Global Environmental Systems [CRN 77190]

Discipline: Natural Resources
Instructor: Bolton
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 0800
End: 0920
Field Work: Day 1 - Friday, 9 December | Costa Rica
Prerequisites: None Download Syllabus


The key to understanding the Earth is to understand the Earth as a system. We will divide the Earth system into four natural subsystems. The interaction between these subsystems forms the foundation of our course.  1.) The Geosphere is the solid Earth we are living on; 2.) The Hydrosphere is the total of Earth’s water, including the oceans, lakes, streams, groundwater and all the snow and ice (cryosphere); 3.) The Atmosphere is the mixture of gases surround the Earth, and 4.) The Biosphere includes all of the Earth’s organisms, as well as any organic matter not yet decomposed. We are adding a 5th “sphere”, the Anthroposphere (“human sphere”), which is part of the natural system that has been altered by humans. We explore various components within the subsystems, including the hydrological cycle, the energy cycle, the tectonic cycle, various biogeochemical cycles and human controlled cycles. We will also explore how these various spheres interact and discuss how characteristics of each sphere vary among various port countries.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Understand the Earth from a system science approach
  2. Appreciate the interdisciplinary links among the geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, biosphere and anthroposphere and how system characteristics and interactions vary globally
  3. Recognize changes that may occur with anthropogenic forcing
  4. Become familiar with methods and tools scientist use
  5. Become motivated to investigate environmental issues outside the classroom

Field Work

Country: Costa Rica
Day: 1 - Friday, 9 December

The field class in Costa Rica will include traveling to two local groups working on ecosystem protection and restoration including ecotourism. Costa Rica is a hot spot for biodiversity and ecotourism based on nature as well as also a great location for talking about and seeing many of the earth systems we have discussed in class. Costa Rica is tectonically active with earthquakes and volcanoes, rivers are plentiful in the rainy portions of the country and oceans are critical for many fisherman and recreationists. They are very active in trying to mitigate climate change and have gone as long as 4 months on renewable energy resources for all energy outside of transportation. The anthroposphere and biosphere meet head on in Costa Rica as much of the country’s income is generated on their lush natural landscape via ecotourism and the entire infrastructure that comes with that.

Learning objectives:
1. Learn about the range of ecosystems in Costa Rica and observe 2 of them first hand.
2. Learn about ways for humans and the environment to interact sustainably.
3. Gain an appreciation for the interaction of the geosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and anthroposphere of Costa Rica.