2012-13 Catalog

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Offering Description

The Global Carbon Cycle

Spring 2013 quarter

Erin Martin chemical oceanography, biogeochemistry, freshwater ecology

The global carbon cycle is fundamentally tied to many of the most important environmental issues of the twenty-first century, including climate change, energy consumption, ocean acidification, deforestation, and the pollution of freshwater ecosystems.   As such, an accurate understanding of the carbon cycle is necessary to guide policy to work towards an effective solution to many of these complex issues.  Accordingly, this program will explore the fundamentals of the global carbon cycle.  We will examine how the carbon cycle has operated over different geological time scales.  With this background, we will study how carbon is distributed between different reservoirs on Earth today (i.e. the atmosphere, the ocean, and the land), and then examine the sequence of processes that control the cycling of carbon between these reservoirs.  We will use case studies of current hot research topics to explore how anthropogenic activities are altering the global carbon cycle in both terrestrial and marine settings.  Finally, we will examine the strengths of weaknesses of different technological solutions posed to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide.  Additional topics to be covered include the effects of elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on terrestrial and aquatic organisms, the “missing sink” on land, ocean acidification, and deforestation.  Seminar readings will be based on primary literature in addition to the required program text.   This class provides a more in-depth exploration of the carbon cycle relative to that encountered in Ecological and Social Sustainability.  No prerequisites are required.

2013 Syllabus

Faculty Biography
Erin Ellis is an aquatic biogeochemist whose research focuses on examining the role of rivers in the global carbon cycle.  While working in the Amazon Basin, her research demonstrated that bacteria living in the river produce high levels of carbon dioxide, and this carbon dioxide is subsequently lost to the atmosphere.  Her current research in the Mekong Basin focuses on characterizing the type of organic carbon that is exported by large rivers to the ocean.  Specifically, she uses molecular tracers to determine where in the watershed the carbon originates from, and uses radiocarbon analyses to determine the age.  Such information is necessary in order to understand the preservation of terrestrial carbon in the ocean, which can affect atmospheric carbon dioxide levels over long time scales.  Erin has experience working in streams, rivers, lakes, and the ocean.

Advertised Schedule
6-10p Wed
Online Learning
Hybrid Online Learning < 25% Delivered Online
Greener Store
Undergraduate Credit Option
Requires Faculty Approval
Offered During