Course Description and Overview


Course Description Semester II - 1999/2000

Course Description: Oceans presently form the most fundamental and volumetrically significant part of the hydrologic cycle on the Earth. How and when did the water forming the Earth's hydrospere originate? How do oceans relate to other parts of the hydrologic cycle, and how much has the relative importance of other parts of the cycle changed with time? How do subsystems of the hydrological cycle work (e.g., groundwater, cryospheric, atmospheric, etc.), and what morphological features do they produce which might be recognizable on other planets? What are the extremes in the hydrological cycle that are thought to have existed on Earth (e.g., from Waterworld to Snowball Earth)? What distinctive events have occurred in terms of the redistribution of water on the surface of Earth (e.g., catastrophic filling, flooding, dessication, etc.), and what can these tell us about the other planets?

How does the hydrologic cycle on Mars differ from that of Earth at present? Where are the present reservoirs and sinks, and thus the present hydrologic cycle? How do we recognize evidence for past reservoirs and sinks, and how do we determine components of the past hydrologic cycle on Mars (e.g., oceans, glaciers, groundwater, ground ice, etc.). What is the evidence for how have they changed in the past?

What happens when the ocean greatly exceeds the volume necessary to flood all landmasses? What is the nature of the hydrologic cycle in this case? How might an Europan ocean be derived, over what time period, and with what consequences? What does physical oceanography mean in an ocean tens of km deep, covered with ice, and influenced by significant tidal forces? Can a subsurface ocean develop on bodies like Gaymede and Callisto and if so, what is the nature of the hydrologic cycle? Can surface oceans exist with compositions other than water-dominated (e.g., Titan), and if so, what is their nature? How are the various hydrologic cycles represented by these planetary examples and their histories related to the origin and evolution of life?

We will investigate these and other related questions through reading of papers in the literature, class discussions, and preparation of a research project and paper on one of these issues.

Course Structure and Requirements: The course will consist of two parts, 1) lecture and class discussions and 2) a research paper. Each student will be responsible for a weekly presentation once in the semester, as well as an oral presentation on their term paper. The grade will be allocated as follows: 1/3 for the paper and your oral presentation of it, 1/3 for your class presentation, and 1/3 on your class discussion contributions. There will be no exams.

Class Structure: We will meet weekly in Lincoln Field 105 at 3:00 PM-5:20 PM, Wednesdays. Each week we will consider a specific topic or theme (see schedule on separate sheet). Prior to a particular weekly discussion, you will be provided with a reading list and a set of general questions to focus the reading. The class will be often be introduced by a short overview presentation by the instructors and then we will proceed to review and discuss the readings. One or two particular readings will be called out as most significant for the class discussion and class members will be responsible for presenting a summary and leading the discussion of these papers. The class is expected to participate in the discussion on the basis of the background reading.

Research Paper: You will be responsible for writing a GRL-type (length and style) research paper on a topic of your choice related to the questions or themes discussed in the description and outline. The topic should be selected in consultation with the instructors. The topic should be chosen by mid-semester (March 10th), a detailed outline submitted by April 3, and the completed paper is due on April 28th, 2000. The papers will be made available to all members of the class. We will have a series of presentations on the results of each paper in our last class meeting on May 3th. Availability of Readings: A copy of the readings will be available in boxes on a table in Lincoln Field 105. Additional copies may be made as necessary. There will be a web site where readings and other information will be posted, starting at the beginning of the semester.

Guest Colloquium Speakers: There will be several colloquium speakers this semester who will focus on topics of interest and we will have an opportunity to meet with some of them for discussion.