In the Age of the Anthropocene: Coupled-Human Natural Systems of Southeast Alaska

Southeast Alaska is often described as America's "last frontier," embodying a physical reality of the "pristine" that was once revered by the early romantics and founders of the modern conservation movement throughout Western North America.  Although endowed with more designated Wilderness land than any other state, Alaska remains a working landscape: a mixed cash-subsistence economy where communities rely upon the harvest and export of natural resources.  Here, ecosystem services remain tangible, and people living in communities that are unconnected by roads confront questions of sustainability on a daily basis.  This field-based course introduces students to the global questions of land use change and sustainable resource management in the American West through the place-based exploration of Southeast Alaska. Focused on four key social-ecological challenges -- fisheries, forestry, tourism, and energy -- the coupled human-natural systems of Southeast Alaska provide a unique lens for students to interpret broader resource management and conservation issues.  The curriculum balances field explorations and classroom lectures with community exploration in which students will engage with fishermen, hatchery workers, forest managers, loggers, mill owners, tour operators, tourists, city officials, citizens, and Native residents.  Students will catch their own salmon, walk through old-growth and logged forests, kayak next to glacial moraines, and witness the impacts of human activities, both local and global, on the social-ecological systems around them.  In the context of rapidly changing ecosystems, students will confront the historical, ecological, and economic complexities of environmental stewardship in this region.  By embedding their experiences within frameworks of land change science, land-ocean interactions, ecosystem ecology, and natural resource management and economics, students will leave this course ready to apply what they have learned to the global challenges of sustainability and conservation that pervade systems far beyond Alaska.

Note: This seminar will convene in Sitka, Alaska.  Students arrange for their arrival in Sitka; all subsequent travel with the class and transport back to Stanford is arranged and subsidized by Sophomore College and the School of Earth Sciences.  Students must arrive in Sitka no later than 11:30 AM on Tuesday, September 5. There are only three flights a day into Sitka, and all flights to Sitka from the continental United States will originate in Seattle. The course will arrange and cover hotel in Seattle for those who need to overnight in Seattle on Monday, September 4th in order to arrive in Sitka by 11:30am on Tuesday, September 5th.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Rob Dunbar

W.M. Keck Professor in the School of Earth Sciences and Senior Fellow, by courtesy, at the Woods Institute for the Environment

Rob Dunbar is W.M. Keck Professor of Earth Science and a Bass University Fellow in Undergraduate Education. His research focuses on the impacts of climate change and man on open ocean and coastal environments, including coral reefs, temperate fjords, polar ice margins. His field areas extend from the tropics to the poles with an emphasis on the circum-Pacific region. He has previously led 5 Stanford Travel Study trips to Alaska, Greenland, and Iceland and has also explored undersea mountains off southeast Alaska using the deep diving research submersible DSRV Alvin. His full CV and links to his interests in teaching, research, and photography can be found on his personal website.