Curently taught

Envs 2: Intro to Environmental Science

Offered: Winter

The main objective of this course is to provide an introduction to environmental science, which is a study of the natural world and how it is influenced by, and influences, people. We will examine the physical, biological, chemical and other natural sciences at a moderate level of intensity. This is an introduction to a wide variety of environmental topics, many of which you can explore in greater depth in other courses. There will be two 65-minute exams during class time and a final exam. Two environmental problem sets will be assigned to give hands-on experience in examining environmental issues, making calculations, and reaching conclusions. The completion of an audit of your residential and transportation energy use will help you gain a greater understanding of energy dynamics in human systems.

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Envs 12: Energy and the Environment

Offered: Spring

Energy production and use are responsible for many environmental problems including urban air pollution, the contamination of waterways, global climate change and environmental inequities. In 2015, global climate change, fluctuating energy prices, the benefitsand consequences of natural gas fracking and the increase in use of solar generated electricity have been receiving the most attention.

This course will consider the benefits that might come from an increase in the use of renewable energy sources and the consequences of using fossil fuels on the natural environment. We will ask what actions and behaviors—if any—will ultimately precipitate transitions away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and a more sustainable society. We will address these ideas by examining energy basics—physical laws governing energy, the current US energy portfolio, and the effects of conventional energy on the natural environment—as well as potential future energy sources. The goal of this course is to provide an understanding of the current energy situation and the natural and applied science challenges that confront our developed country in achieving a sustainable energy future. Distributive: TAS.

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Envs 89: Forest Biogeochemistry

Offered: Fall

This seminar will examine elemental cycling and related biogeochemical processes in terrestrial ecosystems, with a strong focus on forests of the temperate zone. The objective is to gain a thorough and current understanding of forest biogeochemistry, with emphasis on cycling of the major elements carbon and nitrogen, and the trace elements mercury and lead. The interaction of disturbed and undisturbed forests with a changing global environment will be a major topic of study throughout the course. This course fulfills the Science (SCI) distributive.

In Winter, 2014, Forest Biogeochemistry will pay particular attention to managing temperate forests for maximum carbon storage and understanding disturbance effects on carbon and mercury cycling.

The required text will be used as a reference. Class meetings will be taught somewhat like a graduate seminar. More class time will be spent discussing articles from the peer-reviewed literature, with presentations by class participants, than in formal lecture.

Each class meeting will begin with a general presentation of the topic by the instructor and an examination of at least one “classic” paper from the literature. Then a preselected paper—which everyone has read prior to class--will be presented by a member of the class. That will lead into a general discussion. By the end of class, brand-new papers just published or not-yet-out will be introduced and briefly discussed.

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Previously Taught

Envs 1: People and Nature in America (team-taught)

This course will discuss the interactions between humans and nature in North America (primarily the USA) from literary, scientific and historical perspectives. When one asks the question: "What is nature?" or "Why does someone care about a particular place" it can be answered from many different perspectives. These perspectives have changed radically during our history. This course will consider both the literary and scientific aspects of these questions and consider possible responses as we read the following material:

  • Genesis 1-3; "Four Worlds: The Dine Story of Creation"
  • John McPhee, Encounters with the Archdruid (1971)
  • Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Journals (1804-1806)
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)
  • Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony (1977)
  • Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) Chaps 1-4, 6, 8, 10, 11
  • Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (1968)
  • Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge (1991)
  • Anne Matthews, Where The Buffalo Roam (1992)
  • Occasional short readings (articles and poems) throughout the term.

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Envs 30: Global Environmental Science

This course examines human influences on the major global biogeochemical cycles (water, carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, metals). We will emphasize cycling processes in terrestrial, marine, and--to a lesser extent--aquatic systems in an attempt to understand how human activities such as air pollution, deforestation, desertificaton and soil erosion alter these cycles. You may recall that Envs 2 is a survey course which covers a wide variety of topics at a moderate level of intensity. This course is designed to allow you to explore a few of those topics in greater detail.

There will be one in-class hour exam and a take-home final. The take-home exam might take up to two full days to complete. Two environmental problem set simulations will be assigned to give hands-on experience in understand the dynamics of change in biogeochemical systems. Each class member will prepare a 200-word abstract on a recent development in a topic we have discussed during the term. Two students will present their abstracts at the end of each class throughout the last four weeks of the term.

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Envs 79: Soil Science

This course will explore the nature and properties of soils and examine soil processes in natural and human-manipulated systems. Throughout the course, the soil will be considered as an integral component of the ecosystem. We will begin by developing an understanding of the physical, geological, biological and chemical processes that lead to soil formation and the development of specific soil properties. We will also examine the relationship between soils and underlying bedrock and overlying vegetation and the role of soils in ecosystems. Towards the end of the course, we will examine the situations in which soils impact human beings and in which human beings impact soils.

Problem sets and combined field trip/laboratory reports will be assigned. Students will collect samples during some of the field trips; these samples will be brought to the lab in 408 Steele and analyzed for a variety of physical and chemical properties. Results of these labs will be submitted as part of the field trip report.

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