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Honors Outside of the Classroom: Observing Climate Change in Louisiana

October 30, 2018 8:15 PM
 | 
Tess Martin tmarti1@tulane.edu

According to Louisiana’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan, 2800 square miles of coastal land, an area larger than the state of Delaware, will be underwater by 2050. Through Dr. Cynthia Ebinger’s “Causes and Consequences of Sea Level Rise,” first-year Honors students have a front row seat to observe the consequences of sea level rise in Louisiana.

As Professor and Marshall-Heape Chair in Geology for the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Ebinger is well-equipped to teach first-year students about the rise in global temperatures and the resulting rise in sea levels. Ebinger’s course and her students examine how coastal communities experience economic, societal, and strategic risks as sea levels continue to rise. In the course, students also discuss geo-engineering projects for Louisiana and other areas worldwide. Louisiana’s coastline provides the perfect backdrop to study these topics, as it is the home to the some of the first ‘climate refugees’ in the United States.

Field trips are integral to the course, and the Honors students see first-hand the relevance of the course. First, the class visited the Lake Pontchartrain basin, where the shorelines and wetlands are poised to be significantly affected by human activity and rising sea levels. Before visiting the basin, first-year student, Sydnie Lesser, says they had been learning about “the scientific causes of sea level rise including climate change and global warming, which causes natural phenomena like the volumetric expansion of sea water as it warms.” Another student, Sydney Koehne, said after studying the causes of sea level rise, they moved onto its consequences, remarking “Tulane is a great place to study this, because we’re so close to the water and to the subsiding coast of Louisiana.” The excursion offered students the opportunity to not only observe but to kayak around the basin, guided by Ebinger’s commentary. Jaime Befeler was fascinated by their “interactive kayaking trip to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain” and how “the results of sea level rise are extremely applicable to right here on the Louisiana coastline.”

Through Professor Ebinger’s Colloquium, first-year Honors students from across the disciplines are able to engage directly with their course material, supported by knowledge from popular science articles, World Bank data, and political responses to sea level rise. Given the accessibility of Louisiana’s coastal environment and Ebinger’s in-depth understanding of the earth’s processes, Honors students in this Colloquium will be able to use these experiences to build environmental consciousness and a deeper understanding of the world around them.