GCC 3038

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Human Threats to Ocean Health

The proposed grand challenge course addresses the scope of the anthropogenic alterations in natural biogeochemical cycling (BGCC) of oceans that will help the students to develop strategies to intervene, advocate, and sustain planetary health for all of humanity. The following grand challenge questions will, be addressed: (1) How does Ocean Biogeochemical Cycling (BGCC) of nutrients support global ecosystems and biodiversity? (2) What human (anthropogenic) activities disrupt ocean BGCC of nutrients, resulting in depletion of biodiversity, ecosystem health, ecosystem services and environmental justice for humans? (3) What do humans have to do to protect the future of ocean health and all of humanity?

Global recycling of nutrients and metals within the environment (geosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere) and the biosphere are essential for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services on which all of humanity depends. Living organisms extract and transform nutrients for their metabolism, growth, and reproduction, ultimately releasing these nutrients (often in a transformed state) back to the inanimate sphere via biogeochemical cycling (BGCC) driven by energy transformations. In natural environments, BGCC maintains a dynamic equilibrium/homeostasis between abiotic and biotic spheres, a process essential for survival of life on Earth. However, the current human practices have caused massive changes in the BGCC of nutrients, thus disrupting the natural cycling and (i) threatening the biosphere’s nutrient availability and (ii) precipitating many of the current environmental problems such climate change, nitrogen pollution, ocean acidification, acid rain, mercury deposition, etc. At the current scale of human development, these alterations to the BGCC in the oceans may seriously damage the environment and biodiversity, thus threatening the entire Planet’s future. Further, the adverse effects of the loss of ecosystem services may not be shared equally amongst society, whereby access to a healthy environment is increasingly distributed by power, class, and race. An understanding of these inequities and incorporation of environmental justice in eco-centric environmental advocacy will be essential for sustaining the health of our planet. Therefore, the students registering for this course will develop an understanding and the scope of the anthropogenic alterations in natural biogeochemical cycling of oceans that will help them develop strategies to intervene, advocate, and sustain planetary health for all of humanity. The specific aims are following: (1) Describe global and local mechanisms of natural BGCC on Earth and connection to the oceans; (2) Explain human impacts on BGCC, and relationships between abnormal BGCC and nutrient distribution in water, sediment, and air; (3) Determine impact of human-altered ocean nutrient cycling on society, including members disproportionately impacted by environmental issues and underrepresented in environmental movements; (4) Strategize sustainable strategies to mitigate the health and environmental problems associated with abnormal biogeochemical nutrient cycling, bringing environmental justice perspectives to the forefront; and (5) Convince students that positive actions made now can and will impact the future.

This course will focus on multiple vectors of inquiry (i.e., chemistry, toxicology, environment science and justice, sustainability and biodiversity), and students' progress through the course will give them powerful tools to confront the Grand Challenges of our age, global change in biogeochemical cycles.