SUSTAINABILITY, VULNERABILITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL RISK IN ANTHROPIZED WATERSHEDS
Learning outcomes of the course unit
The course aims to provide the tools to analyze the main relationships between the anthropogenic system and the natural environment, emphasising the exploitation of water resources and the alteration of biogeochemical cycles. Specifically, the course aims to explore the complex relationships linking anthropogenic pressures to environmental impacts on aquatic ecosystems. Particular attention will be paid to vulnerability, sustainable use, and conservation of aquatic resources and the risks of alteration and loss of goods and services provided to society by aquatic ecosystems.
At the end of the course, it is expected that the student can:
1. To know and analyze fundamental topics of general ecology: ecosystem structure and processes, biogeochemical cycles, disturbance, vulnerability and ecosystem responses to pressures, ecosystem services;
2. To comprehend how the functioning of aquatic ecosystems is modified by human activities by assessing qualitative variations and sustainability limits of water use and, more generally, of the hydrographic network;
3. To identify and analyze, at least in a general way, environmental problems related to the misuse and/or over-exploitation of water resources;
4. To evaluate the risk of anthropogenic impact on aquatic ecosystems by individuating and quantifying indicators of pressure;
5. To propose solutions for the prevention of impacts, protecting and restoring aquatic ecosystems and their resources, with the so-called nature-based solutions.
In the introductory lessons, the teacher will make a summary of the main basic concepts of the ecology of aquatic environments. You require knowledge of English and Microsoft Office applications.
Course contents summary
During the course, the scientific foundations of ecological and environmental sciences will be presented to support the professional training of future geologists who will have to deal with the problems of sustainable management of natural resources in an interdisciplinary way. Particular attention will be paid to analyzing the complexity of human-environmental relations as a transversal element to sustainable development, with the ecosystem as a reference. In particular, the causes and consequences of water resources and aquatic ecosystems exploitation and the alteration of the main biogeochemical cycles will be examined. Case studies will be proposed in which the acquired knowledge is applied to the analysis and solution of environmental problems related to the exploitation of aquatic ecosystems and water resources in anthropized watersheds.
The contents of the course will be organized around the topic of the interactions between anthropogenic activities, water resources and aquatic environments through the approach of ecosystem analysis and biogeochemical cycles. Water is an essential resource in the context of sustainable development and changes in water quantity and quality depend not only on direct pressures on aquatic systems but also on the characteristics of a watershed and how they are modified by anthropic activity. The course, starting from an analysis of the main characteristics of aquatic ecosystems and how they support human society through the wide variety of ecosystem services they provide, will then address the changes induced by different anthropogenic pressures in the watersheds and how to identify and quantify them. Finally, operational tools will be evaluated to quantify and mitigate pressures and impacts on aquatic ecosystems in the context of the main regulatory instruments. The proposed topics will be analyzed through the study of cases taken from the literature with particular emphasis on the Po River basin.
Specifically, the course will be structured as follows:
Presentation of the basic concepts related to ecology – Ecology of aquatic ecosystems. Main biogeochemical cycles. Ecosystem services. Disturbance and non-linear change. The concepts of sustainability, vulnerability and risk.
Pressures and impacts on aquatic ecosystems – The watershed and its main components: urban development, agriculture, land use and consumption. Anthropogenic pressures on water resource and their quality. Eutrophication and the nitrate problem. Economic development and environmental problems in the Po river watershed.
Management of environmental problems and recovery of ecosystems - Water protection in the context of the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC). Assessment of the ecological status of aquatic ecosystems: significance of the main indicators of status and function. Ecological flow. Aquatic environments generated by quarrying activities: quarry lakes, management problems and environmental restoration opportunities.
Conservation of resources - Quantification of pressures and impacts for an integrated assessment of vulnerability and risk in river basins: nitrogen and phosphorus input due to anthropogenic activity. Nature-based solutions.
Slides of the lessons and additional material will be made available through the ELLY portal. The course is not based on a single textbook, but papers from the scientific literature will be proposed. The texts could be in English. For a general overview of the interactions between human activities and natural resources, the following book is suggested:
Galassi S., Ferrari I., Viaroli P., 2014. Introduzione all’ecologia applicata. Dalla teoria alla pratica della sostenibilità. CittàStudi, Torino
The course will be organized into three main activities:
1) lectures of the teacher during which will be presented the main aspects related to sustainable use of water resources, alteration of biogeochemical cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus, vulnerability to eutrophication of aquatic ecosystems, non-linear responses and changes in the state of environmental systems, definition and application of indicators to quantify anthropogenic pressures, environmental restoration and nature-based solutions to reduce the vulnerability of aquatic ecosystems;
2) presentation and discussion of case studies: watershed planning in the context of European legislation on the protection of aquatic ecosystems and water resources, ecological flow, planning and management perspectives related to artificial aquatic environments generated as a result of the extraction of sand and gravel;
3) In class mini lab aimed at quantifying the anthropic alteration of the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles in anthropized watersheds and assessing the eutrophication risk.
In-class lectures will be preferred, but with the possibility to follow them online (lessons will be uploaded on the Elly page of the course). In the case that it is not possible to have in-class lectures, due to health restrictions, lectures will be carried out online in both synchronous (via Teams) and asynchronous mode (uploaded on the Elly page of the course). During lectures in synchronous mode (class or online mode), frontal lectures will alternate with interactive moments with the students.
Assessment methods and criteria
The acquisition of knowledge will be verified by oral examination. The exam will consist of a presentation by the student of one of the topics covered in class and the subsequent discussion. The exam aims to evaluate the acquired knowledge and the ability to manage it in an applied context, the communication skills, the adequacy in the use of technical language and the reasoning ability.