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 Seminar in Environmental Science  posted by  boym   on 2/8/2008  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
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12.085 Seminar in Environmental Science

Fall 2005

Graph of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at Mauna Loa.
Atmospheric CO2 levels (measured in parts per million by volume (ppmv) of dry air) from 1958 to 2004 as measured at Mauna Loa. The cause for the yearly rise and fall is the annual cycle of plant respiration. The cause of the increasing trend is supposedly the anthropogenic release of CO2, mainly due to the use of fossil energy sources. (Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons, data provided by the U.S. Department of Energy.)

Course Highlights

This course features student work in the assignments section and a comprehensive reading list.

Course Description

Required for all Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences majors in the Environmental Science track, this course is an introduction to current research in the field. It stresses the integration of central scientific concepts in environmental policy making and the chemistry, biology, and geology environmental science tracks. It revisits the selected core themes for students who have already acquired a basic understanding of environmental science concepts. The topic for this term is Global Respiration.



Course Description

This term's theme is Global Respiration. Respiratory processes return carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and oceans; any inefficiencies can change carbon dioxide levels in the short term and oxygen levels in the long term. Observations indicate that respiration has no characteristic time scale. This undergraduate seminar will address these and related observations, seek theories for them, and consider their applications to problems ranging from contemporary global warming to the evolution of complex life.

Student Assignments

Students are required to read and discuss scientific literature, assemble and analyze relevant data, formulate and criticize quantitative theories, and provide frequent oral reports. An oral and written report on a topic of individual interest is due late in the term.


Environmental Earth Science Field Course (12.120), and Strange Bedfellows: Science and Environmental Policy (12.103), or permission of instructor.


Class Participation 50%
Final Report 50%


1 Introduction to the Carbon Cycle and Models of Respiratory Decay
2 More Models of Respiration
3 Organic Matter in Soils and Marine Sediments
4 Carbon Loss from Soils
5 Oxygen Exposure Time and Organic Carbon Burial
6 Carbon Sequestration I
7 Carbon Sequestration II
8 Approaches to Reducing Atmospheric CO2 Levels
9 Student Presentations

Sorption of Organic Matter by Clay

Geologic Carbon Sequestration
10 Student Presentations (cont.)

Biomass Fuel and Reforestation

Forests as a Sink for CO2
11 Student Presentations (cont.)

Hydrogen Fuel Cells and the Reduction of CO2 Emissions

Ocean Fertilization
12 Student Presentation (cont.)

Oceanic Sequestration of CO2

Instructor Presentation

Asymptotic Theory of Detrital Decomposition   Tell A Friend