FSU Plankton Ecology and

Biogeochemistry Lab


EVR1001: Introduction to Environmental Science


EVR1001 is a liberal arts course designed for non-majors.  Dr. Rob Spencer and I designed this as a new course (never previously offered at FSU) in Spring 2015 and it has rapidly grown into the largest course offered by EOAS.  We teach two sections each semester.  During our first semester, we averaged 74 students per section; we now consistently reach max capacity of 496 students per semester.


EVR1001 covers the entirety of environmental science (a daunting task), while highlighting three core concepts:  1) the scientific method and how it can be applied to earth systems science, 2) scientific uncertainty and how it differs from language used in the media or politics, 3) an ability to read scientific literature.  The first two concepts are taught in the first week of the course and later reiterated with examples as we cover topics ranging from biogeochemical cycles to weather and from freshwater scarcity and pollution to alternative energy sources.  One of the primary goals of the course is to teach students scientific literacy so that they can understand news stories of relevance to their lives, such as flooding in Miami Beach.


Course delivery in a lecture hall with 200 students is challenging.  To keep the students engaged, we use the TopHat system (a clicker-type system with greater flexibility in question design) in EVR1001.  We ask questions throughout class periods to gauge the students’ comprehension and intersperse 2-10 minute videos in our lectures so that the students get alternate sources of information.  We also ask the students to read a scientific manuscript and write a short paper critiquing it.  In response to students’ difficulty with this task, we also now dedicate a class period to small group discussion (4-5 students) of these papers, so that students can learn from their peers.




OCE4930: Applied Math for Environmental Scientists


OCE4930 is a course that I developed for a specific purpose: Many of the undergraduate students in our environmental sciences majors struggle with basic mathematical concepts from trigonometry, linear algebra, and calculus despite having taken these courses. Through discussions with several of these students, I realized that a large part of the problem was that courses taught by mathematicians often focus on abstract formulations rather than concrete applications of mathematical tools that the students can relate to.  I developed this course to bridge this disconnect.


The course is taught in a "flipped classroom" format with extensive use of active learning techniques.  Specifically, all lectures (which are formulated as "mathematical toolboxes" are pre-recorded and available online.  Prior to each class period students are expected to watch the recorded toolbox and take a mini-quiz to test their comprehension.  Class periods are entirely devoted to groupwork focused on solving real world ecological, earth science, and environmental problem sets involving the mathematical tools discussed in the lecture.  This approach maximizes student-student and student-instructor interactions, while also allowing more advanced students to help other students in a way that reinforces learning for all involved.  To aid other instructors (or students) adopting a similar approach I have posted all course material online through the following links.


Course Material





OCB5930: Zooplankton Ecology


OCB5930 is a much smaller class (current enrollment = 7 students) designed for graduate students.  It has officially been a required class for Biological Oceanography grad students, but prior to my arrival it had not been taught for >5 years.  I designed the course to focus on the diversity of plankton, the relationship of communities to plankton ecosystem structure and function, and the subsequent impacts on biogeochemical cycles, fisheries, and marine production.


In OCB5930 I teach a course focused on the ways in which zooplankton community structure and trophic dynamics impact the rest of the pelagic community (from phytoplankton and bacteria to fish and whales) and marine biogeochemistry.  Core topics include bioenergetics and feeding ecology, structure and function of pelagic ecosystems, top-down control, spatial and temporal patterns, and quantitative modeling.  The course involves lectures, student-led paper discussion, and hands-on introduction to computer programming.  In addition to covering important topics in plankton ecology, I also use the course as an introduction to quantitative tools that will be useful to graduate students regardless of which discipline they work in.  Specifically, I teach the class using the programming language Matlab, with Matlab examples given in class and homework done in Matlab. In my second time teaching the course, I now teach the course in an “inverted classroom” format.  Lectures are recorded at listened to outside of class.  Class-time is focused on hands-on group learning with real and simulated datasets.





OCB5050 Biological Oceanography


OCB5050 Biological Oceanography is a split course (graduates and undergraduates) that I teach in alternate years (Dr. Kranz teaches it when I do not).  The course introduces students to the field of biological oceanography covering a fairly wide perspective of topics on marine biota. We discuss pelagic organisms and processes, benthos, hydrothermal vents, climate-change effects, and fisheries. Different size classes of marine life (from virus (by definition not an organism) to marine mammals) are covered. Biological-physical and chemical (Biophysicochemical) interactions are reviewed and responses of different organisms to environmental changes will be assessed. Students present research papers in a journal-club style and write final papers about a chosen topic.




EVR1001L: Environmental Science Online Laboratory


I also developed two of the seven modules for the online laboratory EVR1001L.  EVR1001L is designed in the virtual world "Second Life" and gives students an immersive introduction to field and laboratory research in the environmental sciences.  My modules include a time-traveling exploration of Easter Island ecology and human impacts and a laboratory-based experiment introducing students to the impact of atrazine on frogs.  EVR1001L is currently taught by Prof. Bill Landing at FSU.




Courses Designed for High School Students:


Biological Oceanography and the Global Carbon Cycle


Algae in the surface ocean are responsible for 50% of global photosynthesis, but because they have short life spans most of the carbon dioxide that they consume will be released back into the surface ocean where it can re-enter the atmosphere.  Long-term carbon dioxide sequestration requires transport of sinking carbon into the deep ocean through the biological carbon pump.  The biological carbon pump transports as much carbon into the deep ocean as human’s are producing every year by burning fossil fuels.  During this 6-hour class students will learn about the diverse and fascinating organisms that drive this natural feedback on the global carbon cycle.   The class is designed to occur over 3 days with two separate one-hour sessions on each day.  The first session of the day focuses on interactive lectures about marine ecology and biogeochemistry.  The second session involves group projects working with oceanographic data to gain hands-on insight into oceanographic data, and to try to understand how the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide will respond to climate change.  This course was first taught in January 2021 in collaboration with the Illinois Math and Science Academy.

Course Material


This portion of our website is specifically designed to showcase our research for other oceanographers.  If you would like a broader overview of our work that was designed to be more accessible to the general public, please click on the 'Outreach' link on the top right.


Contact: Mike Stukel (mstukel@fsu.edu)

Florida State University

Dept. of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science

Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies