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Earth, Air, Water: The Human Context

ENVIR215, Spring 2005
Earth, Air, Water: The Human Context


Instructor: William Wilcock Office: 126 Marine Sciences Building email:

Lab Engineer: Eric Lindahl Office: 107-A Ocean Science Building email:

Teaching Assistant: Timothy Crone Office: 124 Marine Sciences Building email:

Additional help in labs:
Andrew Barclay, email:
Fabrice Fontaine, email:

Course Description

This is unique lecture/lab class that combines hands-on experiments in the laboratory
with ideas about the structure of our environment. The class examines the way our
physical environment works and works with and against us. The context is a survey of
20th Century environmental change: air, water, earth and their inhabitants. Aimed at nonscience
majors, the format allows you to experience classical science "taken outdoors."
This course will broaden your perspective on environmental issues and help you make
informed choices as an active member of society. The course will utilize lab experiments,
lectures, reading, discussions and presentations, and will be divided into three primary
units: Energy, Air & Water, and Earth. During these units we will cover additional topics
such as transportation, food supplies, pollution, climate, land surface processes, natural
hazards, global sustainability and others.

During lab periods there will be a group of open-ended non-cookbook experiments for
each topic. You will work with a partner carrying out about 6 distinct experiments during
the term; meanwhile you will see what other 'teams' are doing with their experiments
(which will differ from yours) and you will present your experiment to the rest of the section. We will also work together on projects to build solar-powered cookers and to conduct simple plant growing experiments. Lecture periods will develop the 'science core' that underlies the lab, and both formal lectures and discussions will be used to extend into ideas of the Earth system that are relevant to public policy. Each unit will include background readings that will provide historical context and contrasting opinions. Each of the three units will also have an essay project that will require research outside of
the text. There will be quizzes at the end of each of the three units.

Course Objectives

• Familiarize yourself with environmental issues from scientific and historical points of
view, stressing the changes seen in the past century and the impacts of environment
and natural events on society.
• Learn scientific ideas that show how the Earth system works and help in assessing
environmental problem areas (the many 'hot spots' that threaten ecosystems and
• Learn to explore ideas in the laboratory, both observing and building experiments,
and understanding the great and small of the environment: problems as big as the
Earth and as small as one molecule will be explored.
• Develop group discussion and problem-solving skills. We will not solve any
environmental problems in the class but we need to learn to discuss them in the
context of scientific knowledge.
• Improve oral and written communication skills.
• Develop a collection of experiment-, library- and web skills relating to the
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