Capstone Research Project: Holocene History of Estuarine Environmental Change
This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process.
This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.
This page first made public: Jun 11, 2009
Each time this course is offered, the students collaborate on a semester-long capstone research project that applies paleontological techniques and concepts to some problem associated with environmental management and restoration. Because my research interests are focused upon Greater Everglades' restoration and the history of Southwest Florida estuaries, the project is typically associated with the historical record of estuarine environmental change through the middle and late Holocene with hopes of using that information to either identify pre-altered conditions (for defining restoration targets) or to predict future environmental conditions (as effects future global climate and sea-level change). The project employs multiple topical units covered throughout the course and requires some field and much laboratory time. The project culminates with the class co-authoring an abstract and poster that is either displayed at our institution's Research Day or at a Southeast Section G.S.A. meeting.
In the course's most recent offering (fall, 2008), the project concerned the history of environmental change seen within a ~ 1000 year old oyster reef located in an estuary at the mouth of Shark River Slough, the main flow-way of the Everglades (i.e., the mouth of the "River of Grass"). The study's premise was that the oyster reef presumably recorded the history of freshwater delivery into this estuary and may have documented the anthropogenic alteration of freshwater flow.
This specific project was site specific and depended upon materials collected at a specific geographic location. However, the concept of orchestrating some project involving environmental management could be applicable to any course.
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
For the Fall, 2008 project, students applied their knowledge from a sedimentology and stratigraphy course (taken by most students the previous semester), and from the following topical units in the paleontology course: taphonomy, paleoecology, paleoenvironmental interpretation, and taxonomy and systematics.
How the activity is situated in the course
Content/concepts goals for this activity
1. To assess taphonomic state or taphonomic grade.
2. To relate taphonomic grade to environmental energy and time of exposure.
3. To describe fossil assemblages and use the assemblage constituents to infer paleoenvironmental conditions.
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
- Conduct a complete scientific investigation.
- Hypothesis generation and testing / testing of competing hypotheses.
- Making predictions followed by comparison of data against predictions.
- Analysis of data.
Other skills goals for this activity
- Students work collaboratively to complete all aspects of the project.
Description of the activity/assignment
Field work is accomplished early in the semester and with minimal time invested. Because scheduling field trips that can accommodate everyone is difficult, the field experience is optional. In these situations, someone chronicles the field work with either a digital still camera or digital videocamera and then these are shared with everyone in the class.
All aspects of the project are collaborative; students collect and share data, prepare and share figures and tables, and collectively prepare the poster and abstract.
The following files are uploaded as supportive teaching materials:
1. Geobio Research Project Description F08.doc: This is the project overview that is distributed to students as a handout at the start of the semester.
2. Geobio Research Project Qs.doc: This set of questions is distributed early in the semester to spark a discussion and to aid in the design of the project.
3. Geobiology GSA SE 2009 Abstract.doc: This is a copy of the abstract that was submitted to the 2009 Southeast Section Geological Society Of America meeting in St. Petersburg.
4. Geobio GSA SE09 Poster.ppt: A copy of the poster presentation given at the 2009 Southeast GSA meeting.
Determining whether students have met the goals
Download teaching materials and tips
- Activity Description/Assignment:Description of Fall, 2008 Capstone Research Project (Microsoft Word 25kB Jun11 09)
- Instructors Notes:
- Solution Set: