The accelerating impacts of human-induced climate change are all around us. Whether it is Queensland’s tropical fish species taking up residence in the temperate ocean waters of Sydney’s Northern Beaches or changes in bush fire frequency and intensity, we have already been exposed to life in a changing climate. Early predictions that it was to be our children and their children who would have to deal with quality of life issues have been revised sharply as climate change impacts on us all today.
Environmental scientists are tasked with monitoring these changes; what will the impacts be on fish stocks, on forest health or on global biodiversity? They also are tasked with finding management prescriptions that balance human needs with healthy functioning ecosystems. So how does ACU train environmental science students in such a rapidly changing world?
The Bachelor of Environmental Science degree comprises 24 core units of which more than half have course content directly related to aspects of climate change. In the first semester at ACU, students enrol in a program core unit ENVR100 Environmental Issues where the latest available information on the social and scientific aspects of climate change is introduced for discussion. Introductory and advanced chemistry units detail the processes of human-induced climate change against a natural carbon cycle and a suite of ecology units include known and predicted changes to terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
Metropolitan excursions and major field trips to the NSW south and mid-north coasts and to Fiji reinforce classroom lessons and students get to see and measure climate change impacts first hand. Finally, students are given a solid grounding in environmental planning and impact assessment and when they graduate they are ready to take up professional careers as environmental consultants, government and industry scientists, and policy makers.
Beyond their Bachelor of Environmental Science (Pass) degree, students interested in a research career may be eligible to undertake Honours research within the School. Each year, research projects that involve aspects of climate change science are undertaken by students and their supervisors. Recent projects have included the impacts on marine life caused by interaction effects between rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification and metal pollutants. On the land, students have been studying threatened bird and bat species in remnant pockets of native vegetation vulnerable to changing drought cycles.
The School of Science at ACU regularly updates its syllabus and as more and more data on the world we are to live in become available, environmental science students are trained at the forefront of this new information. Upon graduation, they are well positioned to take this new knowledge into their chosen careers and help shape and inform a society hungry for change.