Isotopes and the Environment students after our field trip collecting water samples for isotope analysis in a TN cave (Spring 2014).

Climate Change and Human History Climate shapes where we live, what we eat, how we survive, and how these practices evolve. But for thousands of years human activities in turn have influenced Earth’s climate, causing subtle and not-so-subtle changes in land, oceans, and atmosphere. This course examines the complex relationship between humans and climate over the last ~20,000 years. We will investigate forcings, feedbacks, and cycles governing modern climate and learn how scientists discern past changes and model future scenarios. Reading and writing assignments will draw from scientific and popular literature and discuss how to tell the difference.

Isotopes and the Environment This course introduces a number of different isotope systems and how they can be applied to trace, date, and understand environmental processes on Earth’s surface.  We investigate stable, radiogenic, and cosmogenic isotope systems, and we will also touch on newer tools in isotope geochemistry including clumped isotopes and non-traditional stable isotopes. By the end of the course, students should have an appreciation for how isotopes can inform our understanding of natural processes and be able to develop an original idea for using isotopes in their own research.


Paleoclimates Through this course, students will develop an understanding of 1) the chemical, physical, and biological processes that control our climate system and the perturbations that lead to change, 2) the methods and materials used to reconstruct past climate change including associated uncertainties, and 3) key climatic events of the past 700 million years that are documented in the geologic record. The course works backwards through time so that we may first understand climates of the recent past that we are able to investigate in high-resolution. Using this understanding of processes and research methods that apply over the past few hundred thousand years, we look back hundreds of millions of years to investigate climatic change on an Earth that was much different from today.


2015 Isotopes and Environment students after our caving field trip in Tennessee.

2015 Isotopes and Environment students after our caving field trip in Tennessee.