Iconic and yet dramatically diverse landscapes characterize the western United States, including snow-capped mountain ranges, deep canyons, monuments of stone, geyser fields, and vast lava-capped plateaus - in marked contrast to the more subdued lands to the east. North America is a dynamic, sometimes cataclysmic and sometimes quiescent land with a deep past. In this course, we will focus our attention on the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain and Glacier National Parks, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Columbia Plateau. By placing these parks in their geologic context, students will gain a framework within which the geology of many additional western landscapes can be understood.
No prior study of geology is necessary. Participants in this course will be introduced to fundamental concepts in earth science: rock types and their origins; plate tectonics and crustal dynamics; weathering, glaciation and the carving of landscapes; sea level rise and fall; measuring geologic time; and reading geologic maps. We will also join the debate surrounding some unresolved problems in western geology by critically assessing cutting-edge data and interpretations. The course will culminate in the joint production of a geologic guidebook for travel to select parts of the west.
This course will be conducted remotely using both synchronous and asynchronous meetings. We will exploit a range of innovative digital resources to bring the west to us for close examination - such as gigapan images and Google Earth - and will use traditional primary and secondary print sources as well.
Not open to students who have completed Geology 111. January term. Professor Harms.2022-23: Not offered
The global ocean is one of the defining features of our planet’s surface. It regulates weather patterns, sculpts the coasts of the continents, and contains records of the past 200 million years of earth's climate in sediment on the seafloor. In this course we will develop an understanding of the global marine system through study of its interconnected geological, chemical, physical, and biological processes. These fundamental principles include seafloor spreading, the transport of heat from the equator to the poles, and cycling of nutrients and organic matter by plankton. We will address how the ocean has evolved over the planet’s history, from changes in its circulation brought on by shifting continental configurations and climate fluctuations to its chemical responses to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The course will conclude with scientifically informed considerations of some of the challenges humanity faces in deciding how to use the ocean and its resources. Three class hours per week.
Not open to students who have taken GEOL 112 or 121. Limited to 60 students. Fifteen seats reserved for first-year students. Omitted 2020-21. Associate Professor Jones.2022-23: Not offered
Humankind is a major agent of environmental change. With each new hurricane, wildfire, and heat wave, public conversations turn to the topic of anthropogenic climate change. But it can be difficult to separate what we know with confidence from what we think we know, and what we are unsure of, given the complex information landscape that defines our moment in time. This leaves many people asking "Is climate change happening? Is it us? Where are we headed? How fast? How do we know?" In this class, we will address these questions directly with a focus on building an interdisciplinary understanding of Earth's climate system. In addition, we will discuss the disparate impacts of climate change on communities around the world, how climate information gets shared between scientists and citizens, and the challenges of building consensus on climate issues.
The internet presents a double-edged sword for climate communication - it is our primary tool for sharing the data and models used to understand Earth's climate, but can be a platform for misinformation and mischaracterization of science for political ends. As an online course for Fall 2020, we will explore this dichotomy in detail, through both the direct download and interpretation of climate data and an evaluation of the way climate change is discussed in the public forum. We will meet three times a week with asynchronous lecture, synchronous small group discussion, and an end goal of producing digital media to share our collective understanding of climate with a broader audience.
Three class meetings per week. This course is open to all students of the College. Limited to 48 students. Fall Semester. Assistant Professor Holschuh.2022-23: Not offered
How well do you know the planet on which we live? In this course we will explore Earth from its core to its surface, from the mountains to the deep ocean basins, from the past and present to the future. The earth is an evolving and dynamic system, changing on time scales that range from seconds, to millennia, to eons: volcanos erupt, earthquakes vibrate the globe, continents separate and collide, and mountains rise only to be worn away and rise again. What physical processes drive this dynamism? How does the restless nature of Earth impact our residency? Studying active geologic processes will provide us with a means to decode the history of Earth as written in rocks; analyzing the rock record allows us to test hypotheses about the formation and continual modification of the planet. With a geologic understanding of your home planet, students will emerge from the course with an expanded notion of what it is to be human. This is a science course designed for all Amherst students.
Three hours of class and two hours of lab in which the student gains direct experience in the science through demonstrations, examination of earth materials, and projects. Lab materials will be provided for remote students. Online only in the spring semester.
Limited to 60 students with 20 students per lab. Fall semester: Professor Crowley. Spring semester: Professor Harms, Assistant Professor Guevara and Visiting Assistant Professor Bernard.2022-23: Not offered
For at least 3.5 billion years, Earth’s surface environments have supported some form of life. What geologic processes first created and subsequently maintained a habitable environment? How does contemporary global climate change compare to climate variations over Earth’s long history? This course looks at Earth’s climate and its surface environment from a geologist’s perspective. We will develop an understanding of the atmospheric, oceanographic, geological, and biological systems that interact to modulate the climate. Because Earth’s surface environments are products of and participants in these systems, we will also build the skills necessary to observe and interpret the landscape through study of modern coastal and riverine processes in the context of our region’s glacial history. Exploration of the sedimentary rock record, in which evidence of the history of ancient climate and life is preserved, will inform our inquiry into the ongoing climate experiment humanity is running through the rapid release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The scientific tools we develop will allow us to analyze predictions of future climate change and assess possible paths forward.
This is an introductory science course designed for all students of the college. It provides a foundation for further study of Earth’s climate and surface environments. Three hours of class and two hours of lab. Not open to students who have taken GEOL-121.
GEOL-112 will be conducted remotely, using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities. In lab, students will participate in virtual field trips, practice techniques of image interpretation, and learn to interpret geological and climatological data. Students will be guided through the course by close, regular interaction with the instructors as would be true in a classroom setting.
Limited to 40 students with 20 students per lab. Spring semester. Professor Jones and Assistant Professor Holschuh.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
This course focuses on the history of life as preserved in the sedimentary rock record. Students will learn how paleontologists and geobiologists use skeletal fossils, molecular fossils, and geochemical signatures to ask and answer questions about the evolution of ancient life and Earth history. Students will study the origination, radiation, and extinction of major groups of organisms in the context of global environmental change, with an emphasis on invertebrate and microbial life. Laboratories include the systematic description, identification, and interpretation of fossils in the field, in hand specimen, and in thin section. Three hours of lectures and three hours of laboratory. One weekend field trip required.
Requisite: GEOL 111 or consent of instructor. Omitted 2020-21. Professor Jones.2022-23: Not offered
Minerals are the fundamental building blocks of planetary materials, are essential natural resources for human society, and they modulate earth and environmental systems. This course explores the origin, distribution, and scientific and societal relevance of minerals. Through project-based inquiry, students will investigate the chemical and physical properties of minerals across a range of spatial scales, from the scale of individual atoms, to that of a hand specimen. We will use physical and chemical observations of minerals to infer the processes and environments that lead to their formation, and how minerals exert a first-order control on large scale geologic processes, from earth’s core to the human environment.
GEOL-271 will be conducted in the “hyflex” format, using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities. Lectures will be asynchronous; lab activities and a classroom discussion section will be synchronous, and will involve close interaction with the faculty for all students in the course. In lab activities, students will work collaboratively to identify, characterize, and interpret mineral and rock specimens - in hand sample, under the optical microscope, and with the scanning electron microscope. For students learning remotely, lab materials will be provided, and participation in lab activities and discussions will be enabled by live video and digital file sharing with collaborators in the classroom. A virtual field trip will allow all students to examine minerals in their natural context. Three hours of lecture and two hours of lab per week.
Requisite: GEOL 111 or 112. Fall semester. Professors Guevara and Cheney.2022-23: Not offered
Ours is a restless planet where plates drift, and continents rift apart and collide. The record of this is written in the deformation of the crust – manifested as faults, folds, and rock fabric. In this class we will learn to recognize and assess these and other structures, to quantify the deformation that occurred as the structures were made, and to infer the forces that were at work. To do this, we will develop skills essential to all geology: the ability to think across a broad range of spatial scales -- from the microscopic to an outcrop to a mountain range – and to draw valuable parallels from one scale to another; the skills of visualization in three dimensions and of understanding earth evolution across the fourth dimension of time; and the capacity to infer this three dimensional geology from what is exposed on the earth’s two dimensional surface and to represent three dimensional geology with maps and cross sections.
GEOL-291 will be conducted remotely, using both synchronous and asynchronous lectures and exercises. Lab activities will take advantage of a range of innovative digital technologies- gigapan images, animations, virtual field trips, Google Earth visuals -to achieve the learning goals of Structural Geology. Students will be guided through the course by close, regular interaction with faculty as would be true in a classroom setting.
Three hours of lecture and three hours of laboratory each week.
Requisite: GEOL 111. Fall semester. Professor Harms and Visiting Professor Bernard.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
As the global human population expands in a future marked by climate change, the search for and preservation of our most vital resource, water, will demand thoughtful policy and greater scientific understanding. This course is an introduction to surface and groundwater hydrology, geochemistry, and management for natural systems and human needs. Lectures will focus on understanding the hydrologic cycle, how water flows over and within the earth, and the many ways in which this water is threatened by contamination and overuse. Discussions will speak to water issues globally, both historical and from the front pages today. This course concludes with a final project. Three hours of lecture each week. Those wishing credit towards the geology major must take GEOL 301 (laboratory section) to be offered in the spring.
GEOL 300 will be conducted online only. A theme we will focus on throughout is the intersection of water and energy by examining the Clean Water Act and how it is, or isn't, applied to the oil and gas industry.
Limited to 20 students. Fall semester. Professor Martini.2022-23: Not offered
As the global human population expands in a future marked by climate change, the search for and preservation of our most vital resource, water, will demand thoughtful policy and greater scientific understanding. This course is an introduction to surface and groundwater hydrology, geochemistry, and management for natural systems and human needs. Lectures will focus on understanding the hydrologic cycle, how water flows over and within the earth, and the many ways in which this water is threatened by contamination and overuse. Three hours of lecture and three hours of lab each week. The laboratory will be centered around on-going local issues concerning use and restoration of the Fort River watershed.
GEOL 301 will be conducted in "hyflex" mode, with the intention of being in class. A small number of classes may be conducted remotely for a given topic. For remote learners, classes will be synchronous with in-person instruction. A separate lab section (time TBD) will be organized for remote learners that will parallel the in-person labs using lab materials that are mailed to the remote students.
Requisite: GEOL 109 or 111 or consent of the instructor. Spring semester. Professor Martini.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
From the muddy Mississippi River delta to the clear waters of the Bahamas, from the bottom of the Greenland ice sheet to the shifting dunes of the Namib sand sea, sediment is continually being produced, transported, and deposited on the planet’s surface. These processes are fundamentally linked to global climate and tectonics. Sedimentary rocks are therefore archives of environmental, climatic, and tectonic changes through Earth history. In this class, students will learn how to interpret the sedimentary rock record, on scales ranging from individual grains to kilometers-thick sequences of strata. Students will develop an understanding of sedimentary processes in modern environments and learn how to interpret the sedimentary rock record.
GEOL 311 will be conducted remotely, using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities. In lab, students will participate in virtual field trips, do hands-on work with rock specimens, practice techniques of image interpretation, and learn to manipulate sedimentary data sets. Students will be guided through the course by close, regular interaction with the instructor as would be true in a classroom setting. We will draw inspiration for our remote studies from the success of the Mars Curiosity Rover, which is essentially a tool to do sedimentology on another planet! Three hours of lecture and three hours of laboratory each week.
Requisite: GEOL 111. Recommended requisite: GEOL 112. Fall semester. Professor Jones.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
The majority of Earth’s volume is composed of igneous and metamorphic rocks, which originate through processes that operate deep beneath earth’s surface, driven by the movement of tectonic plates. Igneous and metamorphic rocks preserve an interpretable record of the creation and modification of continents, mountain building, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. The formation and existence of these rocks, in turn, modulate global volatile cycles, and the evolution of life-forms on earth. In this course, students will explore the processes and environments involved in the genesis of igneous and metamorphic rocks by integrating field and petrographic observations with quantitative applications of experimental data and chemical principles (thermodynamics, major and trace element geochemistry). A virtual field trip in the Appalachian Mountains – a formerly active convergent plate margin -- will investigate the construction of volcanic arcs and continental crust, as well as how heat and mass are transferred in earth’s lithosphere during mountain building events. Through field and laboratory investigations, students will learn how to read the archive of earth processes as preserved in igneous and metamorphic rocks and make inferences about the implications of their formation for the evolution of the Earth system.
GEOL 321 will be conducted in the "hyflex" format, using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities. Lectures will be asynchronous; lab activities and a classroom discussion section will be synchronous, and will involved close interaction with the faculty for all students in the course. In lab activities, students will work collaboratively with each other to identify and characterize rock specimens in hand sample, under the optical microscope, and with the scanning electron microscope, and ultimately to interpret the processes involved in their genesis. For students learning remotely, lab materials will be provided, and participation in lab activities and discussions will be enabled by live video and digital file sharing with collaborators in the classroom. A virtual field trip will allow students to make field observations and interpretations of igneous and metamorphic processes. Three hours of class and three hours of laboratory per week.
Requisite: GEOL 111 and GEOL 271. Spring semester. Professors Guevara and Cheney.2022-23: Not offered
The basic controls on Earth’s climate are simple. We take in light energy from the sun, we radiate that energy through our atmosphere back into space, and the balance of inputs and outputs sets our surface temperature. Thus, changes in solar radiation, Earth’s orbital dynamics, and atmospheric chemistry can explain the large-scale climate changes throughout Earth’s history. But the details that matter to individual cities, countries, species, are much more complicated -- the atmosphere and ocean, engines driven by energy from the sun, work to distribute heat around the globe and control regional climate. Thus, physical models of the ocean and atmosphere are important in characterizing modern and past change. Independent of climate models, much of our understanding of climate dynamics comes from the paleoclimate record: physical and chemical proxies, preserved in geologic materials, that tell the story of Earth’s past. In this class, we explore the processes that control Earth’s climate, identify the tools we use to understand the climate of the past, and contextualize modern change using the geologic record.
GEOL 331 will be conducted in the “hyflex” format, including both synchronous and asynchronous material, with lectures recorded and provided for asynchronous viewing. Lab activities will be synchronous, and involve the interpretation of modern and paleoclimate data, execution (if possible) and evaluation of fluid dynamics experiments, and calculations using simple climate models. The course will also involve discussion and group work, independently scheduled among small groups.
Requisite: GEOL 112 or 121 or CHEM 151 or PHYS 116 or consent of the instructor. Spring semester.2022-23: Not offered
Only the surface of the earth is accessible for direct study but, as a two-dimensional surface, it represents a very incomplete picture of the geologic character of the earth. The most fundamental realms of the earth—the core and mantle—cannot themselves be observed. Even the uppermost part of the crust, where the lithosphere and hydrosphere interact to determine the quality of the environment in which we live, is hidden. Indirect signals, observed at the surface, can give us a more comprehensive understanding of earth structure—from environmental problems that lie just below the surface to the dynamics of the core/mantle boundary. We can “see” these subsurface realms using seismology, gravity, magnetism and heat flow observations. This course will bring findings from geophysics to bear on developing a picture of the earth in three dimensions. Three hours of class and three hours of laboratory each week.
Requisite: GEOL-111. Omitted 2020-21. Professor Crowley.2022-23: Not offered
Plate tectonics is a quantifiable and testable paradigm for the dynamic processes of the solid earth. This course focuses on plate tectonics as the system of mantle convection and lithosphere motion that determines Earth's seismicity and volcanism; the birth of its oceans and growth of its mountain belts; and the distribution of its continental mass, and thus its tilt and rotation. Plate tectonics operates today and to a large extent determines the geologic character of surface rocks, but it also operates at significant depths in the earth and across the expanse of geologic time. Consequently, our understanding of plate tectonics will be developed using evidence from both geology and geophysics. Petrologic, geochemical and geochronologic methods will be applied to analyze the rock record. The subsurface realms of the crust and mantle are probed through seismology, gravity, magnetism and heat flow observations. Three hours of class and three hours of laboratory each week.
Prerequisite: GEOL-321; prerequisite may be taken concurrently. Omitted 2020-21. Professors Crowley and Harms.2022-23: Not offered
An analysis of the dynamic processes that drive the physical evolution of the earth’s crust and mantle. Plate tectonics, the changing configuration of the continents and oceans, and the origin and evolution of mountain belts will be studied using evidence from diverse branches of geology. Present dynamics are examined as a means to interpret the record of the past, and the rock record is examined as a key to understanding the potential range of present and future earth dynamics. Three hours of class and three hours of laboratory each week.
Requisite: GEOL 111 and two additional upper-level GEOL courses. Omitted 2020-21. Professor Harms.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
This course examines the principles of thermodynamics, via the methodology of J. Willard Gibbs, with an emphasis upon multicomponent heterogeneous systems. These principles are used to study equilibria germane to the genesis and evolution of igneous and metamorphic rocks. Specific applications include: the properties of ideal and real crystalline solutions, geothermometry, geobarometry, and the Gibbs method—the analytic formulation of phase equilibria. This course also introduces the student to the algebraic and geometric representations of chemical compositions of both homogeneous and heterogeneous systems. Four class hours each week.
Requisite: GEOL 271 or CHEM 161, or PHYS 116 or 123. Omitted 2020-21. Professor Cheney.2022-23: Not offered
Through biogeochemical cycles microbes influence the chemical composition of all of our habitable environments. They are found in the most extreme environments on Earth, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of our oceans as well as in the deep subsurface of Earth’s crust. In this seminar, we will examine tracers and proxies for microbial activity present in rock, sediment, soil and porewater. Environments to be studied include hydrothermal vents, deep sedimentary basins, early Earth and possible extraterrestrial habitats. We will survey the major biologically relevant elements of the periodic table (C, O, S, N, Fe, P) and examine how these elements cycle through the environment, focusing on stable isotopic tracers of biological processes. Students will gain experience with field and laboratory techniques and we will emphasize the current scientific literature in discussions. Three hours of class per week plus field and laboratory times to be scheduled with the professor.
Requisite: CHEM 151 or GEOL 301 or consent of the instructor. Omitted 2020-21. Professor Martini.2022-23: Not offered
Independent reading or research. A written report will be required. A full course.
Approval of the Departmental Chair is required. Fall and spring semesters. The Department.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2023
Independent research on a geologic problem within any area of staff competence. A thesis of high quality will be required.
Open to seniors who meet the requirements of the Departmental Honors program. Fall, January, and Spring semester. The Department.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022