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COURSE NAME: "Science and Urban Ecology"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

INSTRUCTOR: Margaret Kneller
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 10:00 AM 11:15 AM

This course provides the liberal arts student with an introduction to the scientific issues which underpin human health in the urban environment. We study components of the urban environment by using basic concepts from ecology, biology, chemistry, and geology. We then learn about “linkages” (or interactions) between humans and their physical, chemical, and biological environment in order to understand human health in the urban environment. The interactions examined will relate to actual conditions found in major cities in the 21st century: we look at water supply and quality, air quality standards, energy supplies, and common diseases.

This course provides an overview of urban environments, and issues directly relevant to humans within cities.  Human population—basic data and relevant news—is presented. The concepts of the Commons, Carrying Capacity, and Ecosystem Services are introduced, and then used to understand problems/solutions. Water supply and quality, and air pollutants are explained, because the provision of clean air and water is necessary to thriving urban life.  Transboundary issues are covered.  Human health from the global viewpoint is introduced, along with the new understanding of the human microbiome.  This segues into Biodiversity, in general and/or some interesting Natural Hazards (e.g. Tectonic, Coastal flooding) are shown.


Each urban environment is unique in terms of ecological components and processes.  Class lectures and related articles are selected, to provide examples of 21st century cities and urban ecology issues: for example drinking water quality, and air particle pollution.  Students learn to conceptualize their urban environment (global examples) as ecological components and processes—the class emphasizes issues with relevant to 21st century natural resource policy.


The course is organized into eight units:

1 & 2.     Introduction: Homo sapiens and their cities. Human Population

3.             Commons, Carrying Capacity and Ecosystem Services

4 & 5.     Water: Supply and Quality

6.             Air: Urban Pollutants and their sources

7.             Human Health: global perspective and the microbiome

8.             Biodiversity OR Natural Hazards
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberCommentsFormatLocal BookstoreOnline Purchase
"Introduction to Environmental Science: 2nd Edition" (2018). Biological Sciences Open Textbooks. 4Zehnder, Caralyn; Manoylov, Kalina; Mutiti, Samuel; Mutiti, Christine; VandeVoort, Allison; and Bennett, DonnaUniversity System of GeorgiaGALI-LEO-USG-EDU https://oer.galileo.usg.edu/biology-textbooks/4/   
World health statistics 2023World Health OrganizationWHO78-92-4-007432-3     
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
See Schedule for additional Journal Titles of Articles.Govt. and Academic sourcesVarious Govt., Academic and Research--all in public domain.xxx-xxxxxxxx  

MidtermShort Answers, Essays.30 %
4 Short Papers with short in-class PresentationApproximately every two/three weeks, there will be an paper/assignment, related to the material, where you will write and present your analysis. Approximately 600 - 800 words of text, followed by a bibliography with the references. References cited will be used in the paper. The quality of the references used, is important. Each bibliographic entry must be sufficiently complete so that I can find it immediately (only an http address is incomplete). Aim to follow one format consistently for all entries. Each student will submit the electronic copy of the paper, to our Moodle JCU page. Late papers may not be graded. TurnitIn may be used to assess your citations. In class, students will explain a key finding.30 %
FinalShort Answers, Essays.30 %
Class Discussion, Short AssignmentsRelevant discussion of topics, readings and assignments.10 %

AThis type of work demonstrates the ability to learn the concepts and theories presented, and also to begin to make analysis. During class discussion and in written tests, the student shows clear evidence of a significant amount of reading, and comprehension, of the required and recommended articles and texts. The class work shows the student is ready to be a research assistant.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised. There is usually a demonstration of ability to learn the concepts and theories presented. During class discussion and in written tests, the student usually shows evidence of a significant amount of reading, and comprehension, of the required and recommended articles and texts. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading of the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

Class attendance is required, more than four unexcused absences will lower the grade (e.g. B to C). Students must follow JCU administration guidelines on attendance—see university catalog for attendance policy.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Articles related to current events, not yet on the syllabus, will be used.

 September 1, 2023 version.  Year 2023 articles will be added as the Course Progresses. 


Topic, and Reading

1 Intro

10,000 years to 2008, Humans Become City Dwellers

· Urbanization, compiled by Our World in Data: https://ourworldindata.org/urbanization

· The Urban Millennium, selected pages from UNFPA State of the World Population, (the themes of this report are addressed in our class) http://www.unfpa.org/swp/2007/english/introduction.html

· “The Scope of Ecology” Chapter 44.1 at in Biology-2e. openstax.org, online published by Rice University, USA. https://openstax.org/details/books/biology-2e

1 Intro

Introduction: Cities are Ecosystems? The Anthropocene.

· Text: Articles by Crutzen, Carey, Steffen all in Moodle

1 & 2

Human Population

2023: since Covid 19 and related social/economic measures, world population is showing interesting diversions from the trends predicted in year 2020. The trends are being observed now. For this class: learn the main characteristics/terms used to describe population and its changes.

· 21 minute video “2018 World Urbanization Prospects” from United Nations: https://youtu.be/XN92srq5jwg

· Lancet, World Population, 2020 and Pew Research, World Population, 2019 [Moodle]

· “Distilled Demographics” by Population Reference Bureau, 2010.


Assignment 1: Population

3 ES, CC, Commons

Ecosystem Services, Carrying Capacity, and “The Commons”

· Text: “The Tragedy of the Commons,” by Garrett Hardin, a classic from 1968, <http://www.sciencemag.org/content/162/3859/1243.full>, and other Perspectives on The Commons [Moodle]

· “Carrying Capacity concept”, see http://www.csus.edu/indiv/l/loom/lect%2031-32%20s07.htm

· ESA Definition of Ecosystem Services, 2012, https://www.esa.org/esa/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/ecosystemservices.pdf

· in class: Constanza et al., 1997 (in Moodle and at http://www.esd.ornl.gov/benefits_conference/nature_paper.pdf )

4 Water Supply

Intro to Water Supply: groundwater, rainwater, glaciers, & rivers, precipitation (mean, anomaly)

· “Water Cycle Diagrams” by Water Science School, USGS, October 3, 2022, https://www.usgs.gov/special-topics/water-science-school/science/water-cycle-diagrams. Duncombe, J. (2022)

· “Not your childhood water cycle,” Eos, 103, https://doi.org/10.1029/2022EO220499. Published on 13 October 2022.

· Optional: the UN SDG and MDG viewpoints: read WESTRATE, ORTIGARA and BISWAS articles, in the Moodle folder, for an introduction to the Policy of the UN with respect to water goals.

· Optional: for global-level Policy: “The What, Why and How of the World Water Crisis: Global Commission on the Economics of Water Phase 1 Review and Findings,” March 2023. This is a research document that reviews and updates data and knowledge relating to the global water crisis, was formulated by the Lead Experts of the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, and draws likewise on the contributions of the Commissioners and Advisors. Access it here https://turningthetide.watercommission.org/


Assignment 2: Water Quality & Exposure Pathway

4 Groundwater Supply

Transboundary Water

· Read Famiglietti: “Global Groundwater Crisis.” [Moodle]

· Read Libya_USMidwest GWater examples [Moodle]

· Read: M Rodell, JS Famiglietti, “Emerging trends in global freshwater availability ...” 2018. This is a research article, it updates the Famiglietti 2014 article and is a large review on current groundwater knowledge, and is likely difficult to read [Moodle].




Awareness about Water Quality

· US EPA perspective on Contaminants in Drinking Water.

· Optional Reading: A. Biswas, “Urban water security for developing countries” 2022 https://doi.org/10.1002/rvr2.11 [open access https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/rvr2.11]

· Optional, the EU perspective: website https://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/water-drink/index_en.html or <EU Drinking Water> and try the research Wujits et al., 2021 article “Protection of drinking water resources from agricultural pressures...” [Moodle]

5 Water Quality focus LEAD and Arsenic

Water Quality, continued

· Read: “Flint’s Water Crisis and the ‘Troublemaker’Scientist” by D Hohn, 2016, (NYTimes online site, JCU has access to NYT), and

· “Before Flint: D.C.’s drinking water crisis …” by N Augenstein, WTOP, April 4, 2016 [Moodle] and

· updates (from Sultan, Denchak, and more) on the Lead in drinking water situation. These articles are high quality secondary sources—go to Moodle folder

5 & 6

What is an Exposure Pathway?


Midterm Week 7, approximately before starting Air Pollution ?

6 Air Pollutants, introduction

Air Pollutants, introduction

· WHO’s portal for ambient air pollution, you could start here: WHO>Environment and Health>Air Pollution PORTAL which is https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/themes/air-pollution/ambient-air-pollution

· Required reading, the Opinion piece by David Wallace-Wells, “Air Pollution Kills 10 Million People a Year. Why Do We Accept That as Normal?” NYTimes, 2022, lists many sites with Air pollution data (excerpt in Moodle, Frohring subscription for full article).

· Other <News Articles Air Pollution>, try N Chestney and B Lewis, “Europe’s toxic air” [Moodle News Articles folder]

6 Air Pollutants

Air Pollutants starts/continues after Midterm, into Weeks 8 & 9, depending on Current Events

· Reading: You Read and Review the Sites, Articles, Visualized Databases


Assignment 3: Energy and its Air Pollutant

6 Air Pollutants: PMs

Particulate Matter Articles and Sites

· Look at the “European city air quality viewer” at https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/air/urban-air-quality/european-city-air-quality-viewer

· Read the June 21, 2021 news release, “Air pollution in many EU cities ... “ https://euobserver.com/climate/152190

· Read BACKGROUND section, Table 1 and Table 4 in Giannadaki, D., Lelieveld, J. & Pozzer, A. Implementing the US air quality standard for PM2.5 worldwide can prevent millions of premature deaths per year. Environ Health 15, 88 (2016), at https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-016-0170-8

Question: How is the Index related to Concentration? Can you determine any cities Not covered by the EU indices? Which air quality viewer would you use in the future, and why?

6 Transboundary

Transboundary Air Pollution, emphasis Forest and Peat Fires

· Look and Try the Visualization at earth.nullschool.net

· Read: News on Southeast Asia fires, articles up to year 2017 [Moodle]

· Read: News and Interactive Maps on Wildfires in North America, as of August 2021 [Moodle].

· August 2021 note: Wildfires became a global issue in years 2018+, so I/we see will try learn about them, from Air Pollution and Ecosystem viewpoints. The information changes fast.

6 Air Pollutants, Lead

Air Pollution: the case of Leaded Gas

· Read: “Lead Blood Level & Map Petrol” docx [Moodle] which contains Adler’s summary of blood lead levels, and the UNEP maps of leaded petrol phaseout.

· Read: J Kitman, Secret History of Lead, 2000 [online at The Nation, and Moodle has a copy]

· Optional: Nevin, “Understanding international crime trends: The legacy of preschool lead exposure,” 2007 [Moodle]

· Optional: Reyes, Jessica, “Environmental policy as social policy? the impact of childhood lead exposure on crime,” 2007 [Moodle]

6 Optional

Dieselgate, NOx and the Volkwagen emissions control cheat. A great story about how entry-level researchers, with weak financial backing, discover Volkswagen’s illegal “emissions-defeat device.” “Presented to CARB as an emissions fix, the software update was actually designed to better hide VW’s emissions-control-defeating programming from regulators.” Easy to read articles by Bob Sorokanich, Updated: Apr 6, 2022, Road and Track, https://www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/a39035992/the-man-who-unearthed-volkswagens-emissions-cheat/ and Eric Jaffe, September 24, 2015, Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-09-24/the-west-virginia-study-that-started-the-volkswagen-scandal .

7 Global Health

Intro to Global Health

· READ, the WHO year 2020 and most recent (2023) “World Health Statistics.”

· An overall view of life expectancy, disease, and injuries: Chapter 2 of “World Health Statistics 2022” published by WHO with link at https://www.who.int/data/gho/publications/world-health-statistics

· Look at some of the data at this WHO Global Health Observatory site https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/themes/topics/topic-details/GHO/world-health-statistics . Be patient, the Visualisations take seconds to load.


Assignment 4

7 Health, the Microbiome

The Human Microbiome

· See <Human Microbiome Articles> in Moodle

· Fast Facts About The Human Microbiome, U Washington [Moodle]

· Lloyd-Price et al., “The healthy human microbiome,” Genome Medicine (2016) 8:51. DOI 10.1186/s13073-016-0307-y [Moodle]

· American Academy of Microbiology, 2013, Human Microbiome FAQ [Moodle]

7 Health, Bacteria: Cholera

Examples of Epidemics caused by a Bacteria

Reading: You have a choice between the high quality news article (Deborah Sonntag, 2012) or the research news article by Orata (PLOS, 2014). Sonntag delves more into the situational and political errors. [all in Moodle]

Optional: News on Antibiotics in Livestock [Moodle] Optional: E. coli outbreak in Germany, 2011 [Moodle

7 Health, Viruses

Influenza and SAR-CoV-2 virus--theInfectious Diseases

· WHO definition of Influenza pandemic/epidemic [Moodle]

· Covid 19 and the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, have much similarity from the public health perspective (although the context of the two pandemics differs). Here is one research article which explains, and it’s written at a comprehensible level for non-science majors. “Lessons to be learnt from 100 year old 1918 influenza pandemic viz a viz 2019 corona pandemic with an eye on NTEP” by Matta et al., online here https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7543972/ Alternatively, here is a news article, still high quality: by Richard Evans, “What can we learn from the 1918 pandemic?” in The Nation, December 2020 https://www.thenation.com/article/society/1918-covid-catharine-arnold/

· Optional: Ebola Virus, see Moodle Folder: Ebola articles

8 A

Natural Hazards and Cities

· Text: The Economist, “Natural Disasters versus Natural Hazards” 2012 (Moodle)

· Munich Re Loss Events and Munich Re Geophysical Events [Moodle]

8 A Tectonics

Natural Hazards and Cities

Case Studies: Tokyo and Fukushima, New York City and Sandy



Baum, D. (2008) Reading a Phylogenetic Tree: The Meaning of Monophyletic Groups. Nature Education 1(1):190 [Moodle]

Koonin,E.V.(2010)The Two Empires and Three Domains of Life in the Postgenomic Age.Nature Education3(9):27


FINAL—the date set by JCU Registrar. NOTE that the FINALS period is in the first part of December! We must take our Final on the scheduled day and time.