InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Critical Zone Science > Module 6: Geochemistry and biogeochemistry
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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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Module 6: Geochemistry and biogeochemistry


Adam Hoffman (University of Dubuque) and Adam Wymore (University of New Hampshire)

Summary and Overview

This module examines the integrated roles that biology, geology, and chemistry play in the CZ. Engaging students in examining data from real world systems, this module highlights the biogeochemical functions the CZ plays and the functions the CZ play. Through the subunits of phosphorus and eutrophication, and nutrient inputs and transformations, students will come to understand the role of biogeochemistry in Critical Zone processes. Lastly, students will consider how they can use biogeochemical-based knowledge in solving humanity's grand challenges including climate change and environmental stability.

Instructors should note that this section primarily focuses on the carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous cycles with a smaller emphasis placed on the sulfur cycle. For lessons focused on the water cycle please see the sections: Water Transfer Through the Critical Zone and Land-Atmosphere Exchange.

Jump down to: Strengths of the Module | Module Goals | Assessment | Module Outline

Strengths of the Module

In this Module:

This module addresses the following central InTeGrate goals in the following ways:

  • Use geoscience-related grand challenges facing society (eutrophication, erosion, environmental stability, climate change)
  • Develop students' ability to address interdisciplinary problems (sustainable agriculture, conservation, resource management)
  • Improve student understanding of the nature and methods of geoscience and developing scientific and geoscientific habits of mind (examine how biogeochemistry is examined using hands-on activities)
  • Make use of authentic and credible geoscience data such as real CZO data from the geochemical and biogeochemical literature base.
  • Incorporate systems thinking by incorporating examples and activities that demonstrate the connection between water, air, soil, and organisms in biogeochemical processes within the CZ.
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Module Goals

Specific Module Goals

  • Apply data sets and observations from six existing CZOs to test ideas and summarize Critical Zone services.
  • Describe the CZ as a complex system of interacting regolith, water, air, nutrients, and organisms.

Specific Module Learning Objectives

  • Students will further develop scientific and geoscientific habit of mind through biogeochemical-based activities.
  • Students will be able to evaluate the chemical and biological processes and reactions that govern the composition of the CZ.
  • Explain the role of CZ services in supporting terrestrial life, including humanity.
  • Students will be able to explain and use examples of how organisms and biodiversity affect biogeochemical processes.
  • Students will be able to use data, and examples from published scientific literature to explain critical zone functions.
  • Students will be able to explain some of the common methods used in biogeochemical research.
  • Students will be able to explain the effect of differences in land-use on nutrient cycling and critical zone functions.

Linking Unit Content to Course Objectives

Below is a brief outline of examples within each Learning Unit where instructors can find resources that meet the overarching learning objective for the whole curriculum and each of the four primary learning objectives of the Critical Zone curriculum:

Overarching Learning Objective: Describe and characterize how interaction among the atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and soil (The Critical Zone) support and influence life.

Four primary objectives:

Objective 1) Identify grand challenges that face humanity and societies, ways in which humans depend upon and alter the Critical Zone, and the potential role for Critical Zone science to offer solutions for these challenges.
Objective 2) Use and interpret multiple lines of data to explain Critical Zone processes.
Objective 3) Evaluate how the structure of the Critical Zone influences Critical Zone processes/services.
Objective 4) Analyze how water, carbon, nutrients, and energy flow through the Critical Zone and drive Critical Zone processes.
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Assessments

  • Reading and Interpreting the Scientific Literature (Units 1 and 2): Students are provided multiple articles from the geoscientific and biogeochemical literature and practice interpreting and understanding the presented data and methods through group discussions and thought-provoking and critical questions.
  • Scientific Presentation (Unit 1): Students give a method based scientific presentation to extend upon biogeochemical research read in a scientific paper of their choosing.
  • Nutrient Challenge (Unit 2): Working individually or in groups, students will complete this activity, based on a real world challenge grant to apply their knowledge learned in the course of the geochemistry and biogeochemistry unit to devise a transformative strategy for reducing excess nutrients in the waterways.

Unit Outline

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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 »