Global change refers to planetary-scale changes in the Earth system, which now also includes human activities (so global change also refers to large-scale changes in society and how these drive global change). This course deals with the main drivers of global change, both in present times as in the geological past. The emphasis is on the diversity of processes leading to global change and how the different compartments of the Earth system (land, oceans, atmosphere, the deep Earth and biosphere) influence one another.
In the geological past, the main drivers of global change were physical (solar variation, plate tectonics, volcanism) or due to biological innovations (like photosynthesis or multicellular life). In present times, human society is the main driver of global change (due to our demand for energy, food, transport and information). We will dicuss the complexity of the causal chains from human activities to effects on ecosystems and biodiversity. Interactions among different drivers will be highlighted, as well as feedback effects resulting from changes in the ecosystem (e.g. general consequences of changes in hydrology, biotic invasions, biodiversity loss). Among the drivers that will be considered are:
- Human population growth and economic activity
- Land use and land cover change, including habitat fragmentation and urbanisation
- Greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change
- Changes in hydrology, both direct (irrigation, dams, …) and indirect (climate change)
- Changes in nutrient cycling
- Biological invasions
The course will consist of a number of core lectures (each introducing a particular main driver of global change), complemented by guest lectures of specialists in the field of global change (providing case studies). Students will analyse and discuss causal processes leading to global change and their interactions, based on discussion papers and statements provided by the lecturers.