Biophysical Field Methods
What you'll learn
- Learn practical methods for reliably measuring temperature and humidity and their physical drivers in the field.
- Learn about calibration and ways you can improvise meaningful calibrations of your instruments under field situations.
- Learn about the concept of the operative temperature, and how this can be applied to ecologically meaningful measurements of the operative temperature.
- Learn how ecologically meaningful measurements of operative temperature can be made in field situations.
- Measure environmental temperature in a physically meaningful way.
- Learn about humidity, what relative humidity is compared to absolute humidity, and the relationship of humiditiy to liquid water in the environment.
- Learn about the concept of the water potential, the various types of water potential and how these influence the movements of liquid water in soils.
- Learn the relationship between humidity water potential, and the physics underlying the phase relationships between vapor phase and liquid phase water.
- Learn how the colligative properties of water affect the water vapor pressure, and how these influence both humidity and the water potential.
- Learn how to apply these practical methods to specific ecological questions.
- Understand what the water vapor pressure is compared to the partial pressure of water vapor and how these relate to the concept of humidity.
- See these concepts demonstrated in model experiments under field conditions in Namibia.
- Since the material of the course includes a deal of physics, chemistry and biology, knowledge of at least high school mathematics, physics and chemistry will smooth your way. Your other need is motivation. Since during the material of the course includes a deal of physics, chemistry and biology, knowledge of at least high school mathematics, physics and chemistry will smooth your way. Your other need is motivation.
- A basic knowledge of physics, biology and mathematics through algebra. High school level is adequate, introductory college level is preferable.
- Drive, motivation and curiosity.
Biophysical field methods online offers a practical approach to biophysical ecology, which applies physical concepts, principles and techniques to the interpretation of animal-environment interactions. These include: how physical laws, such as the laws of thermodynamics, affect the abundance and distribution of animals and plants; the nature of microclimate, the ecological niche; and the integration of physiology and evolutionary ecology.
With specific ecological questions in mind, we aim to teach practical methods for reliably measuring temperature and humidity and their physical drivers in the field. Temperature and humidity are commonly reported in field studies, but they are usually measured with little attention to the physical principles that make those measurements meaningful and reliable. Without such attention, the results can be worse than meaningless: they can be misleading.
The course is composed of nine lessons, each subdivided into several sections. The first third of the course deals with the physics of heat: energy, temperature, the differences between them and how biological systems are constrained by the laws of thermodynamics. Next the course delves into the physics of water, its colligative properties, and the energetics of phase changes from ice to liquid water and liquid water to water vapor. Then, the course focuses on the physics of water potential.
All these concepts are tied together through their common currency—energy—and are demonstrated with several examples of how these concepts properly applied can lead to a deeper understanding of the organism and its environment.
This entire course is filmed on location in Namibia. BPFM is complemented by a field course, where students from the USA, Israel and Namibia rendezvous in the Namib desert, at Gobabeb, Namib Research Institute, to apply the principles of biophysical ecology to real-world problems of adaptation and biophysical ecology. If you have an interest in the field course, drop me a line!
Professor emeritus of biology
Who this course is for:
- Undergraduates in biology, ecology, zoology, botany.
- Graduate students in biology, ecology, zoology and botany who are looking to improve their planning and execution of their research projects.
- Professional scientists who are seeking a better understanding of the physical meaning of environmental temperature and moisture.
- Anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of environmental temperature, environmental moisture, humidity, and how water moves in soils.
I am a Professor of Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York.
I am a physiologist by training but with a deep interest in the interface of physiology, ecology, adaptation and evolution. You can read some of my thoughts in two books I have published: The Extended Organism: The Physiology of Animal-Built Structures (2000) and The Tinkerer's Accomplice: How Design Emerges from Life Itself (2007), both published by Harvard University Press. I have completed a third book, Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something Alive and Why Modern Darwinisms Fails to Explain It, which was published in September 2017 by HarperOne. You can find out more about me at my web site (link above).
My current research focuses on the problem of emergent physiology in social insect colonies. specifically the mound building termites of southern Africa.
I am a physiological ecologist and am interested in energy
and water exchange between animals and the environment and in the physiology of
thermoregulation and osmoregulation in desert animals - especially birds, bats
and rodents. I was trained in zoology at Tel Aviv University and did my Ph.D.
at Duke University and in Antarctica on the energy use of emperor penguins. My
post-doc was in biophysical ecology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. More
recently, I have been studying Burrow architecture: Namely, how are burrows
"designed", through natural selection on their builders to suit the
builder's physiological needs, thus becoming become part of the organisms
"extended physiology". More at http://in.bgu.ac.il/en/bidr/SIDEER/MDDE/Pages/staff/berry-pinshow.aspx.