Science on the Connecticut Coast: Investigations of an Urbanized Shoreline

Vincent Breslin, Department of Science Education and Environmental Studies, and James Tait, Department of Science Education and Environmental Studies, Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven, Connecticut.

Science on the Connecticut Coast is course that fulfills the laboratory science requirement for non-science majors in the Honors College at Southern Connecticut State University. The course addresses key environmental questions, including: How have past harbor sediment contamination affected the quality of New Haven Harbor ecosystems? How can we assess hurricane preparedness and potential impact? What are the potential consequences of climate change on Connecticut residents and how can the emission of greenhouse gasses be minimized? The semester-long course has four modules. A geology module focuses on the geologic formation of the Connecticut coast and requires students to master identification and interpretation of basic rock types geologic structures. In the coastal processes module students explore local marshes and beaches and work with survey data to map the environmental and economic impact of a severe hurricane on the region. A coastal pollution module examines the industrial history of New Haven and culminates in a study of sediment metal contamination in New Haven harbor. Working as a group, they plan and execute a research cruise to obtain sediment samples, which they record and analyze. The final module addresses climate change and requires students to predict potential impact on the Connecticut coast, including sea level rise and possible effects on living resources in Long Island Sound. Results of the HON 270 analyses have contributed to a GIS data base of sediment metal analyses in New Haven harbor and have been presented at regional Long Island Sound Research Conferences.

Course Learning Goals

This course is designed to teach science by pursuing the following goals:

  1. Doing science using scientific methodology,
  2. Emphasizing field experience,
  3. Conducting quantitative analyses,
  4. Writing for clarification of thinking and communication of ideas, and
  5. Stressing the societal relevance of scientific investigation.

Specific Goals and Objectives

On completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Use the scientific method to examine questions concerning their observations of the coastal environment, including the formulation of
    testable hypotheses and the collection of field and laboratory data to evaluate their hypotheses,
  2. Recognize and discuss the unique aspects (geological, biological, and chemical) of inland and coastal habitats including sandy beaches, salt marshes and coastal dunes,
  3. Identify and quantify specific sources, fates and impacts of pollutants (primarily metals and floatable debris) entering coastal waters, and
  4. Identify the causes and consequences of global climate change, including the social, economic and environmental impacts due to hypothesized increased storminess and coastal flooding.


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