Archive for August, 2016

The Anthropocene

August 30, 2016

There’s some press today about the recommendation for the declaration of a new epoch – the Anthropocene – by the International Geological Congress. The basic argument is that humans have changed the Earth system to such an extent that it is identifiable in the geological record. The evidence presented ranges from the impacts of nuclear test and global warming to the proliferation of plastic pollution and chicken bones.

Whilst the definition being accepted would change nothing physically about the Earth system, I think that it would be a powerful statement about our ability to make long-lasting changes to our environment.

Indeed, this was the reason for including the term “Anthropocene” in 2nd Year title of our new BSc Environmental Sciences. Even if the new epoch is not accepted then the examination of the evidence by our students will give them experience of critically analysing scientific findings and thinking about the implications for science and society.

Of course the real problem is to work out how to solve the environmental problems caused by humans that led to the Anthropocene. We’ve left that to the 3rd Year of the degree…

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Back to Kazakhstan – a British Council Institutional Links project workshop

August 24, 2016

One of the other things that’s been keeping me busy recently – I mentioned being busy with the BSc degree I’ve been developing in my last post – is my British Council Institutional Links project. (I guess I’m trying to make excuses for not blogging much recently!)

The project research team looking pretty cool over in Kazakhstan in August 2016.

The project research team looking pretty cool over in Kazakhstan in August 2016.

I’ve recently come back from a project research meeting and it’s been a real learning experience. Not only is the project cross-disciplinary (we’ve got environmental scientists, computer scientists, epidemiologists, toxicologists and social scientists involved) but we’re also working across nations.

One of the big challenges so far has been data. I’m quite used to be able to get hold of lots of different types of data from the UK and, if it’s not available, being able to get out there and collect new data. This has, for various reasons, been a little more challenging in Kazakhstan.

I’m pretty sure that we’re still going to get some good results (watch this space!) but it’s been harder work than I thought it would be.

Thinking more broadly (and I’ve not mentioned Brexit on the blog so far) I wonder if this has implications for a shift away from EU funding/collaborations, which might occur post-Brexit, and towards work in developing nations, assuming that the Global Challenges Research Fund expands and takes off. Whilst there is probably more scope for impact in developing nations, that work might be more difficult because the research infrastructure (including data archiving) is not so well developed.

BSc Environmental Sciences at Brunel University – a new course for September 2017

August 14, 2016

I’ve been busy over the last year!

We decided that the time was right for Brunel University to develop a new degree in Environmental Sciences and I put myself forward to lead it – I’d refreshed a few of our MSc degrees recently so thought the time was right to take on a bigger challenge.

And it was hard work… but a lot of fun too.

The team that developed the degree took a fresh look at how to structure an undergraduate programme and we came up with the idea of a story that develops throughout the 3 years.

In the first year we’ll work on a theme of “Dynamics of Natural Environments”. The students, who could come from a wide range of backgrounds, will spend this year learning about the interdisciplinary principles and processes that govern the environment. This will include the physical, chemical and biological knowledge required to develop a holistic Earth system perspective.

In the second year the degree moves on to focus on “Environmental Change and the Anthropocene”. Here, students will examine how Earth systems have changed over time, with a particular focus on human influences. This includes a lot on the “grand challenges” of environmental science such as climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss, land-use change and sustainability. We’ll also look at the effect of these changes on environmental and human health will be investigated.

In the final year, we’ll start to look at “Environmental Solutions”. Students will analyse and evaluate potential solutions to environmental problems. This will involve a lot of creativity and application of the knowledge from the previous years. (We have an MSci as well where the 4th year look at “Environmental Practice”.)

There’ll also be all the other things you’d expect – UK and overseas field trips, work placements, lab work, computing sessions, embedded professional development, problem based learning, optional modules – but I really like this idea of developing a narrative through the degree.

I’ll write more about these other aspects as we finalise them and when we run them for the first time over the coming years.