Instructor: David Schuff, Section 003

Systems Thinking and Climate Change

Before discussing Systems Thinking in this class, I was exposed to the theory in the Environment GenEd. To truly understand the effect Climate Change is having on the Earth, a Systems Thinking approach must be used to incorporate all aspects of ecology. The holistic analysis of ecology is called systems ecology, which focuses on the interactions between biological and ecological systems. Systems ecology allows us to identify the influence human activities are having on the environment. An example of Systems Thinking in ecology is the study of declining populations of muskoxen in the arctic, whose cause of death remained mysterious until scientists applied a Systems Thinking approach to their research. According to lead researcher Joel Berger, a Colorado State University professor and senior scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, rising temperatures cause precipitation to fall as rain, which then freezes and leaves plants, the main food source for muskoxen, inaccessible. Berger and his team of researchers have also discovered that a herd of muskoxen died after becoming encased in ice during a powerful tidal surge, an event caused by rising sea levels and extreme temperatures related to climate change. Separating the muskoxen’s ecosystem into “systems” helped identify the cause of death, and the cause of that cause of death. Ecosystems contain biotic factors, such as plants and the muskoxen themselves, and abiotic factors, such as water, weather and temperature.

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