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Biogeochemistry: How Earth’s Critical Zone works - course information

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Biol 701/801, Evrn 420/720, Geog 339/531, Geol 591/791

Do you want to learn how our planet’s natural systems work? Are you concerned about increasing human influence on Earth’s natural processes? Does projected climate change worry you? Take a class to learn the science behind these ideas. Biogeochemistry is the study of elemental fluxes into, through, and out of Earth’s biosphere, lithosphere, and atmosphere. Increasingly, it is the study of using past behavior of the Earth’s cycles to project functioning with anthropogenic climate change and resource use. To understand these interacting processes, we integrate principles of biology, geology, physical geography and chemistry.

Students will learn how the sun and life on our planet drive planetary-scale cycles of carbon, water, nitrogen, phosphorus and other elements through Earth’s atmosphere, soil, rock, and oceans and freshwater. We focus on Earth’s “Critical Zone,” defined by the National Science Foundation as that region from the top of vegetation canopies into the groundwater below. Class material is presented as a series of lectures and in-class, professor-led activities. By the end of the semester, students will understand what drives these cycles, how they vary across ecosystems, how they interact with each other, how anthropogenic activities are modifying them, and possible strategies for mitigating negative effects of human activities. The course is taught by a geologist and biologist to ensure that the next generation of biogeochemists is educated in a transdisciplinary manner. We anticipate an energetic, dynamics class environment that encourages questions and discussion. 

The class is intended for upper level or graduate level Biology, Geology, Geography or Environmental Studies students keen on learning how our planet functions. Introductory coursework in at least one of these disciplines is recommended; if you are concerned about your background, contact one of the professors to ask. Graduate students will fulfill additional requirements in addition to undergraduate assignments.

Dr. David Fowle, fowle@ku.edu
Dr. Sharon Billings, sharon.billings@ku.edu

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