Initial Publication Date: April 26, 2012

Global Security = Human Sustainability

Melanie Wetzel, Dorothea Ivanova, and Phil Jones; Department of Meteorology and Department of Global Studies and Intelligence, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Academic programs at the Prescott, Arizona campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) that integrate studies of geosciences and global sustainability are linking together faculty and students from Meteorology, Global Security and Intelligence Studies, Aeronautical Sciences, Engineering and other disciplines.

A new upper-division undergraduate course addresses the linkages between global environmental systems and sustainability impacts. Atmospheric sciences research, numerical weather prediction, space weather and high resolution climate modeling are all experiencing rapid development with the growth of the observing technology and computing power, and these offer new methods for evaluation of health, food supply, political unrest and other conditions that compromise the security of nations and society. Undergraduate students at ERAU are getting more involved in research projects, funded by sources such as NASA Space Grant, McNair program, and NSF Scholars STEM grants. We have developed our course to bring together students from a variety of disciplines. The foundational premise of the course is:

Global Security = Human Sustainability

To convey the factors and issues of global sustainability, students in our course are building an integrated knowledge of environmental processes, , energy engineering, climate change processes, national and international security factors, and economic systems. The course content and activities address data resources, interpretation, and response strategies. We guide students in evaluating long-term societal needs for clean water, nutrition, shelter, medical infrastructure, natural resources and technology, economic opportunity, legal protections, and political representation.

Some examples of course topics that focus the implications of environmental impacts on human sustainability and global security are:

  • — Nuclear accidents: how do we predict atmospheric trajectories to distant locations and local fallout to ocean/further transport?
  • — Agricultural productivity: where is the next conflict-forcing famine or epidemic?
  • — Tropical Storm damage: what are the coastal zones where we expect the largest displacements of population?
  • — Future climate scenarios: in which regions will the expected reduction in water supply be most disruptive?
  • — Volcanic eruptions: what are the impacts on air flight and feedbacks to atmospheric chemistry and climate?
  • — Arctic ice cover: how will we adapt to seasonal shifts in commerce, military operations and global radiation budget?
  • — Weather and climate modification: what are the legal and environmental consequences?
  • — Water diversion: what are the likely effects on regional water resources, agriculture/aquaculture, dust transport and food supply?
  • — Environmental conditions: how are changes in global climate systems conducive to spread of disease and transport of toxic materials?
  • — Extreme temperature effects: what are the long-term impacts for crops, health and demographics?

We designed the course to incorporate quantitative interpretation of: observations, scenario building, model simulation, parameter uncertainty, and "teleconnections".

These are some of the models and tools we used this semester:

  • — Global climate observations and other environmental databases;
  • — Satellite and airborne multispectral remote sensing;
  • — Geographic information, data integration and visualization;
  • — Computer modeling of atmospheric transport, precipitation, temperature, extreme events and global circulation and climate change patterns.

The following course activities helped students develop their projects:

  • — Study and document global security events and causes related to environmental conditions;
  • — Evaluate and discuss impacts on transportation routes, communication, infrastructure, political stability, demographics, commerce, water supply, food systems;
  • — Design observational strategies that would provide information regarding the critical resources and human activities;
  • — Identify infrastructure needs and limitations for preparatory actions to reduce risk (medical services, food supply mechanisms, public information, personal security, impacts to various segments of population);
  • — Prepare a detailed analysis for a global security issue that includes factors and impacts on the expected commodity disruption, human services needs, internal government actions, conflict, foreign aid mitigation or intervention.

The course has produced synergistic discussions within class, collaborative planning between faculty members, targeted case study analysis, and new opportunities for students as they continue to graduate school and careers. We plan to repeat the course and possibly extend it to the graduate student level.