The Biosphere in the Earth System

Module code: GY3437

How are ecosystems determined by the chemo-physical system? How do they feed back to the physical climate system? How large is the carbon cycle feedback from the biosphere to the greenhouse effect?

The biosphere is now considered an integral part of the climate system, and as the understanding of the climate system improves, the crucial roles of the biosphere  becomes clearer.This module develops a conceptual understanding of the linkages between land biosphere and the atmosphere. You'll be exploring the various responses of ecosystems to climate, and develop an understanding of these responses to the most important plant processes such as photosynthesis, respiration, water and nutrient uptake.

Plant ecophysiology (the idea that individual plants adapt to their immediate environment) is introduced and clarified through the investigation of a wide range of plant processes and parameters responding to environmental variability. For example, the structure and nutrient content of leaves adapt to the amount of light they receive, and roots adapt their water uptake capacity to the dryness of the soil they grow in.

The ecosystem's responses are then taken forward to examine the linkages and feedbacks between the land biosphere and the physical climate system. Specific feedbacks between these will be discussed, and in particular it has shown that the Climate Carbon Cycle Feedback is positive – enhancing global temperature increases further.

The module builds on parts of the Physical Geography introduced in first year, and continues to develop some concepts from the second year Dynamic Biosphere module.

Topics covered:

  • Ecosystems
  • Ecosystem Ecology
  • Photosynthesis and respiration
  • Carbon and Water Exchanges
  • Plant Ecophysiology
  • Climate-vegetation feedback
  • Carbon cycle feedback

Learning

  • 18 hours of lectures
  • 2 hours of seminars
  • 8 hours of practical classes and workshops
  • 4 hours of project supervision
  • 110 hours of guided independent study

Assessment

  • Written practical report (75%)
  • Exam, 1 hour (25%)