An energetic and hands-on micropaleontologist who pushes students to think long-term about environmental impacts.
Energetic | Hands-on | Understanding
As a micropaleontologist, Margaret Christie looks at small organisms and parts of organisms to determine what the environment was like in the past. As a professor of Environmental Studies, Christie primarily studies wetland and coastal environments, but she has worked on projects reconstructing sea level, earthquake recurrence intervals, and pollution histories. She is currently working to restore wetlands at the McDaniel Environmental Center. She teaches Climatology, Environmental Geology, and Science of Soil, Water, and Air as well as courses on Wetland Ecology and Environmental Problem Solving.
Why is Environmental Studies an important subject to study?
When we think of major problems facing society today — climate change, pollution, social justice, or disease — changes in the environment or human interactions with the environment often play a role. Environmental problems are the major existential threat of our time and provide an opportunity for collaborative problem-solving. It’s an all-hands-on deck situation that can involve any and all subjects; we can all learn and contribute knowledge to make the world better.
Why is the Student-Faculty Collaborative Summer Research Program significant, especially in the field you teach?
Environmental Studies lets us do hands-on and outdoor activities together, so it lends itself to student-faculty research opportunities with concepts that can be applied to any subject. My students who participated were excellent and helped achieve way more in the field than I would have been able to do on my own. It also gave me the opportunity to slow down and think about why and how I do things, since I was teaching field skills. I'm hopeful that some of the skills they learned will help them in their future careers, too!
When students take courses in Environmental Studies, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
We often don't think of the long term enough. Something that comes up in Environmental Problem Solving is the length of time it takes for coal to form. We have seen a lot of coal over the past 200 years, but most coal formed 65 million to 360 million years ago. Not only is burning it releasing carbon that has been stored that long, but it forms far slower than we can use it. Timescales in earth systems sciences can be huge and hard to think about, but if we don't consider them, we can get ourselves into big trouble.