Geo1002: Global Environmental Change and Natural Resources


Spring Semester, 2003


Course Description and Syllabus


Instructors              Office                                   Phone          Email


David Chapman     505 Browning Bldg.            581-6820

                               310 Park Bldg.                    581-7642


Rob Harris              708 Browning Bldg.            587-9366



Global Environmental Change - in Context.


      The Earth's past  extends over 4.6 billion years, and constitutes a dynamic history of global environmental change. Throughout geologic time the physical face of the earth has evolved: continents drift; mountain ranges are formed and eroded; volcanoes construct new land surfaces and destroy old ones; and the area of land above the oceans changes in response to tectonic forces, and as the polar ice sheets melt or grow. Changes in the chemistry of earth's atmosphere, and of rocks and soils on the surface, are documented in the geologic record as well. In addition, the evolution of life on the planet is integral to profound global environmental changes, with the emergence and extinction of millions of species throughout earth's history.


      Our present preoccupation with the topic of global change ignores much of this knowledge of past global change. Our concerns arise instead from the widespread and growing realization that human activities are causing changes in the earth's atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere that will have grave consequences for humans in the future. To our credit, many recognize that anthropogenic stress to the environment is a major socio-scientific issue of our time. Scientists expend considerable effort to document and track the instrumental record of present global change.


      The future course of any environmental change is of considerable concern, but more equivocal even than the specific causes of present global change. Prediction of future change is based on complex models of complex earth systems with complex feedback mechanisms.



Core Concepts: "Global Environmental Change - Past, Present, and Future"


      To understand the meaning of global change and its consequences one should integrate knowledge of: changes in the past, including their time scales and magnitudes; the rate of change at present with emphasis on cause and effect; and the basis for making predictions of global change in the future. The course includes two lectures per week, and weekly discussion sessions that emphasize solving problems with quantitative methods.


      In both the lectures and the discussions we address a number of "grand themes" of global change, including:

1.   The earth as a system, and how it has evolved (e.g. the early days, plate tectonics, global cycles)

2.   Resource balance (materials, energy, agriculture, resources: finite or infinite?, consumption strategies, sustainable future?)

3.   Water balance (origin of water on earth, water budget, sea level rise, threats to water quality)

4.   Atmosphere balance (evolution of the atmosphere, acid deposition, smog, the ozone hole)

5.   Thermal balance (energy fluxes on the earth's surface and within the earth, the "beneficial" greenhouse effect, global warming)

6.   Anthropogenic influence (population growth, impacts on the environment, ozone depletion, global warming, pollution, waste disposal . . .)

7.   The future?


      Approach: We explore the geologic record to establish the natural variability within these various earth systems and the timing and frequency of change. The instrumental record of present global change will be studied critically and placed in context. Anthropogenic influences are examined in the context of natural variabilities. Finally the methods and basis for making future predictions are studied.


Features/objectives of the course.


1.   Writing. In keeping with the University's emphasis on improving writing skills, you will hand in a weekly written assignment. The format of these assignments is either that of a laboratory report, including observations and interpretations, or a critical report based on assigned readings.


2.   Reading. Reading assignments will be designed to move you beyond content questions to consequences of, implications of, and policy questions associated with, global change. There is a growing literature available on the subject including:


3. Required text

      Environmental Science - Earth as A Living Planet, Third Edition, by Botkin and Keller, Wiley, pp. 649, 2000 (hardbound, cost ~$74 used).


      Also, there is a growing list of web sites on global change issues (see text).


3.   Discussion sessions: The scientific approach to problem solving involves framing appropriate questions and hypotheses, gathering or compiling data that will discriminate between rival hypotheses, performing an appropriate analysis, discussing and sometimes arguing about analyses, and making an interpretation.  A regular discussion session designed to reinforce these activities will be an important element of this course.




      The course grade will be determined from three components with the following weights:


      Weekly discussion and assignments                                             40 %

      Midterms, two @ one hour (short answer/essay)                        30 %

      Final exam, two hours (short answer/essay)                                30 %

      (final exam is on Wednesday, April 30, 2003, 10.30 am 12.30 pm)


Geo 1002 has been taught several times since 1992.  Copies of many midterm and final exams for the limited offering of this course will be available on the class web page.



Withdrawal and Drop Policy


      Students may drop (delete) classes during the first ten calendar days of the term with no tuition penalty. Beginning the eleventh calendar day and continuing through the midpoint students may withdraw from a class or the University without instructor/department permission. A "W" grade is recorded on the transcript and appropriate tuition and fees are assessed. Refer to the Income Accounting and Student Loan Services Offices for refund information. Check the academic calendar for specific drop and withdrawal dates.



ADA  Americans with Disabilities Act


The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that reasonable accommodations be provided for students with physical, cognitive, systematic, learning and psychiatric disabilities.  Please contact the instructor of this course at the beginning of the quarter to discuss any such accommodations for this course.


Spring 2003 Holidays and Breaks


      Martin Luther King Jr. Day Holiday       Mon, Jan 20

      President's Day holiday                            Mon, Feb 17

      Spring Break                                             Mon-Fri,  Mar 17-21