Spring 2025 | Asia, Africa, and Europe Exploration

GR 425C Special Topics: Physical Geography

Overview of Course

Societies around the globe rely on coral reef ecosystems to support their economy, continue their cultural practices, preserve local biodiversity, and protect their coastlines from oceanographic forces. Despite their importance, coral reefs are critically threatened by climate change and human impacts. To better understand the coral reefs of the present, we will take a million-year journey into the history of corals and their geographic, biological, and cultural importance. We will discuss how past sea-level and environmental changes have affected fossil and modern corals globally, and what this means in the context of present-day climate change. We will learn how scientists reconstruct past (millennia-old) environments using fossil coral cores and how modern, long-lived corals can offer us insights into the pre-industrial climate. Finally, we will discuss how modern-day genetic and biological tools can be used to measure how corals are responding to climate change. The MV World Odyssey will travel through some of the most coral-diverse regions of the world. We will use these opportunities to learn how local communities depend on and manage their reefs and observe marine biodiversity. We will also port in locations with fossil coral reefs, and we will compare these past ecosystems to what we observe today. From this course, we will learn about the importance of coral reefs globally, how sea-level and environmental change have shaped past reefs, how climate change is affecting the trajectory of reefs today, and what these changes mean for the people who depend on the reef.