May 25, 2019  

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Professor to Examine Climate Change in New Course Offered by Department of Geography and Geology

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Dr. Mark Puckett

A new course offered at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), beginning in the fall 2018 semester, is designed to give students greater insight into the causes and effects of climate change, while also separating fact from fiction on the issue.

The course, titled "Climate Change: Past, Present and Future" and offered by the USM Department of Geography and Geology (GLY/GHY 201), so students can get credit in either geology or geography; it is open to any student, regardless of their major, and without any prior in-depth knowledge of climate change. The course will be taught by Dr. Mark Puckett, professor of geology.

“My goal for the class is for students to get a good idea of the scientific evidence for anthropogenic (human) climate change, hopefully in simple language that everyone can understand,” Dr. Puckett said. “The other part is that they will be able to relate that evidence to others.

“There is so much information out there about climate change today, and some of it is pretty complicated, so part of my job in teaching it is to read the scientific papers and present it in a way that anybody can understand.”

The course is divided into four parts:

*Understanding Climates and the earth System. This section will focus on how the climate system works today, including the atmosphere, greenhouse gases, structure of the atmosphere, heat transfer, planetary motions relative to the sun, plate tectonics, the role life plays in our climate, feedbacks, and tools used to reconstruct past climates.

*Climate change in earth's past. According to Dr. Puckett, earth has undergone some severe changes in climate in its long history, some of which were devastating to life. “We will look at some of the extreme changes in climate, and see what the evidence is and what could have caused them,” Dr. Puckett said. “We will start with what is called the Cryogenian, which is when Earth became completely (or nearly so) frozen about 750 million years ago, then in a geological instant became very warm. This section will bring us to the most recent Ice Age.”

*The Anthropocene and Climate Change. This section will focus on the Anthropocene, which is the time interval humans have had a global effect on our planet. “We will talk about the forces driving current climate change and look at the evidence that humans have been responsible for perturbing earth out of its normal climate cycles, including delaying the coming of the next ice age for tens of thousands of years,” Dr. Puckett said.

*The Future: The concluding section of the course will focus on various tools for modeling and predicting the future changes in our climate, which will be done largely by looking at various scenarios, including those by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and on free software that can be used to change various loading factors such as CO2, deforestation and others, and their effects on the climate.

“These are some of the same tools policy makers at global climate conferences use to understand the magnitude of the problem,” Dr. Puckett said. “Hopefully, students will get an idea of how much of a change in our current system is needed to keep from us reaching a ‘tipping point,’ when the climate can get out of control. We will also talk about some plans to reduce our CO2 emissions.”

To learn more about Dr. Puckett’s research and work at Southern Miss, visit