AREA 2: METHODS OF EARTH OBSERVATION AND MEASUREMENT
This area of study introduces students to basic scientific methods used in observing and monitoring natural systems. Students learn to apply these methods in assessing the condition of natural systems, and in making data-driven conclusions about their sustainability.
SUSC PS5030 Observing and Understanding Sea Level Change
Instructor: Dr. James Davis
This course provides an overview of the science related to observing and understanding sea-level rise, which has a profound impact on the sustainability of coastal cities and ecosystems. In modern research, sea-level rise is viewed as a complex response of the Earth “system of systems” to climate change. Measuring ongoing sea-level change is challenging due to the great natural variability of sea level on short time scales caused by tides, weather, and ocean currents. Interpreting measurements so that one can assess (and mitigate against) potential economic and societal impacts of sea-level rise is crucial but can be complicated, since so many Earth-system processes play a role. Some of these processes are related and others are unrelated to climate change; some of the latter are natural and others are of anthropogenic origin. Students enrolled in this course will through lectures and class discussions address topics related to the underlying observational basis for sea-level rise.
Given the complexity of sea level rise, it is important for those in technical positions to understand the systems level interactions that not only lead to rising waters but also the consequences that these changes inflict on other parts of our environment. What we hear most commonly is that sea level rise will affect hundreds of millions of people living in coastal areas and make those populations susceptible to flooding. But in addition to this community effect, sea level rise also have dramatic effects on coastal habitats, leading to issue such as erosion, soil contamination, and wetland flooding, just to name a few. This course will introduce and prepare students to develop a more comprehensive and holistic approach to sea level rise. By training students to observe, measure, interpret, and begin to predict how sea level rise affects populations and communities differently, students will be in strong positions to address, mitigate, and adapt to the challenges more effectively using evidence-based approaches.
SUSC PS5210 Environmental Sustainability Indicators: Construction and Use
Instructor: Dr. Alex de Sherbinin
This course will present students with the architecture, data, methods, and use cases of environmental indicators, from national-level indices to spatial indices. The course will draw on the instructor’s experience in developing environmental sustainability, vulnerability and risk indicators for the Yale/Columbia EPI as well as for a diverse range of clients including the Global Environmental Facility, UN Environment, and the US Agency for International Development. Guest lecturers will provide exposure to Lamont experience in monitoring the ecological and health impacts of environmental pollution and the use of environmental indicators in New York City government. Beyond lecture and discussion, classroom activities will include learning games, role play and case study methods.
The course will explore alternative framings of sustainability, vulnerability and performance, as well as design approaches and aggregation techniques for creating composite indicators (e.g., hierarchical approaches vs. data reduction methods such as principal components analysis). The course will examine data sources from both in-situ monitoring and satellite remote sensing, and issues with their evaluation and appropriateness for use cases and end users. In lab sessions, the students will use pre-packaged data and basic statistical packages to understand the factors that influence index and ranking results, and will construct their own simple comparative index for a thematic area and region or country of their choice. They will learn to critically assess existing indicators and indices, and to construct their own. In addition, students will assess the impacts of environmental performance in several developing and developed countries using available data (e.g., pollutant levels in soils and air in Beijing and NYC), and project future changes based on the trends they see in their assessments. The course will also examine theories that describe the role of scientific information in decision-making processes, and factors that influence the uptake of information in those processes. The course will present best practices for designing effective indicators that can drive policy decisions.
SUSC PS5060 Statistics, Data Analysis and Coding for Sustainability Science
Instructors: Dr. James Davis and Dr. Michael Previdi
This course provides an overview of essential mathematical concepts, an introduction to new concepts in statistics and data analysis, and provides computer coding skills that will prepare students for coursework in the Master of Science in Sustainability Science program as well as to succeed in a career having a sustainability science component. In addition to an overview of essential mathematical concepts, the skills gained in this course include statistics, and coding applied to data analysis in the Sustainability Sciences. Many of these skills are broadly applicable to science-related professions, and will be useful to those having careers involving interaction with scientists, managing projects utilizing scientific analysis, and developing science-based policy.
Students enrolled in this course will learn through lectures, class discussion, and hands-on exercises that address the following topics: Review of mathematical concepts in calculus, trigonometry, and linear algebra; Mathematical concepts related to working on a spherical coordinate system (such as that for the Earth); Probability and statistics, including use of probability density functions to calculate expectations, hypothesis testing, and the concept of experimental uncertainty; Concepts in data analysis, including linear least squares, time-series analysis, parameter uncertainties, and analysis of fit; Computer coding skills, including precision of variables, arrays and data structures, input/output, flow control, and subroutines, and coding tools to produce basic X-Y plots as well as images of data fields on a global map.
SUSC PS5020 Predicting the Effects of Climate Change on Global Forests
Instructor: Dr. Brendan Buckley
Forests are often called the lungs of the earth, for their role in converting atmospheric CO2 into the life-sustaining Oxygen that we all breathe. Collectively, the global forests contribute to roughly 40% of the annual global carbon sink, and yet little is known about the drivers of terrestrial carbon sequestration, and the processes involved in these systems response to changes in climate. Forested landscapes also comprise some of the most critical habitats on planet Earth, by serving as refuge to diverse and often endangered flora and fauna, and as regulators of water and soils. These services are particularly important for highland regions where forests are heavily exploited and are often the primary source of water and food for marginalized human populations. This course takes an in-depth look into the current, primary literature on the direct and indirect effects of climate change on forest ecosystems around the globe, and examines some of the primary policy solutions to forest loss mitigation and sustainability. Because the instructor is from the LDEO Tree Ring Lab there will be an emphasis on using dendrochronology for understanding changes in biomass for forest environments, with emphasis on the broadleaf forests of eastern North America and the largely coniferous, fire-prone forests of the American West. Students will have access to multiple sources of data, including satellite, forest inventory, tree rings and eddy-flux measurements. The course will have a field component that will take place at the Black Rock Forest (BRF), about two hours north of NYC. Students will conduct primary research for a final project, with the goal being to develop a set of group projects related to forests and climate change. This course will prepare students to assess the impacts of climate extremes on forest systems and to understand the complexities of response possibilities from diverse ecosystems.
This course will combine lectures and assigned course readings to develop the framework for understanding global forest response to climate change. Each class will begin with a 5-question mini-quiz based upon the assigned readings and the previous lecture. This class will discuss the questions asked, techniques used and key findings of the papers, with discussions led by the students. The class includes a field trip to Black Rock Forest (dates TBD) where students will collect data for use in a class project, thereby providing the opportunity to develop skills in field research and data analysis.
SUSC PS5190 Remote Sensing for Aquatic Environments
Instructor: Dr. Ajit Subramaniam
Aquatic systems are critical for provisioning ecosystem services that have sustained human civilization as evidenced by the establishment of the earliest civilizations on banks of rivers or along a coast. Apart from regulating climate, aquatic systems provide food and transportation services, fresh water lakes and reservoirs provide water for consumption and irrigation, and coastal systems offer recreational services. But growing human population, especially along the coast, has endangered the quality of ecosystem services. The primary finding of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was that 15 out of 24 ecosystem services examined are being degraded, or being used unsustainably. Monitoring the aquatic ecosystem and understanding how to distinguish between anthropogenic and natural variability is an essential aspect of sustainability science. This course will introduce the use of remote sensing techniques that can be used to study the aquatic environment. There are several space-based sensors that provide information relevant to sustainable management of aquatic resources. Depending on the sensor, observations are made as frequently as every day and spatially covering the entire globe.
Understanding the spatial and temporal context around an issue can help discriminate between local and far field effects and time series of remote sensing data can be constructed to investigate causes and consequences of environmental events. Thus knowledge of the basic science of remote sensing, understanding how to select the appropriate sensor to answer a question, where to find the data and how to analyze this data could be critical tools for anyone interested in oceanic, coastal, and freshwater resource management.