InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Water, Agriculture, and Sustainability
 Earth-focused Modules and Courses for the Undergraduate Classroom
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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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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: Mar 2, 2017

Summary

Water is the most critical substance for the sustenance of life, but the prognosis for the quality and supply of water resources in much of the world is somewhere between troubling and dire. This module provides a framework for students to learn about how people interact with water, peer into our water future, and consider ways we might foster more sustainability in water management. After assessing our major water challenges, the module has students learn about the concepts of water sustainability, virtual water trade, and water footprints. The focus then turns to the interplay between agriculture and water resources, as agriculture has the greatest impact on freshwater consumption and quality. The module has students use several types of data to understand the patterns of crop irrigation in the United States and link this to groundwater levels in different parts of the country. The module also has students assess how agriculture impacts the quality of freshwater resources and employ systems thinking as it relates to nutrient runoff and the development of the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zones.

Strengths of the Module

  • Students synthesize information derived from many different disciplines to assess the sustainability of water use and management. Accordingly, it works well in introducing non-geoscience students to the methods, data and issues of geoscience, as well as helping geoscience majors appreciate the societal relevance of hydrology and biogeochemistry and the value of incorporating economic and other information in evaluating geoscience problems and solutions.
  • Hydrologic data sets, and the methods used to generate them, are highlighted throughout the module. Students are challenged to consider the application of the geoscience data and methods in their analyses of water problem case studies.
  • Students are challenged to use geoscience data from sources such as the US Geologic Survey, the US Department of Agriculture.
  • Students are repeatedly challenged to consider complex water management problems as part of socio-ecological systems. It is particularly evident in the module when we have students learn what goes into virtual water estimates, calculate their water footprints, consider the interplay between climate, irrigation and groundwater levels, and understand the processes leading to the generation of the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone.

Students will be able to evaluate the sustainability of fresh water resource use on global and regional scales. In particular, students will be able to:

  • explain how freshwater availability and management practices pose threats to ecosystem integrity, human well-being, security, and agricultural production.
  • explain what goes into the calculation of virtual water amounts and water footprints and the application of these concepts.
  • explain what controls geographic variability in irrigation, groundwater mining, and ecosystem impacts of agriculture in the United States.
  • apply geoscience information and methods in interdisciplinary assessments of the sustainability of water systems.

A great fit for courses in:

  • Environmental Science
  • Hydrology
  • Geology
  • Geography
  • Natural Resources
  • Environmental Geology
  • Earth Science
  • Sustainability

This module can fit into a wide range of undergraduate courses. It can serve to infuse a sustainability-centric component to geoscience courses or provide a foray into geoscience concepts, methods, and data for social science courses. This module is particularly well suited for inclusion in such courses as: introduction to environmental science, cultural or physical geography, introduction to geosciences or physical geology, environmental geology, hydrology, or any sustainability-oriented course. The material is pitched to the undergraduate level and has been taught to students in all majors. No geoscience background is assumed or required, though introductory geology would be helpful. The level of depth and challenge is flexible, making the module appropriate for inclusion in 100 to 300 level courses.

Supported Earth Science Literacy Principles:

  • Big Idea 3. Earth is a complex system of interacting rock, water, air, and life.
  • Big Idea 5: Earth is the water planet.
  • Big Idea 7: Humans depend on Earth for resources.
  • Big Idea 9. Humans significantly alter the Earth.

Supported Essential Principles of Climate Science:

2. Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth system.

4. Climate varies over space and time through both natural and man-made processes.

5. Climate varies over space and time through both natural and human-made processes.

6. Human activities are impacting the climate system.

7. Climate change will have consequences for the Earth system and human lives.

Addressed grand challenges in Earth and environmental science:

  • Recognizing the signal within the natural variability
  • Quantifying consequences, impacts, and effects
  • Effectively communicating uncertainty and relative risk

Addressed grand challenges in Earth system science for global sustainability:

  • Determine how to anticipate, avoid, and manage disruptive global environmental change.
  • Determine institutional, economic, and behavioral changes to enable effective steps toward global sustainability.
  • Encourage innovation (and mechanisms for evaluation) in technological, policy, and social responses to achieve global sustainability.


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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 »