Global Environmental Systems in the Anthropocene (ENV4123.01)

Kerry Woods

It’s about anthropogenic climate change, but also the history of global systems over millennia and longer, effects of human civilization and agriculture on global nutrient and hydrological cycles, etc. — with focus on planetary scale. This course views global processes through the lens of ecosystem science (sometimes called ‘biogeochemistry’, which tells you something about the discipline’s scope). The biosphere functions at the interface of geological/geochemical, atmospheric, hydrological, and biological processes, and we will need to integrate understanding from all of these areas. We will focus particularly, but not exclusively, on the role of human activity in altering systems function at the global scale (thus ‘Anthropocene’ in the title). The core questions of the class will be science-based, but many will have direct implications for the viability of human ‘support systems’. Understanding of earth systems function is essential for deep understanding of human history and for effective address of environmental concerns in social, economic, and political arenas. Topics may include: how global systems can be/are studied and modeled; feedbacks between global climate processes (historical and future) and global ecosystem function; the interaction between historical development of agriculture, global nutrient dynamics, and likely future constraints on human nutrition/population; whether the ‘anthropocene’ concept makes sense and, if so, how to define it; how biosphere(s?) develop; etc. The work will include extensive reading in primary research literatures, which will call for basic competency in some branch(es) of the sciences — earth science, chemistry, ecology, will all be important but, most importantly, students should be comfortable wading into technical materials that are not entirely familiar — and comfort with quantitative thinking.

Prerequisites: Previous work in the sciences.
Credits: 4
M/W/Th 8:30-9:50
Maximum Enrollment: 15
Course Frequency: Every 2-3 years
This course is categorized as All courses, Environment, Science and Mathematics, and tagged , .