SFS Course Investigates Climate Change-Induced Sea Level Rise
To help SFS undergraduates meet the science requirement introduced in 2018, professors have developed Science for All courses designed to appeal to non-science majors. In spring 2020, Science, Technology and International Affairs Lecturer Clare Fieseler launched a new Science for All course called Rising Seas, Warming Oceans. Focusing on rising sea levels, Fieseler introduced students to the very real impacts of human-driven climate change.
A Groundbreaking Report
As a marine ecologist, Fieseler was immediately intrigued when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report in 2019 detailing the impacts of climate change on the ocean. Motivated by the findings of the report, Fieseler designed a course around it.
When SFS freshman Eshan Gupta was choosing classes for the spring 2020 semester he was unsure what to take. Knowing he had to fulfill his Science for All requirement, he came across Fieseler’s Rising Seas, Warming Oceans course.
I chose the course because it had practical application. Climate science has an impact on everyone.
After spending the first half of the semester learning the science behind how the ocean rises, students engaged in a final project that looked at specific communities and how rising sea levels directly affect them. Focusing on Annapolis, Maryland, and Norfolk, Virginia, students were able to see the dramatic impact that climate change is having on communities just a few hours from the Hilltop.
Fieseler tasked her students with conducting original research on sea level rise using government datasets, which they transformed into highly interactive websites with embedded GIS maps (made possible by a collaboration with ESRI) that illustrated three different scenarios for the cities of Annapolis and Norfolk.
“We used mapping software and sea level projections to see how they would affect different aspects of life in the community. I found that government buildings and subsidized housing would be most affected by rising sea levels in Annapolis,” Magdalena Paz, a student in Fieseler’s class who focused on Annapolis, explained.
The maps allowed me to see how people who are already disadvantaged are the ones who will be more affected by rising sea levels. Through the maps we created I could actually see how buildings and neighborhoods will be underwater if changes aren’t made.
Making an Impact
Through the span of this course students were able to learn about climate change, apply these findings to local communities, and then present these findings to local policymakers. Gupta, Paz, and their peers had the unique opportunity to present their final projects on rising sea levels in Annapolis to Jacquiline Guild, the director of environmental policy for the City of Annapolis. According to Paz,
One of the coolest things about this course was that our research was being used outside the classroom to change the way environmental policy is enacted.
“We always think of ‘Global Georgetown’ as students going out to different places in the globe. But it’s also the globe coming into Georgetown,” Fieseler explained. “Rising sea levels is a global problem and it is also a local problem. In order to understand how sea level rise is going to affect a remote Pacific island, you need to be able to understand the concepts, and what better way to enter into that new world of information than through a local lens.”
The maps Gupta, Paz, and their peers created are currently being used as part of Annapolis' new climate change adaptation plan—an example of research-to-action to aid local DC, Maryland, and Virginia communities.
“The payoff for this class and the project was so much larger than I expected,” Paz admitted. “It piqued my interest in the subject of climate change so much that now I'm thinking of pursuing an environmental studies minor.”
“We were able to see firsthand how data influences decision-making,” Gupta added. “To have all of this in a course, in a six-month time frame, is so unique.”