Ecosystems Past and Present: Mexico's Gulf of California Winter 2023

Class Details

Wedged between mainland Mexico and the Baja California peninsula, the Gulf of California (also called the Sea of Cortez) is a marginal sea that extends from its opening with the Pacific Ocean for 1,100 km northwest to a blind-end at the Colorado River delta. Maximum water depth exceeds 2,500 m in tectonically active segments linked to spreading oceanic crust on the East Pacific Rise. Due to upwelling of nutrient-rich waters, the gulf is one of the most biologically fertile places on the planet. A dozen inter-related ecosystems are found in this special area, including rocky shores, coral reefs, coralline algae banks, clam flats, sandy beaches, coastal dunes, mangroves, closed microbial lagoons, estuaries with related deltas, open sea biome, hydrothermal springs, and at greatest depth mineral-laden black smokers. Each of these functional systems may be compared with direct counterparts preserved in the surrounding rock record dating back roughly 5 million years. The evolution of ecosystems within the Gulf of California up to the present day is outlined with an emphasis on ecosystem services that benefit human kind on multiple levels including geological heritage. During the final week of class, each student will make an oral presentation on a marine zone from another part of the world that entails a multiplicity of ecosystems similar to those in the Gulf of California. Potential topics may include tectonically active zones in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Red seas, as well as the Persian Gulf, Western Australia’s Shark Bay, Indonesia’s Malacca Strait, Japan’s Inland Sea, and China’s Yellow Sea.
The Class: Format: lecture
Limit: 12
Expected: NA
Class#: 1142
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: final project or presentation; class participation and delivery of an oral report (PowerPoint) on one of the suggested topics
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: Priority to First-Year Students with a demonstrated interest in marine geology and biology.
Unit Notes: Markes Johnson is Professor Emeritus in the Geosciences Department at Williams College and the author of several books on the geology and ecology of Mexico's Baja California.
Attributes: STUX Winter Study Student Exploration

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