InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Critical Zone Science
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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The materials are free and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
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Critical Zone Science

This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

  • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
  • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
  • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
  • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
  • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.


This page first made public: May 15, 2017

Summary

This course introduces and examines the Critical Zone (CZ), Earth's permeable layer that extends from the top of vegetation to the bottom of the fresh groundwater zone. It is a constantly evolving boundary layer where rock, soil, water, air, and living organisms interact to regulate the landscape and natural habitats, and determine the availability of life-sustaining resources, including our food production and water quality. CZ science is a highly interdisciplinary and international pursuit that depends upon effective and informed trans-disciplinary science. This course focuses on the large quantity of interdisciplinary data available from the existing National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded CZ Observatories (CZO) and utilizes readings, discussions, presentations, and cutting-edge learning activities.

Strengths of the Course

This course supports the following central InTeGrate goals in the following ways:

  • Uses geoscience-related grand challenges facing society (eutrophication, erosion, environmental stability, climate change, water and food production, radiative forcing, water and carbon cycling).
  • Develops students' ability to address interdisciplinary problems (sustainable agriculture, conservation, resource management, energy, carbon) by using data visualization and analysis skills applied to authentic data.
  • Improves student understanding of the nature and methods of geoscience and developing scientific and geoscientific habits of mind by investigating natural and anthropogenic influences on the Critical Zone and by using journal articles as background reading, visualizing data with student-made graphs and using simple conceptual models to help explain their differences.
  • Makes use of authentic and credible geoscience data such as CZO data, Ameriflux network data, and data from the geochemical and biogeochemical literature base.
  • Incorporates systems thinking by incorporating examples and activities that demonstrate the connection between water, air, soil, and organisms in biogeochemical processes within the CZ including the application of conceptual system models to the analysis of field data.
This course is easily adaptable to different structures, formats, and schedules. The total amount of resources made available for this Introduction to the Critical Zone course is more than needed for one semester-long course. However, this is an intentional design. Our aim as authors is to provide sufficient resources so that the instructor has flexibility in tailoring and fine-tuning the course to their expertise and the level and interest of the students. Therefore, no instructor should aim to use and complete all of the resources and activities made available. The diversity of resources ensures that by opting to omit certain resources and activities, that the overall structure and integrity of the curriculum will remain and students will have a complete introduction to Critical Zone science.

Supports Earth Science Literacy Principles:

  • Earth scientists use repeatable observations and testable ideas to understand and explain our planet.
  • Earth is a complex system of interacting rock, water, air, and life.
  • Earth is continuously changing.
  • Humans depend on Earth for resources.
  • Humans significantly alter the Earth.

Supports Essential Principles of Climate Science:

  • Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth system.
  • Our understanding of the climate system is improved through observations, theoretical studies, and modeling.
  • Climate change will have consequences for the Earth system and human lives.

Supports Grand challenges in Earth and environmental science:

  • Defining mass flux and energy balance in natural systems
  • Identifying feedback between natural and perturbed systems
  • Quantifying consequences, impacts, and effects

Supports Grand challenges in Earth system science for global sustainability:

  • Improve the usefulness of forecasts of future environmental conditions and their consequences for people
  • Develop, enhance, and integrate observation systems to manage global and regional environmental change


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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »