Teaching program

Current courses taught

ENVS100 Introduction to Environmental Science

(Spring, All years) This course will explore the physical science of the Earth’s environment and human interactions with it. Coverage will include the Earth’s various environmental systems (atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere and biosphere), various environmental problems (land use, energy use and its consequences, air and water pollution, and biodiversity), and the direct and indirect causes of these environmental problems (human population, urbanization, economics, risk assessment and ethics).

ENVS302 Penn Global Seminar: Case Studies in Environmental Sustaintability

(Spring, Odd years) A detailed, comprehensive investigation of selected environmental sustainability problems in Iceland. This course aims to introduce students to myriad Earth and environmental issues (understanding how humans interact, affect and are influenced by our environment) through the analysis of several environmental cases studies, as well as giving students an introduction to how complex cases are analyzed and what goes into decision-making at the individual, group, state, federal and global levels. The course includes an intensive field trip to Iceland at the end of the semester.

ENVS417 Anthropocene: The Human Dominated Earth

(Spring, Even years) A new geologic epoch defined by the action of humans, the Anthropocene, is being widely and seriously debated. The scientific debate centers around the question of whether humans have altered the Earth’s land, oceans, biosphere and atmosphere to an extent equivalent to the geological forces that formed and shaped the planet itself.  This seminar will examine the natural science origins of the Anthropocene, its many definitions, the ways in which humans have altered Earth systems, and what the future might hold for both humans and the planet. Implications of the Anthropocene worldview will be examined from the perspectives of the physical/natural sciences, the social sciences, as well as the humanities.

GEOL421/541 Biogeochemistry: Elemental Cycling in Global Earth Systems

(Fall, Odd years) Humans have an enormous impact on the global movement of chemical materials. Over the past few decades, biogeochemistry has grown to be the principal scientific discipline to examine the flow of elements through global earth systems and to examine human impacts on the global environment. Many environmental problems are rooted in human disruptions of natural biogeochemical cycles of nutrient elements, water or toxic pollutants. This course will introduce and investigate processes and factors controlling the biogeochemical cycles of elements within and between the hydrosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere and biosphere. Topics to be covered include: methods used to measure and model chemical fluxes and to decipher biogeochemical cycles past and present, processes and reactions controlling the distribution and fluxes of elements within and between the four major spheres, and anthropogenic influences and alterations of biogeochemical cycles. Students will apply principles learned in lectures by building computer-based models.

GEOL411 Introductory Soil Science

(Fall, Even years) Soils are the most complex biomaterials on the planet. They are 3-dimensional bodies on the earth’s surface with liquid, gaseous and solid components, both organic and inorganic, including living organisms in great number and diversity. The quality of the soil determines the capacity of land to support natural ecosystems and human society, and the degree to which we are dependent on soils is likely to increase in the future. This course will examine the nature, properties, and environmental functions of soil, and how these are liked to societal well-being.

GEOL511 Advanced Soil Science

(On demand) An advanced course in soil science focusing on soil formation processes and the interaction between organic and mineral materials in soils.

GEOL611 Field Study of Soils

(Summer, Odd years) Soil is a natural body that exists as part of the environment where inorganic, geologic materials combine with organic materials to produce a large array of soils with varying properties. This course will begin with in-class primers on the field description of soil properties, soil classification, and land use classification, followed by weekly day-long (4-6 hours) field trips to several locations to study the soils in-situ.

GEOL621 Field Methods in Biogeochemistry

(Summer, Even years) Biogeochemistry is the scientific discipline that studies the partitioning and cycling of chemical elements and compounds through the natural environment. Many environmental problems are rooted in human disruptions of natural biogeochemical cycles of nutrient elements, water or toxic pollutants. This course will introduce methods used to measure and model elemental stocks and fluxes through day-long field site visits, laboratory analyses of collected samples, and computer-based simulation modeling.

Past courses taught

ENVS200 Introduction to Environmental Earth Science

This course exposes students to the principles that underlie our understanding of how the Earth works. The goal of Earth Science is to obtain a scientific understanding of the entire Earth system by describing its component parts (i.e., lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere) and their interactions, and describe how they have evolved, how they function, and how they may be expected to respond to human perturbations. Energy, both natural and human-generated, will be used as a unifying principle. Knowledge gained through this course will help students make informed decisions in all spheres of human activity: science, policy, economics, etc.

ENVS327 Principles of Sustainability

What is sustainability? Can any fundamental concepts, principles or framework be constructed that adequately describes the search for sustainability? Is there a meaningful methodology? Sustainability science is a trans-disciplinary approach in which the quantitative and qualitative, natural and social, and theory and practice are reconciled and creatively combined. The objective of this course is to provide an in-depth analysis of the foundational concepts, principles, processes and practices of sustainability science. The course will explore three foundational laws governing sustainability: the law of limits to growth, the second law of thermodynamics, and the law of self-organization. Students will examine how these laws operate in biological, ecological, and physical systems, and then apply them to social, economic and political systems.