Geology
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Amherst College Geology for 2013-14

103 The Geology of the Great American West

From the high plains west of the Mississippi River, across the Rockies, Canyonlands, and Great Basin, to the Sierra Nevada, the striking natural landscapes of western North America result from the interactions of varied geologic processes through geologic time. This course will first survey the fundamental geologic dynamics that shape the earth’s surface and review major stages in the evolution of the earth’s crust and oceans. We will then turn to the particular expression of those processes in the American west, with special attention given to our national parks. Readings from the reports of the first geologists to survey the western lands will be included, as will the art and literature of explorers and early travelers who interpreted the western landscape for easterners of the day. Four class hours per week.

No previous knowledge of geology is assumed. Not open to those who have taken GEOL 111.  Omitted 2013-14.  Professor Harms.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2013

105 Introduction to Oceanography

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 121. Limited to 60 students. Fall semester.  Professor Jones.

 

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013

109 Climate Change, Global Warming and Energy Resources

From the earliest civilizations man has been a major agent of environmental change. However, from the dawn of the industrial age, when fossil fuels were first tapped for energy, the rate of this change has increased exponentially. In this course, we will dissect environmental issues by first examining the recent geologic record of climate change and how processes that affect climate change operate in modern natural systems. We will then assess how societies have modified such systems and what factors control the trajectory and rate of change. Several environmental case studies will be used to provide insight into the scientific issues associated with specific environmental problems. Case studies will focus on nonrenewable and renewable energy resources and their relationship to climate change.  Two class meetings per week.

Limited to 60 students. Spring semester.  Professor Medina.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Fall 2014

111 Principles of Geology

As the science that considers the origin and evolution of the earth, Geology provides students with an understanding of what is known about the earth and how we know it, how the earth “works” and why we think it behaves as it does. In particular this course focuses upon the earth as an evolving and dynamic system where change is driven by energy generated within the earth. Concepts to be covered are: the structure of the earth’s interior, isostasy, deep time, the origin and nature of the magnetic field, plate tectonics, the origin and evolution of mountain belts, and ocean basins and the growth of the continents over time. In this context, Geology 111  considers a diverse range of topics such as the Appalachian mountain belt, the Hawaiian Islands, Yellowstone Park, the consequences of seismicity, faulting, meteorite impact, and volcanism on the earth’s inhabitants, and the sources and limitations of mineral and energy resources. This is a science course designed for all students of the College. Three hours of class and two hours of lab in which the student gains direct experience in the science through field trips, demonstrations, and projects.

Limited to 60 students with 20 students per lab. Fall and spring semesters. Professors Crowley and Harms.

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013 and Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2008, Fall 2008, Spring 2009, Fall 2009, Spring 2010, Fall 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2015

121 Surface Earth Dynamics

For at least 3.5 billion years, the Earth’s surface environment has supported some form of life. What geologic processes first created and now maintain this environment? To what extent has life modified this environment over geologic time? What conditions are necessary for a planet to be conducive to life? What are the natural processes that operate at the Earth’s surface? This course looks at the environment from a geologist’s perspective. The course will start with dynamic systems that can be observed in operation today, as in river and coastal settings, where erosion and deposition occur, and by the interaction of the oceans, atmosphere, and climate. Techniques for interpreting the rock record will be developed so that past environments can be examined and potential future conditions on Earth better appreciated. Differences between earliest Earth environments and those of the more recent few billion years will be studied and integrated with the history of the origin and evolution of life. Three hours of lecture and two hours of lab, including field trips, each week.

Requisite: GEOL 111 or consent of the instructor. Spring semester. Professors Jones and Martini.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2015

224 Vertebrate Paleontology

The evolution of vertebrates as shown by study of fossils and the relationship of environment to evolution. Lectures and projects utilize vertebrate fossils in the Beneski Museum of Natural History. Three hours of class and one discussion/laboratory session per week. Offered in alternate years.

Requisite: One course in biology or geology or consent of the instructor. Omitted 2013-14.

2013-14: Not offered

251 Paleontology and Geobiology

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.  Omitted 2013-14.  Professor Jones.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2011, Fall 2012

271 Mineralogy

The crystallography and crystal chemistry of naturally occurring inorganic compounds (minerals). The identification, origin, distribution and use of minerals. Laboratory work includes the principles and methods of optical mineralogy, X-ray diffraction, back-scattered electron microscopy, and electron beam microanalysis. Three hours of lecture and three hours of lecture/discussion and directed laboratory.

Recommended requisite: GEOL 111, CHEM 151 or 155 or their equivalent. Fall semester. Professor Crowley.

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2014

291 Structural Geology

A study of the geometry and origin of sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rock structures that are the products of earth deformation. Emphasis will be placed on recognition and interpretation of structures through development of field and laboratory methodology. Three hours of lecture and five hours of laboratory each week.

Requisite: GEOL 111. Fall semester. Professor Harms.

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2014

301 Hydrogeology

As the global human population expands, the search for and preservation of our most important resource, water, will demand societal vigilance and greater scientific understanding. This course is an introduction to surface and groundwater hydrology and geochemistry in natural systems, providing fundamental concepts aimed at the understanding and management of the hydrosphere. The course is divided into two roughly equal parts: surface and groundwater hydrology, and aqueous geochemistry. In the first section, we will cover the principal concepts of physical hydrogeology including watershed analysis and groundwater modeling. In the second half, we will integrate the geochemistry of these systems addressing both natural variations and the human impact on our environment. Three hours of lecture and three hours of lab or field trip each week.

Requisite: GEOL 111 or consent of the instructor. Omitted 2013-14.  Professor Martini.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Fall 2010, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2015

311 Sedimentology and Stratigraphy

An overview of the dominant sedimentologic processes operating in both modern and ancient depositional environments. Students will learn how to examine and interpret features of sedimentary rocks and how to assess temporal or spatial patterns in sequences of sedimentary rocks. Students will then use these observations to expand their understanding of Earth history. Three hours of lecture and three hours of laboratory each week.

Requisite: GEOL 111. Recommended requisite: GEOL 121. Spring semester. Professor Jones.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2012, Spring 2013

321 Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology

A study of igneous and metamorphic processes and environments. Application of chemical principles and experimental data to igneous and metamorphic rocks is stressed. Identification, analysis, and mapping of rocks in laboratory and field. Four hours of class and three hours of laboratory per week.

Requisite: GEOL 271. Spring semester. Professor Cheney.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2015

341 Environmental and Solid Earth Geophysics

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. Spring semester. Professor Crowley.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2015

401 Plate Tectonics and Continental Dynamics

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 Geology courses. Omitted 2013-14. Professor Harms.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2010, Fall 2012, Fall 2014

431 Geochemistry

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.  Fall semester. Professor Cheney.

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007

450 Seminar in Biogeochemistry

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.

Requisite: CHEM 151 or GEOL 301 or consent of the instructor.  Omitted 2013-14.

2013-14: Not offered

490 Special Topics

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.

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013 and Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2015

498, 499D, 498D, 499 Senior Departmental Honors

Independent research on a geologic problem within any area of staff competence. A dissertation of high quality will be required.

Open to seniors who meet the requirements of the Departmental Honors program. Fall semester. The Staff.

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2014
 

Plate tectonics - 600 mya to present