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. 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 lecture, 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: Offered in Fall 2022
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 examination of earth materials, field trips, and projects.
Limited to 60 students with 20 students per lab. Fall semester: Professor Harms. Spring semester: Assistant Professor Bernard and Professor Harms.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2023
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.
Limited to 40 students with 20 students per lab. Spring semester. Professor Martini and Assistant Professor Holschuh.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
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.
Requisite: GEOL 111 or 112. Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Assistant Professor Bernard.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
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.
In addition to hands on classroom laboratory assignments and local in-person field trips, lab activities will take advantage of a range of innovative digital technologies- gigapan images, animations, Google Earth visuals -to achieve the learning goals of Structural Geology.
Three hours of lecture and three hours of laboratory each week.
Requisite: GEOL 111. Spring semester. Professor Bernard.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as GEOL 301 and ENST 301) 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.
Requisite: GEOL 109 or 111 or consent of the instructor. Fall 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 2022 Professor Jones.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
At the planetary scale, Earth’s climate is simple. Earth’s surface absorbs light energy from the sun, it radiates energy through the atmosphere back into space, and the balance of inputs and outputs sets our surface temperature. Thus, changes in solar radiation, atmospheric chemistry, and Earth’s orbital configuration can explain the large-scale climate changes throughout Earth’s history. But the details that matter to individual countries, cities, and communities are much more complicated. The atmosphere and ocean, engines driven by energy from the sun, work to distribute heat around the globe and drive regional variation. To understand the operation of the climate system, scientists use two complementary approaches: climate models, which rely on foundational principles of physics and modern observations to explain how energy flows through the Earth system; and the paleoclimate record, physical and chemical proxies, preserved in geologic materials, that tell the story of Earth’s past.
In this class we will explore the processes that control both planetary and regional climate, identify the tools we use to understand climate change through time, and contextualize modern change using data sets derived from the geologic record. We will use our lab period to build skill with data analysis and visualization in Python, allowing hands-on experience working with the climate models and climate data policymakers use for our projections of future climate change. No prior Python experience is expected.
Requisite: GEOL 112 or 121 or CHEM 151 or PHYS 116 or consent of the instructor. Spring 2023. Assistant Professor Holschuh.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
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 two hours of laboratory each week.
Requisite: GEOL 111 and two additional upper-level GEOL courses or permission of the instructor. Spring semester. Professor Harms.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
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 semester. The Department.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022