CPSC/NRES 431, IB 440
Spring 2009      
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Course aims:  (1) To provide an overview and synthesis of global atmospheric and climate change and its impacts on plants, including crop and natural ecosystems.  The focus is on the processes and other biological mechanisms that provide the basis for a) understanding responses and b) development of predictions.  The impacts considered are rising CO2, tropospheric ozone, rising UV-B, increased nitrogen deposition, and rising temperature. (2) To give an appreciation of how atmosphere, climate and ecosystem interact, and models developed both to synthesize current understanding and predict into the future. (3) To provide a basis for considering: how agriculture and other land use may be adapted to climate change with special emphasis on renewable biofuels and how biological systems might be utilized to mitigate atmospheric change; and the policy implications of these issues.  

I. Global atmospheric change. 

  1. Past and future changes in greenhouse gases within the atmosphere.  Sources and sinks for greenhouse gases.  Atmospheric chemistry.
  2. Global carbon cycle and its perturbation.  Description of the cycle, past and future changes.  Uncertainties.  Methods and networks for monitoring fluxes.
  3. Climate change.  Global radiation balance, and the potential impacts of atmospheric change on global energy balance and global circulation.
  4. Predicting future climate.  Global circulation models (GCMs), their development and limitations.  How and where will climate change occur over the next 100 years?  Implications for Illinois.

II. Rising CO2 and plants

  1. How do plants sense and respond to changes in CO2 concentration?  Measurement of short-term effects and mechanisms underlying the observed responses in C3 and C4 species. 
  2. Acclimation.  How is plant development affected by growth in elevated CO2? Does it serve to remove the potential increase in production or does it increase the efficiency of nitrogen use?  Physiological and molecular perspectives.
  3. How do we study the long-term effects of elevated CO2 on plants and systems?  A review of manipulation methods, from fully controlled environments to Free-Air Carbon dioxide Enrichment (FACE).
  4. Case studies:  a) A tidal marsh ecosystem on the Chesapeake Bay; b) SoyFACE.
  5. How may changes in tissue quality and secondary metabolism affect pests and pathogens? How does rising CO2 feedback on ecosystem-level processes? What are the implications for soil fertility and carbon storage?

III. Rising tropospheric ozone. 

  1. An overview of the chemistry of elevated ozone levels and the episodic nature of ozone pollution; Champaign County as an example. 
  2. The mechanisms of damage and tolerance in plants.  Ozone pollution crop losses and impacts on natural systems.

IV. UV-B. 

  1. Causes of change and monitoring networks.  Simulating future UV spectra in the laboratory and field. 
  2. Mechanisms of damage, observations in field studies and genetic effects manifest in subsequent generations.  The lessons from the research studies of the 90s.

V. Rising surface temperature. 

  1. What changes are expected, when and where?  Increased temperature and plants in cold climates – longer growing season, timing of flowering, duration of grain fill and impacts on crop yields and potential species ranges.
  2. Increased temperature in warm climates.  The effects of supra-optimal temperatures on plants, interaction with drought, heat-shock proteins, and implications for crop yields.

VI. Increasing nitrogen deposition. 
The nitrogen cycle and its perturbation by anthropogenic activities.  Monitoring nitrogen deposition. Responses of plants, implications for agriculture and natural ecosystems.

VII. Interactions
Coping with simultaneous increases in CO2, ozone, nitrogen and temperature.  Potential mechanisms of interaction and field manipulations to test these hypotheses.

VIII. Biodiversity. 
Population and community scale.  Potential responses that may affect fitness of individuals.  Field manipulations and microcosm experiments to test these hypotheses.   Terrestrial biomes and their future distribution.  Impacts on biodiversity resources.

IX. Mitigation / Adaptation
a) How will the combination of atmospheric and climatic change affect future crop production?  How might world food supply be affected and where will it be affected? How can agriculture be adapted to climate change?  Can agriculture help mitigate climate change?
b)  Prospects for genetic manipulation of crops to maximize production in the future atmosphere.  Modifying Rubisco, acclimation, metabolism of oxidizing radicals, and sink capacity as potential strategies.
c) Biomass crops and forest management as potential mechanisms of slowing the rate of atmospheric change.  Short rotation coppice and perennial grasses as energy crops.  Cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel, and other fuels.