Course Details

Course offered Spring 2015

Honors 222 A: Disaster Science: Interdisciplinary Exploration of Marine Oil Spills (NSc)

Honors 222 A: Disaster Science: Interdisciplinary Exploration of Marine Oil Spills (NSc)

SLN 14850 (View UW registration info »)

Robert Pavia (School of Marine and Environmental Affairs)
Office: 3707 Brooklyn Avenue NE, Box 359485
Phone: 425-502-5243

Credits: 5
Limit: 25 students

Honors Credit Type

Oil and its environmental consequences are at the center of the Climate Change debate. Could an oil spill fundamentally change U.S. domestic and international policy? These recent headlines provide some insight into how it might:

“Obama to confront oil pipeline, climate change.”
“Shell ship grounding fuels Arctic drilling debate.”
“With Arctic ice melting at record pace, the world’s superpowers are increasingly jockeying for political influence and economic position.”
“Oil-tanker traffic is expected to increase in Washington waters under an expansion by a Canadian pipeline company”
“Syria’s Assad accused of boosting Al-Qaeda with secret oil deals.”

This course explores marine oil spill science, policies, and practices. Students will gain knowledge of key marine science principles and apply them to contemporary issues such as Arctic oil development, fracked oils, and the BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Oil spills provide a lens for viewing the theme of knowledge across disciplines – applied to real-word problems of managing marine ecosystems. Students will examine major oil spills to understand both the scientific and human dimensions of preserving ocean resources.

Oil spills can also provide a window into how society uses science to mitigate the effects of technology. By studying the science of oil spills, students will develop skills for critically evaluating the popular portrayal of scientific concepts and their role in policy debates as a way to gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity of developing sustainable societies.

Over the past decade, there have been between 3,000 and 5,000 marine spill incidents annually. Marine oil spills are among the most visible and potentially damaging threats to fish and wildlife and their habitats, regional economies, and the people of the region. They can impact international relations, national energy policy, and even election outcomes, yet few people understand the scientific foundations of spills and response measures like dispersants.

We will begin the course with an introduction to oil spills that have had a major impact on science, technology, and policy in the United States. Each spill will illustrate key disciplines that provide the scientific foundation for mitigating spill impacts, such as physical oceanography, chemistry, geomorphology, and ecosystem interactions. Understanding oil spills requires an interdisciplinary approach that considers both natural and social sciences.

Learning Goals
At the end of this course, each student will be able to:
-Explain how oil spills behave in the marine environment, with an emphasis on effects to humans and ecosystems.
-Describe, and compare the advantages and disadvantages of the basic spill response strategies and their differing impacts to the environment and humans.
– Demonstrate how to apply oil spill tools to an oil spill scenario in order to critique alternative response strategies.
– Recognize the role of old and new media in communicating science and affecting policy.
– Display a leadership role in the classroom community through discussion, group learning, and class presentations.

Recommended preparation
We expect students to be new to this topic and many to be non-science majors. There are no prerequisite courses required to enroll in this class. Students can prepare by reading articles on the Arctic oil development, oil shipping by rail, and oil spills as they occur.

Class assignments and grading
The course will strongly encourage student participation, discussion, and peer collaboration. Differing points of view are encouraged when presented in a positive context. Student can expect a high level of success if they attend
lectures and complete the readings and course assignments.

-Attendance and general in-class participation – 10%
-Discussion briefs and short writing assignments – 20%
-Quizzes – 30%
-Group Project – 20% (10% individual grade, 10% group grade)
-Final Paper – 20%