Water Quality in the Pacific Northwest: Chemistry, Organisms, Ecology

Spring Open
Class Standing
Amy Cook

One of the key interactions that determine the health of a body of water, be it a lake, ocean, or stream, is that between the water chemistry and the organisms that live there. Ecologists and natural resource managers have long been interested in developing various methods to assess water quality and understand the ways that human activities affect it. These methods include the use of direct chemical analysis to look at water quality at a specific point in time and the use of specific indicator organisms to look at water quality over longer time scales.

In this program we will focus on the biology and ecology of groups of organisms, from plankton to aquatic insects to fishes, that are particularly sensitive to various measures of water quality and their use as indicators of the health of aquatic and marine ecosystems. Through lectures and labs, students will learn to identify these species and develop a deeper understanding of the interaction between their physiology and ecology.

The Pacific Northwest has a history of scientific study of water quality, including efforts to clean up and restore degraded bodies of water. In this program we will examine this history through a series of case studies of places like the Duwamish River and Lake Washington in Seattle, Commencement Bay in Tacoma, and Hood Canal. We will also look at how climate change is predicted to affect water quality and aquatic organisms.

The program will also include a substantial lab component, which will focus on standard water quality analyses such as water hardness, alkalinity, major anion analysis, major and trace cations, and total dissolved solids. Students will be trained to use major instrumentation such as the ICP-MS and discrete analyzer. Students will perform these analyses on both freshwater and saltwater field sites.

Our learning goals will include: developing a solid knowledge base in the chemistry of water quality and the physiology and ecology of select marine and freshwater animals; developing the ability to integrate concepts in chemistry and concepts in biology to understand how water quality interacts with animal physiology; and developing and understanding of how chemistry and biology are used to monitor water quality in the Pacific Northwest.

Students who take the program for 8 credits will focus on the interaction between biology and water quality and the history of the scientific study of water quality in the Pacific Northwest.


8 credits of General Biology and 8 credits of General Chemistry

Course Reference Numbers
Jr - Sr (16): 30266
Jr - Sr (8): 30268

Academic Details

Aquatic ecology, hydrology, chemistry, earth sciences, chemical instrumentation, environmental analysis, and environmental fieldwork


Students can take an 8-credit option that only includes biology and and water quality in the Pacific Northwest lectures (without lab).


$137 total fee: $100 required lab fee and a $37 required book fee

Up to 16 upper division credits may be awarded upon successful completion of all program assignments that demonstrates an advanced understanding of the topics covered in the program


In Person (S)

See definition of Hybrid, Remote, and In-Person instruction

Schedule Details
SEM 2 A1105 - Lecture