Towson University. Environmental Science and Studies Program

Citation of Original Publication


Copyright protected, all rights reserved.
There are no restrictions on access to this document. An internet release form signed by the author to display this document online is on file with Towson University Special Collections and Archives.



Humans modify the environment into areas that can be considered complex, constructed systems with natural, societal, and economic aspects. These urban ecosystems have an associated health state, or level of functionality, similar to natural ecological ecosystems. Urban ecosystem health is of concern as health status is an indicator of economic wealth and social progress, and can lead to a greater understanding of how ecosystem services are provisioned. Assessing urban ecosystem health requires a systems perspective where health status is determined in an integrated way that reflects the anthropogenic effects of human decisions and activities. A method of energy accounting can be used to describe flows of material and energy. Emergy synthesis provides an integrated evaluation of the ecological and economic flows through a system and makes it possible to study all aspects of urban metabolism. The emergy based methodology of urban ecosystem health assessment set forth by Su et al. (2013) and the methodology of energy accounting by Campbell et al. (2005) are used to assess the relative urban ecosystem health state of Maryland and West Virginia. The five chosen ecosystem health indicators to represent the emergy-based urban ecosystem health state are: 1) Vigor, 2) Organizational Structure, 3) Resilience, 4) Urban Ecosystem Service Function Maintenance, and 5) Environmental Impact. Fourteen specific indices are used to model these five health indicators. Data were collected for material, energy, and economic flows entering the system from outside, purely internal flows, and internal flows that exit the system. Using the methodology and procedures, urban ecosystem health for Maryland and West Virginia were assessed for the year 2010. Maryland received an urban ecosystem health rating of Fair, while West Virginia received a rating of Fair-to-Poor. Maryland's consumption rates and insufficient local geology required to produce the fuel emergy quantities needed to meet demands jeopardized the state's organizational structure and resilience. West Virginia's abundant indigenous non-renewable resources were both an asset and a curse, providing for high organizational structure and resilience but resulting in a poor health rating for vigor and environmental impact.