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Introduction to Environmental Geoscience
Lecture Schedule for Fall 2008

This is a general outline of the material that will be discussed each day, and we will probably deviate from it as the course progresses. It is meant to be an overview of the topics to be discussed in roughly the order they will be discussed. Some topics may take more or less time than listed.

August 26, 2008 Overview, Environmental Problems

  1. Syllabus
  2. Course Goals
  3. Welcome to Environmental Studies and Environmental Geosciencs and Course Overview
  4. Discussion:
    1. What do you consider to be the the most important environmental issue?
    2. Have we left anything off the schedule?
    3. What tools do you need to pursue your interests in the environment?
    4. Finding useful material on the web

Global Climate Change and the Ocean

August 28, 2008 The Anthropocene, Tragedy of the Commons, and Global Change

There are many important environmental problems. But we don't have time to discuss all. Let's begin with perhaps the greatest environmental problem facing civilization today, the possibility of abrupt change in climate due to increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is one aspect of a much larger problem, that of global change due to increasing population. Other aspects of the problem, air and water pollution, over fishing, and land degradation will be discussed later in the course.

Before we can begin, we need to understand how people can influence the global environment. After all, the atmosphere is huge, so how can we be doing anything to change climate? And, why does an increasing population lead to important environmental problems? Isn't there a technological solution? To find out more:

Read: The Anthropocene, Tragedy of the Commons, and the original paper of Tragedy of the Commons.

September 2, 2008 Climate Change, Earth's Radiation Balance, and Greenhouse Gases

The Climate Change Problem
What is the problem? What causes the problem? What do we know about the problem? What are greenhouse gases? Where do they come from? Why does Wally Broecker state "... it is clear that Earth's climate system has proven itself to be an angry beast. When nudged, it is capable of a violent response."

To begin, let's find out if climate is really changing, where climate is defined to be the average of the weather over a period of time, usually 40 years.

Read: Observed Climate Trends written by the United Nations Environmental Program's UNEP Global Resources Information Database (GRID) office in Arendal.How much has earth's temperature, rainfall, and sea level changed? Then read Emissions Continue to Increase. See also US average temperature from the Earth Observatory article on temperature trends and temperature trends at selected places around the world. Here is the latest plot of global averaged temperature.

Read: Earth's Radiation Balance to learn more about the greenhouse effect.

Homework Assignment 1 Due

Form teams of four or five to work on assignment 2.

September 4, 2008 Earth's Carbon Balance

Read: The Carbon Cycle, the Ocean, and the Iron Hypothesis and the paper on on Sinks for Anthropogenic Carbon in the August 2002 issue of Physics Today to learn more about what happens to carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Notice the many different systems influencing the carbon cycle.

If you have difficulty downloading the paper, you will need to go through the library portal for e-resources, Click on E-Journals, then type in the name of the journal: Physics Today in this case.

September 9, 2008 The Role of the Ocean: Abrupt Climate Change

Read: Abrupt Climate Change and articles linked to that page. NOAA has a very useful web page on Abrupt Climate Change.

Homework Assignment 2 Due

September 11, 2008 Global Warming: The Future of Earth's Climate

This much we know: Greenhouse gas concentration is increasing. Greenhouse gases keep earth warm. But, what about the future. If greenhouse gas concentrations keep increasing, what will happen to our climate? Can we predict what will happen?


  1. The Executive Summary of Chapter 8 of the IPCC Third Report on Accuracy of Models of Climate Change
  2. The Executive Summary of Chapter 9 of the IPCC Third Report on Projections For Future Climate Change
    Both summaries are relatively short. The most recent reports are available in pdf format from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  3. Modeling the Climate System

    Faced with uncertain predictions, what ought we to do based on our understanding of climate change? The top down approach of forcing reduction of greenhouse gases through the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty, seems to have stalled. Bottom up approaches using market-driven, technological solutions to global warming, an approach advocated by Al Gore and many economists, may be more effective.

  4. Wired Magazine's article on The Resurrection of Al Gore that explains his goal of using economic incentives to achieve environmental goals and their Grading the Old Guard on the effectiveness of environmental groups.

Supplemental reading if you want to read more:

  1. Global Change: Policy Issues
  2. The US Congressional Research Service Report on Global Change Treaty: The Kyoto Protocol (a 92 kByte PDF file) starting at Policy Context.
  3. The the Energy Information Administration's Analysis and Report and the implications for the US economy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  4. Resources for the Future has a good analysis of the problem, a paper on What to Do About Climate Change by Ruth Greenspan Bell in Foreign Affairs (May/June 2006), and links to their report Can an Effective Global Climate Treaty Be Based on Sound Science, Rational Economics, and Pragmatic Politics? a 284 KByte PDF file.
  5. The American Petroleum Institute has their own views on the subject.
  6. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change has published many documents. You might start with the speech CONNECTING THE DOTS: ELEMENTS OF AN INTERNATIONAL APPROACH TO CLIMATE CHANGE by Eileen Claussen, the president of the group.
  7. The New Scientist provides a European Perspective.

Water Resources Issues

By the end of the next decade almost half the world's population will live in countries that are water stressed, meaning they will not have enough water to meet the demands of their populations.
Serena Parker

September 16, 2008 Water Cycle and Water Use

Read: The Hydrological Cycle.

Watch: Moisture stream from the tropics into mid-latitudes where it falls as rain in this visualization for January and for August from the Visualization Group at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. The animation is from a numerical weather model. Notice that the rain that falls on land (red tones in the animation), even in Alaska, comes from water vapor (white areas in the animation) carried by winds streaming out of the tropics.

Additional Reading If You Are Interested:

  1. Sanger, M., and Reed, C., 2000, Texas Environmental Almanac, 2nd edition, University of Texas Press, Austin. Chapter 1 on Water Quality. Pages 1-5 and page 6: (South Central Texas, Southeast Texas and Upper Gulf Coast, South Texas and Lower Gulf Coast) (Note that each "page" on the web site is equivalent to several pages in the book)

September 18, 2008 Groundwater and Natural Chemistry of Groundwater

Read: Groundwater: The Sea Beneath Our Feet.

Additional Reading If You Are Interested:

  1. Hydrogeology, a third tutorial written for the US Environmental Protection Agency.
  2. National Primary Drinking Water Standards (a pdf file).
  3. Sanger, M., and Reed, C., 2000. Texas Environmental Almanac, 2nd edition, University of Texas Press, Austin.  Ch. 2, p. 8-9 (Note that each "page" on the web site is equivalent to several pages in the book.)

Homework Assignment 3 Due

September 23, 2008 Groundwater Contamination

Read: Groundwater Contamination

Additional Reading If You Are Interested:

  1. Tutorial on Ground Water Quality written by Agricultural & Biological Engineering Department, Purdue University for the US Environmental Protection Agency.
  2. Overview of Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's 2004 Overview of Texas Water Quality Inventory and List (284 KBytes). The report is submitted every two years to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
  3. LNAPL: Liquid Non-Aqueous Phase Liquids.
  4. DNAPL: Dense Non-Aqueous Phase Liguids.

Homework assignment #3 has been posted. Because many of the water districts do not have environmental quality information on the web, you may use the following web sites to discuss the overall "health" of the aquifer or water reservoir that provides water for your home town if you can't find the information posted with the assignment.

September 25, 2008 Groundwater Remediation

Read: Groundwater Remediation

September 30, 2008 Exam 1

Coastal Resource Issues

Many people live close to or on the coast. As population increases, people have an ever greater influence on coastal regions. And events in the coastal region, such as hurricanes, influence more and more people. In the next three class meetings we will discuss some of the big environmental issues of the coastal zone.

October 2, 2008 Coastal Pollution

Today, we begin with coastal pollution. What happens to all the contaminants introduced into water as it flows on or under the ground? Does it pollute the coastal zone?

Read: Introduction to Coastal Pollution, including links from this page and the following pages,
Read: Sources of Marine Pollution, and
Read: Alien Species.

Additional Reading If You Are Interested:

  1. Ocean Channel web page on Mercury in Fish.
  2. Science Daily report Mercury In Ocean Fish May Come From Natural Sources, Not Pollution.

October 7, 2008 Overfishing

Fish are mostly gone. Overfishing has reduced the populations of fish, turtles, sharks, and whales to 3–30 percent of their values fifty or more years ago. Some popular fish, such as the blue-fin tuna, are less than 0.1% of their original numbers.

Read: Fisheries Issues,
Read: Fishery Policy Issues.

Supplemental reading if you want to read more:

  1. Overfishing has depleted stocks of large fish according to a National Geographic Society article.
  2. The Executive Summary (a 300 KByte PDF file) to the June 2003 Pew Commission's report on on American's Living Ocean.

Homework Assignment 4 Due

October 9, 2008 Coastal Erosion

Coastal erosion is a problem for those who live near coasts and for marine organisms living along the coast. What is the nature of the problem? Are we making it better or worse? What causes erosion? Can it be prevented? Or do we want to allow erosion as a natural process?

Read: Storm Surges
Read: Coastal Erosion
Read: Coastal Erosion Policy Issues

Supplemental reading if you want to read more:

  1. Hurricane Ike photos.
  2. USGS Ike Damage Photos.
  3. Pamela Gore has a good set of web pages describing Shoreline and Coastal Processes.
  4. Seafriends publishes a tutorial on Dunes and beaches. The sections on engineering solutions and new observations, in the Disappearing Beaches section provide a useful overview of how to maintain beaches.

Additional Source of Information

Dean, C. (1999). Against the Tide: The Battle for America's Beaches. New York, Columbia University Press.

This is a very useful book that documents beach processes and the difficulties facing those who want to use technical solutions to save beaches.

Due Today: List of team members and topic for Presentation.

Air Resource Issues and Ozone Depletion

As population increases, we burn more fossil fuels, which adds carbon dioxide and other pollutants to the atmosphere. More people drive cars, another source of atmospheric pollutants. We use more land for agriculture, which further adds to atmospheric pollution. And, we use chlorofluorocarbons in our homes and in industrial processes, further degrading the atmosphere.

During the next four lectures, we will first briefly examine the composition, temperature, pressure and function of the Earth’s modern atmosphere and then proceed to discuss the spatial aspects of human induced inputs that affect it, such as air pollution, especially urban air pollution, stratospheric ozone depletion, and the blight of acid rain deposition.

October 14, 2008 Structure and Composition of the Atmosphere, Pollution Sources

Read: Atmospheric Structure and Pollution Sources.

A very nice interactive web site that has information and graphs on atmospheric composition, temperature and function can be found at the University Center for Atmospheric Research's web pages on Earth's Atmosphere. While there is not much oxygen at 29,000 feet, it is possible for some people to survive at this altitude. Reinhold Messner did it twice when he climbed Mount Everest, first with Peter Habeler in 1978, then solo in 1980. The November 2006 issue of National Geographic has a long article on his accomplishments.

October 16, 2008 Atmosphereric Pollutants in the Troposphere

Read: Atmospheric Pollutants.

October 21, 2008 Case Study: Air Pollution in Houston

Read: A Case Study: Texas Air Quality

Useful web sites:

  1. Proposed changes in Texas aimed at reducing air pollutant concentrations
  2. Current wind directions
  3. Texas emission inventories
  4. Visibility trends at Big Bend National Park
  5. Details of the Carbon I and II power plants
  6. Location of particulate matter sampling sites
  7. Real time PM2.5 data
  8. Current visibility map.

October 23, 2008 Acid Rain and Stratospheric Ozone Depletion

Read: Acid Rain.

Additional Information

  1. For a scientific overview of the acid rain problem, read this 700KB PDF review article on Acidic Deposition in the
    Northeastern United States: Sources and Inputs, Ecosystem Effects, and Management Strategies
  2. For information on acid rain deposition check the acid rain web pages at the EPA. More information is at the National Atmospheric Deposition Program web pages.
  3. For information on how emission trading works and how it has led to a reduction of acid rain in many countries, read Clearing The Air: The Truth About Capping and Trading Emissions.
  4. The USGS has a site on acid rain with examples from Washington DC, especially the effects of acid precipitation on buildings. There is an active monitoring program in the US called the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP) and they have a brief summary on their web site. Environment Canada has also a very informative web page on acid rain (as well as other environmental issues including ozone hole over the Arctic Ocean).
  5. The EPA publishes Preliminary Summary Emission Reports listing the amounts of pollutants emitted by individual power plants.
  6. A European perspective with many good links can be found at the Swedish NGO Secretariat on Acid Rain.

Read: Stratospheric Ozone.

Outline of Final Presentation Due. Work with your partners to determine what environmental topic will be the basis for your report and class presentation.

Energy and Environmental Issues

The more energy we use, the more we change global carbon dioxide concentrations, influence water, and add to atmospheric pollution. To avoid these problems, why not change to renewable energy resources? Can't we just switch to wind and solar energy?

October 28, 2008 Energy and Fossil Fuels: How Much Do We Use? Are there Alternative Energy Sources?

Read: Energy then Hoffert et al (2002) and Pacala and Socolow (2004).

Supplemental reading if you want to read more:

Introduction and Total Energy from Energy in the US: 1635-2000 produced by the US Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration.

October 30, 2008 Exam 2

Land Resource Issues

November 4, 2008 Land Degradation: A Global Overview

Read: Land Degradation.

November 6, 2008 The Dust Bowl, The Mississippi River, and Texas Playas

American Documentary Films: The Plow That Broke the Plains and The River. Originally produced by the US Government Resettlement Administration. They describe environmental problems culminating in the Dust Bowl, and the great floods of the Mississippi River in the 1930s.

Available for viewing at the Educational Media Services, Evans Library,4th floor, Library Annex Building.
Item catalog number HC107.A17 P52 2007.

Read: The Dust Bowl and Aftermath.

November 11, 2008 Desertification in the Sahel (Tchakerian)

Read: Desertification in the Sahel.

Download: Powerpoint Presentation on Desertification (9 MByte File). This contains material shown in class.

November 13, 2008 Dust, Wind, and Soil Erosion (Tchakerian)

Class material is contained in the powerpoint file you downloaded for 13 November.

Read: Aeolian Transport of Sand and Dust.

Book Review Due: Your review of the book Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource by Marq De Villiersis due.

  1. The report should be three, single-spaced, printed pages long.
  2. The report should:
  3. Explain how the book influenced you. What did you learn that you thought was espceially interesting or important, and why?
  4. You may also compare and contrast material in the the book with other material you have read on the subject.
  5. How do the issues in the book relate to Texas?
  6. For more information on writing a book report see the University of Wisconsin Writing Center and Tim Loy has a few useful tips (although more for an English Lit class).

November 18, 2008 Dustiest Places on Earth–Dead and Dying Seas (Tchakerian)

Read: Dustiest Places on Earth–Dead and Dying Seas.

Download: Powerpoint Presentation on Aeolian Dust (29 MByte File).This contains material shown in class.

November 20, 2008 Presentations

  1. Teams of four students present the results of their report on an environmental topic.
  2. Each team has twelve minutes for a brief presentation followed by three minutes for questions.
  3. Four teams will present each day.
  4. A printed copy of a report based on your presentation is due when you make your presentation.

Presenting today:

  1. Team 1: Mariana Gonzalez, Leslye Mohon, Dana Reusser, Elke Sauter, Jeff Supak, Steven Tarpley: Global Dimming.
  2. Team 2: Hannah Powers, Seth Rieger,Jessica Shockley, Cody Williams, Matt Wright: Wind Energy.
  3. Team 3: Eugenio Benavides, Sarah Brock, Max Lukenbach, Michael Retersdorf, Shelly Reynolds, Brandi Stevenson: Forest Destruction by Hurricane Katrina.
  4. Team 4: Loni Cantu, Jeanne Eckhart, Colin Frazier, Elda Ramirez, Alex Scarfo, Joel Suydam: Ethanol Fuel's Environmental Effects.

November 25, 2008 Presentations

Presenting today:

  1. Team 5: Ethan Cartwright, Amena Collins, Hannah Dietzmann, Sarah Edwards, Jillian Van Zandt, Matthew Wilson: Aquaculture and Overfishing.
  2. Team 6: Sunny Dorris, Miguel Duque, John Gutierez, Sonny Kwon, Kristin McNabb, Kathleen Nease: Species Extinction.
  3. Team 7: Jacque Campbell, John Elof, Beau Graham, Katie Penca, Preston Poitevint, Lauren Young: Personal Water Conservation.
  4. Team 8. Sean Aucoin, Sarah Fealy, Katie Hargrove, Chris Massey, Chris Rodie, Clayton Ueckert: Land Subsidence.

November 27, 2008 Thanksgiving Holiday

December 2, 2008 Presentations

Presenting today:

  1. Team 9: Claire Brown, Shene Cottey, Bryan Keblinger, Justin Maness, Tyler Pruett: Coral Bleaching.
  2. Team 10: Lee Gillihan, Paul Van De Putte:

December 5, 2008 OPTIONAL FINAL EXAMINATION 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM

Updated July 6, 2010

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