Honors Arts & Science 220B (5 credits, SLN 4882)

Dead Zones around America

Instructor: Parker MacCready, Oceanography, 313 Ocean Sciences Building, (206) 685-9588

The TA is Theresa Mitchell, a graduate student in the School of Marine Affairs

There are no formal office hours, but we are generally available - make an appointment.

Class meetings : MWF 10:00-11:20 AM, MGH 228


In many of our coastal waters, from Hood Canal in Puget Sound to the Chesapeake Bay, a deadly scenario is played out each summer. Bottom waters in these bays become starved for oxygen, killing or displacing the many organisms that live there. Humans contribute to this because our sewage and agricultural runoff feed the biological and chemical cycles that remove oxygen. The resulting "dead zones" create a conflict between people who use the coastal ecosystem (us) and those who benefit from sending their pollution there (also us).

The goal of the class is to explore how society interacts with science over important issues. It is intended for non-science majors (science majors also welcome!) who want to understand the connections between natural ecosystems, the difficulty of trying to study them scientifically, and the ways in which government has intervened to try to prevent some harm.


I consider student participation to be an essential part of learning, and the class structure tries to foster this participation:

Mondays are generally devoted to lectures giving background material about the upcoming readings.

Wednesdays are for "conceptual workshops" in which the class breaks up into small groups doing hands-on experiments related to the week's topic. During these each group typically writes short report to be handed in at the end of the session. Wednesdays will also have several guest lecturers, to bring breadth and perspective that the instructor and TA alone cannot provide. On one Wednesday we will have a class field trip to a sewage treatment plant in Olympia, WA. This is the treatment plant at the center of our main case study, which has had to contend with persistent poor water quality in South Puget Sound waters, and has responded in rather innovative ways.

Fridays will be devoted entirely to discussions of the week's reading. These discussions will be led by groups of ~3 students, and all students will have a chance to lead during the term. The format is up to you (responses have ranged from Jeopardy to mock-trials) although I will provide some guidance. As preparation for the discussion, I ask each student to bring in a half-page written question about the reading, to be handed in at the start of class.

** BUY THIS => Most readings will be in a two-volume"Course Reader," which should be available by the afternoon of Tuesday 9/27/2005 at the Copy Center in the Communications Building on campus. Together they cost $43.70. PDF of the INDEX: click here.

The primary case study for the first 2/3rds of the class will be from Budd Inlet on Puget Sound (near the city of Olympia). In 1996-98 the LOTT (Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater, Thurston County) Sewer Authority undertook a $3 million scientific study of Budd Inlet. They funded integrated, detailed studies, conducted by top scientists from the region, of the circulation, biology and chemistry of the Inlet, including both observations and sophisticated numerical modeling. The effort was overseen by the Washington State Department of Ecology, and also involved a large public relations, regulatory, and public decision making process. Eventually LOTT determined that it was feasible to send significantly more treated sewage into the Inlet during the winter, despite chronic, poor water quality there.


60% There will be 4 essays due during the term, each ~5 pages (typed, double-spaced, 12 point font). The first three will be based on questions directly related to the reading. The fourth will be more of a research project in which you compare what you have learned in the rest of the course to a different situation from elsewhere in the world. I'll provide a number of references and links to help you get started on this one. The TA and I will be giving written feedback on each of your essays to help you focus your analytical and prose style. What I look for in these essays is that you begin to explore issues in a "scientific" way, forming balanced arguments, with specific reference to source materials, and even making your own supporting calculations. I especially like hand-drawn figures (remember to number figures and use captions).

40% Discussions. I expect that the discussion leaders will put substantial effort into organizing and moderating the class they are in charge of. I also expect active participation during the weeks you are not leading the discussion. The discussions are your chance to explore the material with the help of the whole group, so make the most of it.


Week 1 Introduction & Basic Concepts (Dilution, Sampling, etc.)

W 9/28: Lecture - Class structure and an overview of coastal water pollution

F 9/30: Conceptual Workshop - Bean counting. Please bring a calculator if you have one (if not, there will certainly be enough to share).

Week 2 Attitudes of Science, & Concepts for Fluids

M 10/3: Lecture - Bean Counting & Scientific Facts

W 10/5: Conceptual Workshop - Stratified Fluids. Please meet in my lab, Room 147 Ocean Sciences Building (map). It takes 5-10 minutes to walk there from upper campus, so plan ahead.

F 10/7: Discussion #1 of the reading. Please read the essays by Wilson and Jumars in the Course Reader, as well as chapters 1 and 2 of BISS (the Budd Inlet Scientific Study). Due at the start of class: a ~1/2 page (hand-written OK) question about the reading.

Week 3 Circulation in Estuaries

M 10/10: ESSAY #1 Due at the start of class. How does the LOTT study compare with the idealized practice of science advocated by Wilson and Jumars? Lecture - Tides, mixing, and estuarine circulation

W 10/12: Conceptual Workshop - idealized circulation in an estuary. Please meet in my lab, Room 147 Ocean Sciences Building (map).

F 10/14: Discussion #2. Please read BISS 3-1 through 3-33 [Tides and Inlet circulation], and Mann Ch. 2. Due at the start of class: a ~1/2 page question about the reading.

Week 4 Inputs & Pathogens

M 10/17: Lecture by Theresa - Coastal Pollution Issues: Federal and State Perspectives

W 10/19: Theresa will hold office hours in the classroom.

F 10/21: Discussion #3. Please read BISS 3-34 through 3-46 [Freshwater inputs], and Laws. Due at the start of class: a ~1/2 page question about the reading.

Week 5 Estuarine Biology & Chemistry

M 10/24: Lecture - Biological and chemical cycles in estuaries.

W 10/26: Conceptual Workshop - Puget Sound Model. Please meet on the ground floor of the Old Ocean Building. This is at the lower right on the map, the building under the "phy" in "Oceanography."

F 10/28: Discussion #4. Please read BISS 3-47 through 3-66 [Marine water conditions], and Mann, Ch. 7. Due at the start of class: a ~1/2 page question about the reading.

Week 6 Nutrient Pollution

M 10/31: ESSAY #2 Due at the start of class. THREE CHOICES: (1) Please discuss and critique the flushing time estimates from the BISS report (Table 3-13). (2) Analyze the use of language in the reading (your choice from any of the assigned reading so far). (3) A topic of your choice. Lecture - Nutrient Loading

W 11/2: Conceptual Workshop - Diatom Lab, Room 202 in the Ocean Teaching Building (OTB). This is marked "Oceanography Teaching" on the map, just below where is says "Gate 6."

F 11/4: Discussion #5. Please read BISS 3-67 through 3-76 [Primary Productivity]. Due at the start of class: a ~1/2 page question about the reading.

Week 7 Budd Inlet Summary

M 11/7: Lecture - Hypoxia.

W 11/9: Guest lecturer - we are lucky to have Dr. Jan Newton, from the UW Applied Physics Lab, and formerly of the Washington State Dept. of Ecology, as our visitor. She authored the BISS chapter on Primary Productivity. Please email her a short question about last week's reading or any other biology question you might have, by Tuesday 11/18 at Noon. Her email is newton@apl.washington.edu.

F 11/11: HOLIDAY - Veteran's Day, No class

Week 8 Sewage Treatment

M 11/14: Lecture - A History of Sewage.

W 11/16: ESSAY #3 Due at the start of class. From the evidence so far, can you tell if the LOTT effluent is likely to violate federal standards for DO (Text to be handed out in class, (c)iiB)? What more would you need to know if you can't decide? Compare especially LOTT vs. the Capitol Lake/Deschutes River input. Would LOTT's input have been important prior to the onset of tertiary treatment in 1994? (BISS Fig. 3-40). These are suggested topics, you may use one or more of them, or write about a topic which interests you. ALL DAY FIELD TRIP - LOTT Treatment Facility, Olympia. Meet the vans at the the turnaround between Gerberding and Johnson Halls, at 9:15 AM. You can bring your own lunch, or order a sub to be delivered to LOTT. You should be back by 4:00 PM. The field trip is optional, if you are unable to get out of your other classes, but it will be very interesting.

F 11/18: Discussion #6. Please read Train. Due at the start of class: a ~1/2 page question about the reading.

Week 9 Other Dead Zones I

M 11/21: Lecture - Modern History of Pollution Regulation, and the Gulf of Mexico

W 11/23: Lecture - where did we put our sewage before we put it on the ocean? Rivers: Seine and Thames.

F 11/25: HOLIDAY - Thanksgiving, No class

Week 10 Other Dead Zones II

M 11/28: Lecture - Bruce Babbitt (reading handed out in class) and the Chesapeake

W 11/30: Guest Lecturer - we are pleased to welcome Garin Schrieve from the Washington State Department of Ecology. He is highly experienced with the messy interface where regulations actually have to be enforced. Please email him a question, possibly relating to LOTT or other regulatory issues, at gasc461@ecy.wa.gov, by Tuesday at Noon.

F 12/2: Discussion #7. Please read Boesch and Segerson & Walker. Due at the start of class: a ~1/2 page question about the reading.

Week 11 Reflection

M 12/5: ESSAY #4 Due at the start of class. Please consider the pollution problem in another area (e.g. Gulf of Mexico), possibly compared to the LOTT experience. Here is a page of good starting links. Lecture - California Water.

W 12/7: Discussion #8. Please read the essays handed out on Monday. Due at the start of class: a ~1/2 page question about the reading.

F 12/9: Last day of class.

There will be no final exam (unless you miss the last day of class).