Classes currently being taught at Arizona State University

1)    Sustainability Science: Interactions Between Human and Environmental Systems (SOS/BIO/GCU 526)

course syllabus here
spring 2018 home page

This is a course on the core theories of sustainability science — an emerging field of problem-driven research dealing with the interactions between human and environmental systems. The problem that motivates the course, and the field, is the challenge of sustainability: improving the well-being of present and future generations in ways that conserve the planet’s life support systems over the long term. The goal is to introduce students interested in sustainability science to the field’s principle themes, cutting-edge findings, active debates and unresolved research questions. To this end, participants will critically discuss a set of presentations and papers covering the field in a systematic way, drawing on and integrating contemporary research from earth systems science, resource economics, institutional analysis, ecology, geography, development studies, health sciences and engineering.

The motivation for the course is the need to integrate the various communities working on sustainability science. The fragmentation of those communities – partly by discipline, partly by institution, partly by applications focus – was noted as a major impediment to its growth and maturation at a recent workshop held by NSF to identify priority needs in the field. In response to this finding, we are experimenting with this distributed, interdisciplinary course on sustainability science. Its goal is to bring together faculty and graduate students from different universities and disciplinary backgrounds to discuss key concepts, findings and controversies in the field.

2)    Human Impact on Ecosystem Functioning (SOS429/529; BIO429/529)

The objective of this course is to explore our current understanding of how humans are affecting the functioning of ecosystems and how changes in ecosystems would affect provisioning of ecosystem services and ultimately human well-being. The two primary drivers of ecosystem change are growth of the human population and increased consumption per capita. These drivers affect the Earth’s cycles of carbon, nitrogen, and water, as well as regional and global-scale changes in biodiversity and climate. The course includes an in-depth discussion of scenarios for next 50 and 100 years, which articulate costs and benefits of alternative development pathways in terms of climate change, food production, clean water and biodiversity. Scenarios of change in biodiversity lead to the topic of the consequences of biodiversity change for the functioning of ecosystems from the point of view of their productivity and stability. The course discusses human alterations and interactions among major biogeochemical cycles. Basic understanding of human impacts on ecosystem functioning are complemented with discussions of potential applied solutions to environmental problems. The course includes classes on alternative biofuels and their impacts on the environment encompassing their effects from greenhouse emissions to nitrogen pollution and biodiversity loss.

3) Ecosystem Ecology (BIO 422-494/598 SOS 598)

This course explores the structure, development and dynamics of terrestrial ecosystems, with a focus on the exchange of energy and materials between the atmosphere, soils, water, biosphere, and anthroposphere. The course will discuss how patterns of geomorphology and atmospheric circulation constrain the functioning of ecosystems. Major biogeochemical cycles including nitrogen, carbon and phosphorus are being discussed along with their interactions. The final part of the course focuses on biodiversity and its effects on ecosystem functioning and their ability to provide ecosystem services.