Contemporary Earth System Science
A lecture and discussion colloquium course for early-career undergraduate students interested in Earth and Environmental Science.
Fall 2009
Taught by
a bunch of the best and brightest faculty and researchers in Earth System Science at the University of Arizona

For the official 195K syllabus, click here.



CESS will introduce early undergraduate students to a variety of modern problems and areas of active research in Earth, environmental, and planetary science, emphasizing interdisciplinary applications of physics, chemistry, and biology in an Earth Systems approach, and focusing to some degree on issues with societal impact.

The class will meet one day per week; each meeting will feature a 45-minute lecture, followed by 30 minutes of questions and discussion with the presenter. A tentative list of topics and presenters is below. Short readings will be assigned (by each presenter) one week before each meeting.

Besides providing exposure to current scientific and societal issues in Earth and environmental science for students in a wide range of majors, the class is intended to highlight opportunities in the Earth System Science major track in Geosciences through showcasing important research at the UA by particularly eminent and dynamic faculty and researchers.

Schedule of Presentation and Discussion Topics (so far):

26 Aug: Peter Reiners: Introduction and overview of Earth System Science

2 Sept: Julie Cole: Global warming's evil twin: Ocean acidification and its ecosystem impacts
Reading for Cole presentation: Doney, 2006, Scientific American

9 Sept: Lisa Graumlich: Adapting to Climate Change: What can we learn from the history of drought in the West?
Reading for Graumlich presentation: Kunzig, 2008, National Geographic
Video for Graumlich presentation: Tree Rings: Counting the Years of Global Warming

16 Sept: Joellen Russell: The once and future battles of Thor and the Midgard Serpent or: The ocean's role in global climate
Reading for Russell presentation: Toggweiler & Russell, 2008

23 Sept: Jon Chorover: Mixing Up Rock, Soil, and Plants in the Earth's "Critical Zone"
Reading for Chorover presentation: Amundson et al., 2007

30 Sept: Travis Huxman: Building the Biosphere - The Evolution of Photosynthesis and the Carbon Cycle
Reading for Huxman presentation: Bendall et al., 2008

7 Oct: Jennifer McIntosh: Water and Energy: From Coalbed Methane Generation to CO2 Sequestration
Reading for McIntosh presentation: Benson and Cole, 2008

14 Oct: Thomas Swetnam: The Nexus of Climate, People & Wildfire in the Earth System
Reading for Swetnam presentation: Bowman et al., 2009

21 Oct: Jonathan Overpeck: Abrupt Climate Change and Societal Impacts
Reading for Overpeck presentation: Overpeck, 2009

28 Oct: NO CLASS!

4 Nov: Julio Betancourt: How do plants migrate with climate change? Lessons from the Holocene
Abstract for Betancourt presentation
Reading 1 for Betancourt
Reading 2 for Betancourt

11 Nov: No class; Veteran's Day

18 Nov: Pete DeCelles: Slow-Motion Train Wreck: Building the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau

Pete DeCelles, Himalayan fieldwork; photo by Paul Kapp

25 Nov: Jonathan Lunine: Titan: A Once and Future Earth
Reading for Lunine 1 (check this out!)
Additional reading for Lunine

2 Dec: Andy Cohen: Hominins and Humidity: What Can Paleoclimate Records Tell Us About Human Evolution?
Reading 1 for Cohen
Reading 2 for Cohen

9 Dec: Final Papers due for Section 002H students

Other potential topics:
The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum
Snowball Earth
The North American Monsoon
Science at Biosphere2

Grading will be based on weekly, <1-page papers analyzing lectures and discussions (50%), and participation in discussions (50%). Students taking the class for Honors College credit (Section 002H) will write a final paper exploring a particular scientific problem or societal-impact issue raised in the lectures and discussions in greater depth (HNRS students grades will be divided as: 34% weekly papers, 33% discussion participation/leadership, and 33% final paper). Regular or alternative grades can be awarded for this course: A B C D E or S P C D E. Grades will be assigned as follows: >90%: A or S; 80-89%: B or P; 70-79%: C; 60-69%: D; <60%: E.

Absence policies: Attendance at all lectures and discussions are required, however, the following kinds of excused absences will be permitted: 1) All holidays or special events observed by organized religions will be honored for those students who show affiliation with that particular religion, 2) Absences pre-approved by the UA Dean of Students (or Dean's designee) will be honored.

Policies regarding expected classroom behavior (e.g., use of pagers/cell phones); and policies against plagiarism, etc., within Student Code of Academic Integrity will be followed and are available at:

Policies against threatening behavior by students:

Students with Disabilities: If you anticipate issues related to the format or requirements of this course, please meet with me. I would like us to discuss ways to ensure your full participation in the course. If you determine that formal, disability-related accommodations are necessary, it is very important that you be registered with Disability Resources (621-3268; and notify me of your eligibility for reasonable accommodations. I can then plan how best to coordinate your accommodations. More info:

Information contained in the course syllabus, other than the grade and absence policies, may be subject to change with reasonable advance notice, as deemed appropriate by the instructor.

ESS Resources

Lee Allison's (Our State Geologist's) Arizona Geology Blog

NASA's Earth Observatory, Natural Hazards

Last updated 10:04 am, 30 Nov 2009