Global Biogeochemistry: Elemental cycles and environmental change

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                                      Course Syllabus
                                        EASC 6550
                                       Winter 2009
                                 Instructor: Susan Ziegler
                            Class meeting time: M 10:00-13:00

Course Overview: Biogeochemistry is the study of how living systems influence, and
are controlled by, the geology and chemistry of the earth. As part of this course we will
explore major chemical, biological, and geological processes that occur within and
between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The course will include an introduction to the
field of biogeochemistry and biogeochemical processes through the study of important
microbial/biological/chemical transformations in specific ecosystems. The course will
begin with a focus on terrestrial ecosystems focussing on soil development and the
cycling of C, N, and P in terrestrial ecosystems. We will than investigate processes
occurring in wetlands (specifically C, N, and S cycling), targeting the important redox
reactions and how they play a role in elemental cycles. The transport and cycling of
elements in rivers and their transformation in estuaries will provide a means to link
terrestrial and marine processes. Specifically we will address oceanic circulation and its
impact on global climate as well as marine biogeochemical cycling. The mechanistic
understanding of the processes occurring in specific ecosystems will be used to
investigate how they form major global biogeochemical cycles that provide the energy
and nutrients necessary for life. Lectures in the first part of the course will form a base for
students to extend their understanding of these cycles to develop a global perspective of
biogeochemistry. The final part of the class will, therefore, focus on global cycles with an
eye to perturbations of these cycles. Recent anthropogenic influences and how they have
impacted global cycles (e.g. water, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus) will be a focal point of
discussion in this class. Issues such as eutrophication, carbon sequestration, impacts of
ultraviolet radiation, and climate change, will form part of this discussion of change in
global biogeochemical cycles.

Text and Reading Assignments: No main text will be used for this course. In place the
students will be generating a reading list associated with the research paper related to a
key topic in biogeochemistry.

Evaluation: Students will be evaluated based upon:
                     Research paper         75
                     In-class participation 25 points*

                       Total points            100

*Part of your in-class participation will be your participation in discussion and your own

Research Paper and Presentation:

         A research paper covering any topic addressing some aspect of biogeochemistry
is required as part of this course. A list of potential topics is provide below but only
provides suggestions, feel free to discuss potential topics with me. This paper and the
presentation you provide for the class should cover a topic that interests you. This one
semester course can by no means cover the enormous topic of biogeochemistry. This is
really only an introduction and we will not be able to touch upon a number of extremely
exciting areas of biogeochemical research. Use this paper and presentation to bring some
of these topics into the class. All papers must include an abstract (summary) and
literature-cited sections, be typed double-spaced, and free of grammatical and
typographical errors.

       Three stages of your writing will be collected throughout the semester:
       1. Title and Initial Outline
              a. Decide on your general topic and assign a title
              b. Construct an outline of the topics to be addressed
              c. Maintain a list of the references you encounter as you do your research

       2. Outline of Paper
             a. Outline the paper in the major sections and subsections within
             b. Fill in each section with the pertinent information
             c. Construct tables and figures (Do this before you start writing the text!)
             d. Write topic sentences for each section of the outline

       3. Final Paper
             a. Write a first draft following your outline and figures/tables. Don’t
             worry about grammatical and spelling details in this first draft.
             b. Edit, revise, and rewrite additional drafts
             c. Put together final figures, tables and text with the literature cited and
             review again.

       Suggested Topics for Research Paper:

       Hydrothermal vent biogeochemistry
       Marine sulfur cycle
       Lake biogeochemistry and the impact of acidification
       Chemical composition of dissolved organic matter and its role in the global
       carbon cycle
       The effect of nitrogen saturation of aquatic ecosystems on global nitrogen budget
       (and potential climate implications)
       Headwater streams and their role in nutrient cycling and transport
       Coral reef nutrient cycling and the impact of coastal eutrophication
       Mangrove swamps and the impact of fish farming or eutrophication
       Nutrient cycling and the links between ecosystems (e.g. coral reef, seagrasses and
       mangroves; forests and streams; estuaries and the continental shelf)
       Nitrogen cycling in riparian wetlands and their influence on riverine N transport

Role of UV in aquatic or terrestrial biogeochemistry (photobiological and
photochemical effects)
Critical review of global circulation models currently used to predict future
Assessment of how different climate scenarios may affect both above and
belowground processes in:
        tropical terrestrial ecosystems
        boreal forest
        alpine ecosystems
        temperate zone forests and/or grasslands
Role of soil organic matter in regulating important atmospheric constituents
Potential effects of a warmer Earth on permafrost
Role of soil development in determining ecosystem productivity
How soil microbial activity links soil C and N cycling
How changes in cloud cover, precipitation, and temperature may interact in a
future climate to affect different terrestrial ecosystems


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