Spring 2019 — 466W/566W: Introduction to Mitigation and Adaptation Studies

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Courses: BIOL 466W (CRN 29687), IDS 466W (CRN 30110); class 3 credits
Course title: Introduction to Mitigation and Adaptation Studies
Instructors: Dr. Hans-Peter Plag,
Office Hours (IRP1, room 3211): Mondays, 1:00-3:00 PM and on request.
Dr. Tatyana Lobova
Office Hours:Mondays 1:00-2:00 PM, Wednesdays: 1:30-2:30 PM and on request
Term: Spring 2019, January 14 - April 29, 2019
Time: Mondays and Wednesdays, 3:00 PM - 4:15 PM
Location: Oceanography Bldg OPN 202

Course description

In this course, students will be introduced to studies focusing on mitigation of human-induced changes in the Earth system, including but not limited to changes in the physiology of Earth's life-support system, extinction, climate change and sea level rise, and adaptation to the impacts of these changes. A particular focus will be on the challenges these anthropogenic changes pose to conservation efforts. The course will cover the hazards resulting from the on-going planetary reengineering that is pushing the planet out of the Holocene; the vulnerability of the integrated socio-ecological and economic system of system to these hazards, the foresight we have in terms of future trajectories of the planet and the probability density functions of the hazards; the opportunities and limitations for mitigation and adaptation that result from societal decision making processes and the general basis of human decision making; and, finally, the options we have for mitigation and adaptation and a framework for the assessment of the viability of proposed options. The MARI template for case studies on mitigation and adaptation will be introduced and the importance of modeling for the understanding of the current and future system trajectories and the development of viable options will be emphasized. Most of the examples used in the course to illustrate the issues are taken from practical work in conservation.

Course expectations

At the end of this course, students will:

  • comprehend the scale of the current transition out of the Holocene into a new unknown geological epoch;
  • understand the challenges sustainability science and conservation management are facing today;
  • have the skills to analyze the ethical dimension of the sustainability challenge and to formulate a personal ethical position and active value system;
  • appreciate the importance of system thinking and have the skills to approach complex systems of systems with conceptual modeling;
  • be able to recognize the nexus between system characteristics (including the food-water-energy-population nexus) and how conservation is integrated into such a nexus approach;
  • apply a probabilistic approach to hazards, vulnerability and risk analyses;
  • participate in societal decision making processes;
  • poses the skills to develop conceptual models of a system under consideration and use these models to explore the spectrum of possible futures of this system;
  • understand the importance of having metrics for adaptation options and their relevance for conservation.


Prerequistes are BIOL 291 or agreement of instructor. Students are expected to have reached the Commonwealth of Virginia standards-of-learning in high school math, science, and writing. Regular class attendance is required as some of the information will only be provided during class.

In addition to weekly reading requirements, required course material include:

  • Rockström, J., Klum, M, 2015. Small Planet, Big World. Yale University Press. ISBN-10: 0300218362, ISBN-13: 978-0300218367. Available on Amazon.com as hardcover or Kindle editions (~$20)
  • Sodhi, N.S., P.R. Ehrlich. 2010. Conservation Biology for All. Oxford University Press. ISBN: 978-0-19-955423-2. Available on BlackBoard in a free PDF format or at https://conbio.org/publications/free-textbook/.
  • Brown, V. A., Harris, J. A., Russell, J. Y. (eds.), 2010. Tackling Wicked Problems: Through the Transdisciplinary Imagination. Earthscan, London, New York.

Reading assignment will be made available on a weekly basis on the Class Schedule available in the workspace.


The course will combine lectures with discussions and project work. There will be weekly homeworks in written form. Each week, a set of questions will be made available and written answers will have to be provided based on the material presented in the class and additional readings. These answers have to be concise and in scientific writing style with sufficient citation of peer-reviewed sources. The answers have to include the name of the student as well as the questions themselves. The answers have to cite the sources consulted in writing the answer and a list of references. For the 500-level class, there will be additional questions. In total, there will be twelve sets of questions of which the ten best will be counted for the overall grade.

In each class, you will have to submit a (online) 2+2 Form, in which you state two points that you learned in this particular class and two points that you did not understand. These 2+2 Forms will be used as documentation that you participated in the class. The instructors will respond to points you did not understand or points you misunderstood either in class (if several students had the same issues) or individually through the web page. Your 2+2 forms are private and not visble to other students. Examples from the 2+2 forms use din class witll be anonymous.

The research assignment will consist of a research case study using the MARI case study template and a presentation of the research paper. The research paper and presentation will be prepared during a Student Project hour and in homework. More information on the case study, including templates for the case study report and presentation, is available in the class workspace.

Note that the form of this course will differ from many other more traditional courses in that is starts with the description of a complex societal challenge and not with basic theory. The challenge of adapting to the current and future changes inflicted by humanity on the planet and the Earth's life-support system is a “wicked problem for which no comprehensive theory exists. Wicked problems have to be addressed in transdisciplinary approaches. It requires environmental, social, and economic considerations in a complex system environment. Therefore, we will approach this problem by first describing the problem in its many facets and then pulling in theory where needed to better understand the problem and to illustrate possible approaches to address the challenges.

Work Skills and Collaboration

You must be able to access the class web page at http://www.mari-odu.org/academics/2019s_adaptation on a daily basis. Assignment details including deadlines, course materials, schedule changes, and other important information will be posted at the class web page regularly. All interactions including submission of answers to the weekly questions, comments on your answers, points received, submission of 2+2 forms will all take place on these pages. The web site also provides a personalized learning space where you can interact with the instructors on a one-to-one basis and with your fellow students. Please visit the course website for detailed weekly course information.

From time to time you will be asked to research and bring specific content (e.g., published facts, evidence, sources) to the class. Do not assume that this content will be provided for you if you fail to complete the assignment.

Collaboration is expressly permitted, encouraged, and may even be required for team projects, but must follow these guidelines:

  • You must actively participate in the collaborative project;
  • You must write your own individual report on any team project work;
  • All team members’ names must be included in any written project work;
  • You must understand the material and be able to answer questions on it.


The course combines lectures with exercises and project work. There are weekly reading assignments and written homework. The student project assignment will consist of a research paper and a presentation at the end of the class. At the end of each class, each student will submit a 2/2 form stating briefly two things learned in the class and two things not understood in the class. This form is documentation of having participated in the class.

You will be graded on a standard scale:
100.0-93.0% = A; 92.9-90.0% = A-
89.9-87.0% = B+; 86.9-83.0% = B; 82.9-80.0% = B-
79.9-77.0% = C+; 76.9-73.0% = C; 72.9-70.0% = C-
69.9-67.0% = D+; 66.9-63.0% = D; 62.9-60.0% = D-
0-59.9% = F.

The overall grade for the class will be composed of individual grades using:
Class participation (based on 2+2 forms) 5%
Weekly homework: 40%
Research draft paper: 20%
Research final paper: 15%
Presentation: 20%.

University regulations prohibit communicating test results via email or by phone. If you wish to talk about your grade, please make an appointment. All scores will be available as soon as possible after they are graded.

Grade forgiveness policy:

Missed question sets or other submissions may only be made up for valid reasons such as: participation in ODU sports team events (a coach's note is needed), evidence of illness (doctor's or Student Health Services' note needed), bereavement of an immediate family member (death notice needed), or documented court appearance (copy of notice to appear needed). Advance notice in writing must be given whenever possible.

Late assignments or reports will be graded on a reduced point scale as follows:
up to 24 hrs late = 90%
up to 48 hrs late = 80%

A further 10% per day reduction in possible points earned will be applied, up to a maximum total of seven days late, after which the assignment will not be accepted without evidence that the student was sick or there was a family emergency.