Earth & Ocean Systems FOUNDATION COURSE

MEES 640: Interconnected Earth Systems: Land, Ocean and Estuary 

Instructors: Mark Castro, Michael Gonsior, Victoria Coles

Syllabus for Fall 2016

Learning Outcomes: 

Cross cutting themes of human impacts on global change

  1. Students will gain a fundamental understanding of the physical and biogeochemical dynamics of the earth-estuarine-ocean system including
    1. general transport processes governing movement of materials and energy across environments
    2. Understand connections linking physical and biogeochemical processes in the atmosphere, land, estuaries and the ocean. 
    3. Understand concept of conservation of energy (conduction, convection, radiation, atmospheric scattering and absorption (e.g., effects of water vapor, aerosols, ozone) across systems. 
    4. Linking theoretical knowledge with real world examples (cast studies). 
  2. Students will gain process-based knowledge of the earth-estuarine-ocean system from theoretical, experimental, and empirical vantage points.  Students will be expected to: 
    1. Demonstrate both qualitative and quantitative understanding of fundamental physical and biogeochemical processes, and their interactions
    2. Synthesize and apply information from multiple scientific disciplines (e.g., hydrology, biogeochemistry, physical oceanography)
    3. Formulate testable hypotheses through integration of theory and observational data
  3. Students will learn to write concisely and directly through practice with short answer questions. 

Assessment of learning outcomes

Students learning outcomes will be assessed by in-class presentations (20%) and discussions (10%); multiple take-home exercises involving quantitative analysis of actual observation/experimental data (20%); take home mid-term examination (25%) ; and on integrative in-class final examination (25%). 

Class Structure

Lecture (~90 minutes), Activity (Paper discussions brief presentations, ~30 minutes). 

Take home midterm and in class final exam. 



Lecture (29)                                              Topics (initial indicate instructor to cover lecture) 



General introduction

1.     Aug 30, (All) Intro to class (all gather at College Park). 

2.     Sept 1, (VC) Introduction to the earth-estuarine-ocean system: Sources of energy, meridional heat flux in ocean and atmosphere, concepts of long and shortwave radiation, sensible, latent, and specific heat; Earth's radiative balance

3.     Sept 6, (VC) Introduction to the earth-estuarine-ocean system: phase changes (water); Earth albedo, icean-albedo feedback, atmospheric chemistry impact on radiation balance. 

4.     Sept 8, (MC) Introduction to the earth-estuarine-ocean system: Earth's rotation and atmospheric general circulation

a.     Concepts: conservation of energy (conduction, convention, radiation, atmospheric scattering and absorption (e.g., effects of water vapor, aerosols, ozone)

5.     Sept 13 (MG) Introduction to the earth-estuarine-ocean system: biogeochemical processes governing transformations of materials

6.     Sept 15, (MG) Introduction to the earth-estuarine-ocean system: concept of biogeochemical mass balance

a.     Big picture cycles: emphasizing differences in the C, N, P cycles (O, S, trace metals later) 

b.    Concepts: residence time, dependence of variability on flux/reservoir ratio

7.     Sept 20 (MC) Case study: human impacts on a cycle of choice, changes in energy balance, GHG, Human impacts on C, N, and/or P cycling.

Land System

8.     Sept 22 (MC) Land surface dynamics: Role of land cover in mediating global water and nutrient cycles, temperature gradients, specific examples of land cover changes that have influenced climate.

a.     Concepts: Land surface interactions with the atmosphere, patterns or precipitation, evapotranspiration, phenology, urban heat islands, agricultural extensification and intensification

9.     Sept 27, (MC) Land surface dynamics: Hydrologic impacts and land use (infiltration/runoff, role of vegetation, phenology, land cover, and soils); surface and subsurface runoff processes; interactions with the coastal system

a.     Concepts: conservation of mass, transport

10.  Sept 29, (MC) Land surface dynamics: biogeochemical processes at the watershed scale (focus on processes mediated by the land surface)

11.  Oct 4, (MC) Land surface dynamics: Terrestrial biogeochemical processes (role of vegetation, land use and cover, and microbes in terrestrial biogeochemical processes); interactions of land surface with global cycles of C, N, & P.

12.  Oct 6 (MC) Land surface dynamics: maybe more specific treatment of global change impacts

13.  Oct 11, (MC) Case study on land surface dynamics – part 1

a.     Examples: water scarcity and desertification (changes in vegetation, feedbacks to climate system); Watershed nutrient balance (role of forests, wetlands, agriculture, and climate change); global and regional C sequestration (role of land use, soils, and climate change)

14.  Oct 13, (MC) Case study on land surface dynamics – part 2

a.      (Take home mid-term assigned, due one week later)

Ocean Systems

15.  Oct 15 (VC) Ocean-coupled-atmosphere climate: effects of Earth’s rotation (Coriolis and geostrophy); Ekman/wind driven circulation, coastal and equatorial upwelling

16.  Oct 20 (VC) Ocean-coupled-atmosphere climate: transport processes in oceanic environments; interactions with the atmosphere(i.e., wind-driven flow, gyres and Sverdrup theory)

17.  Oct 25, (VC) Ocean-coupled-atmosphere climate: large-scale ocean circulation, meridional overturning, climate, SLR, climate modes

18.  Oct 27 (MG) Ocean-biogeochemical processes in the ocean: transformations of materials in oceanic environments; forms and cycling of major ions in seawater; redfield ratios and the concept of limiting nutrients, including trace metal limitation

19.  Nov 1, (MG) Ocean-biogeochemical processes in the ocean: primary production variability (and control by ligh/mixed layer and nutrients)

20.  Nov 3, (MG) Ocean-biogeochemical processes in the ocean: carbon fixation and sequestration, planktonic ecosystem dynamics/marine ecology, benthic ecology

21.  Nov 8, (VC) Case study:  Connections and interactions in the earth-estuary-ocean system: case study sea level rise – steric vs. meltwater, impacts on coasts, impacts on nutrients and acidification

Estuarine System

22.  Nov 10, (VC) Estuaries-Physical processes linking land and ocean: Estuarine classification and circulation; river plumes’ residence time

23.  Nov 15, (VC) Estuaries-Physical processes linking land and ocean: tides; tide-driven circulation; interactions with the atmosphere, mixing, erosion

a.     Concept: advection, diffusion, turbulence/mixing, buoyancy and stratification

24.  Nov 17 (MG) Estuaries-Biogeochemical processes in estuaries: transformations of materials in estuarine environments; nutrient cycling and limitation (C, N, P), including the role of sediments

25.  Nov 22, (MG) Estuaries-Biogeochemical processes in estuaries: primary production variability (planktonic, benthos, SAV, marshes) and light and nutrient controls

26.  Nov 29, (MG) Estuaries-Biogeochemical processes in estuaries: physical and nutrient control on hypoxia/anoxia, impacts of hypoxia/anoxia on biogeochemical/ecology/microbiology

27.   Dec 1, (MG) Case Study in estuaries: water nutrients, energy cycling: case study of the problem of runoff due to human land use changes adding nutrients and sediments into the ocean

28.  Dec 8, (MG) Case Study in estuaries: Part 2

29.  Dec 8, (MG) Case Study summary lecture, open to instructor (3 things that they liked about the class, 3 things they could improve).

Final exam will be scheduled during finals week, most likely the next regular class time.