Peter B. Rhines
H A&S 220
Evolution of an idea or concept central to the natural sciences. Intended for non-science majors. Content varies from year to year. For university honors students only. Offered: A.
This course explores the global environment yet focuses on cold northern latitudes. It also, and most centrally, will teach some of the essential scientific ideas that underlie our environment: these come largely from physics, but also with some biology. Yet it does not have any science prerequisites beyond basic math skills.
The course will provide a scientific account of energy in nature, from the sun to the atmosphere and ocean to fossil fuels, from first principles. This then is the context for learning about the changes in our global environment experienced in the 20th Century, and for anticipating the new environment coming in this century. The natives of Greenland have lived for more than 6000 years successfully with the cold, turning the harsh Arctic environment to their advantage. Yet now Arctic climate, oceans and atmosphere are changing, as well as the technologies and social/political surroundings of its inhabitants. Readings from numerous sources will give us an understanding of their predicament, in contrast with the more familiar environments of warmer latitudes.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
We have numerous scientific resources to supplement lectures. Our laboratories in the School of Oceanography will be available for demonstrations and hands-on work to explore some basic physical properties of energy: its generation, transmission and conversion in Nature and by humans (from the sun to the fuel cell, for example). We will do experiments that show how the atmosphere and ocean define our climate. Biological systems can be analyzed using ideas about energy, and we will discuss the flow of energy in a ‘microcosm’, a closed biological experiment. The University has a wide range of field programs in the Arctic which also provide resources for this course.
There are no prerequisites, yet reviewing whatever basic math, physics and environmental science that the student may have encountered earlier, would certainly be helpful. Science majors can taking the course will find ample challenges in learning about climate, life at high latitudes, and in essay writing.
Class assignments and grading
Students will write essays for each of three units, do some problem sets, and there will be quizzes and exam.
homework, essays, quiz and exam.