Planetary Climate Change
(Fall 2007)

Student-Led Discussions: Articles from the Literature
The Final Writing Assignment

Dr. Dave Dempsey
Dr. Petra Dekens
Dept. of Geosciences, SFSU

(Thurs, Nov. 8)


Assignment Outline. This assignment consists of three parts: Candidate Topics to Be Covered. We will cover at least four of the following topic areas (not necessarily in this order):

We request that you select your first, second, and third choices among these topics. We can't guarantee that you'll get any of your choices, though we'll do our best. The first student-led discussion will take place on Tues, Nov. 27, and the last one will be on Thurs, Dec. 6. Each group of two or three students that leads a discussion will need to make available a set of "reading questions" for the other students as far in advance as possible (but at least two days in advance), which will be posted on iLearn. (The group will receive a common grade for the reading questions it writes.) All other students will turn in evidence of responses to those reading questions on the day of the discussion.

The reading questions that you write for the benefit of the rest of the class will be worth 5% of your course grade. Your responses to reading questions written by others will be worth 10%. Your co-leadership of one discussion will be worth 5%. Your written paper will be worth 20% and will be due during finals week (see "Final Writing Assignment" for guidance).

Final Writing Assignment

Issued Thursday, November 15. Due Tuesday, Dec 18.
Assignment worth 20% of course grade.

You will soon co-lead a class discussion of the topics addressed by one of these sets of articles:

  1. Glacial eras, plate tectonics, mountain building and erosion, and the long-term carbon cycle
  2. Arctic and Antarctic climate change
  3. Global warming and hurricanes
  4. Oceans and climate
  5. Predicting climate change

Additional material relevant to these topics has been (or will be) provided in class in the form of lab activities, lecture, and reading assignments from our text, The Earth System, 2nd Ed.

Following your in-class discussion, you should:

  1. locate two or more significant additional articles that relate closely to the articles on on which you based the discussion that you led; and

  2. write a 8-12 page (typed, double spaced) overview of the history and current state of our scientific understanding about the topic(s) covered by your set of articles, based on the articles themselves plus relevant material presented in class or in assigned reading. In particular, wherever justified by your source material, you should try to include in your narrative:

    1. initial observations/evidence;
    2. initial hypotheses posed to account for initial observations/evidence (including external forcings and feedbacks);
    3. subsequent observations/evidence that have confirmed or disproved earlier hypotheses;
    4. technology that made making observations/gathering evidence possible and led to breakthroughs in understanding;
    5. scientific controversies and how they played out historically or are currently playing out;
    6. current understanding and remaining uncertainties.

Evaluation Criteria

This assignment is worth 20% of your course grade. (The reading questions that you write in preparation for the discussion that you lead are worth 5% of your course grade, and leading the discussion is worth another 5% of your course grade. Your responses to reading questions written by others for their discussions are worth 10% of your course grade.)

We are looking for clear, concise, logical, smoothly written, accessible narratives. Of the total value of this assignment, 30% will depend on the quality of your prose. Clear use of words (defining unfamiliar ones); choice of simpler words over complex words of equivalent meaning; well constructed, grammatical sentences; and spelling, are all important. The more active voice that you use (as opposed to passive voice—that is, the use of forms of the verb "to be": "is", "are", "was", "were", etc. to hide the subject of the sentence), the happier we will probably be.

You should document your narrative thoroughly by citing your sources of information within your narrative, based on the author, year of publication, and wherever possible, page number(s). For example: "(Ruddiman and Kutzbach [hereafter RK]1991, p. 68)"; and subsequently "(RK 1991, pp. 70, 72)". (See Chapter 8 of the Council of Biology Editors style guide at for additional guidance about the "name-year" citation system and for guidance about citing Web documents, or consult us for additional guidance.) List your sources in a section entitled "References" at the end of your paper.

Your prose should be your own except when you quote a source directly, in which case you of course must cite the source in your narrative or via footnotes. Extended paraphrasing will not suffice.

The remaining 70% of the value of this assignment will depend on the organization of your narrative, how well it integrates its sources, and (within the limited sources you're asked to use) how well the narrative addresses the items listed above.

If you would like to see samples of past student papers in GEOL/METR/OCN 405 on topics different from the ones listed above, we can provide you with copies.

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