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Geoscience is the study of our planet, its rocks, oceans and atmosphere. Many people find a deep personal satisfaction in better understanding our planet and its history, but there are also important practical applications. Geoscientists use their expertise to monitor changes in the environment, to predict and evaluate how human activities may contribute to environmental change, and to manage Earth’s resources. The study of geoscience provides strong preparation for a variety of careers in government, industry and academia, including environmental consulting, natural resource management, environmental law, petroleum exploration, science teaching, science journalism, and research in geology, oceanography, climatology and meteorology.
The Geoscience Department offers courses in geology, Earth history, geochemistry, oceanography, meteorology, environmental geology, hydrology and paleontology. In addition to taking formal courses, most geoscience students undertake undergraduate research during their junior and/or senior year. Our instruction and research are strongly augmented by field data, some of which are acquired on the Colleges’ 65-foot research vessel, The William Scandling. The department offers two disciplinary majors, a B.A. and B.S., and a disciplinary minor. Courses in other departments designed for non-majors that do not count toward a major in that department cannot normally be counted toward a geoscience degree. Only two courses transferred from another institution may count toward the major unless the student has previously been matriculated at another institution. Only those courses in which a student has obtained a grade of C- or better will be credited toward a geoscience major or minor. Credit/no credit options cannot be used for departmental or cognate courses counted for the major or minor except for GEO 299 Geoscience Field Studies. GEO 299 may be counted twice for the major and once for the minor.
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE MAJOR (B.A.)
disciplinary, 12 courses
GEO 182, GEO 184, GEO 186; seven additional geoscience courses that form a coherent program of study, approved by the department; CHEM 110, PHYS 150, or BIOL 167; MATH 130 or BIOL 212. Credit/no credit options cannot be used for departmental or cognate courses except GEO 299. No more than two courses from another institution may count toward the major. Only three 100-level GEO courses can count toward the B.A.
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE MAJOR (B.S.)
disciplinary, 15 courses
GEO 182, GEO 184, GEO 186; seven additional geoscience courses that form a coherent program of study, approved by the department; CHEM 110; PHYS 150; MATH 130; MATH 131 or PHYS 160; BIOL 167, CHEM 240, CHEM 280, or PHYS 160. Credit/no credit options cannot be used for departmental or cognate courses except GEO 299. No more than two courses from another institution may count toward the major. Only three 100-level GEO courses can count toward the B.S.
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE MINOR
disciplinary, 5 courses
Any two introductory courses from this list: GEO 14x, GEO 182, GEO 184, GEO 186; four additional geoscience courses at the 200-level or greater. All courses for the minor must be completed with a grade of C- or better. Credit/no credit options cannot be used for departmental or cognate courses except GEO 299. No more than two courses from another institution may count toward the minor.
GEO 140 Introduction to Environmental Geology
GEO 141 Science of Climate Change
GEO 142 Earth Systems Science
GEO 143 Earth and Life Through Time
GEO 182 Introduction to Meteorology
GEO 184 Introduction to Geology
GEO 186 Introduction to Hydrogeology
Upper Level Elective Courses
GEO 210 Environmental Hydrology
GEO 215 Hydrometeorology
GEO 220 Geomorphology
GEO 230 Problems in Earth History
GEO 240 Mineralogy
GEO 255 Global Climates
GEO 260 Weather Analysis
GEO 262 Physical Meteorology
GEO 265 Weather Measurement
GEO 270 Paleoclimatology
GEO 280 Aqueous and Environmental Geochemistry
GEO 290 Paleontology
GEO 299 Geoscience Field Studies
GEO 320 Sediments and Sedimentary Rocks
GEO 330 Limnology
GEO 336 Macroeveolution
GEO 340 Petrology
GEO 350 Synoptic-Dynamic Meteorology I
GEO 351 Synoptic-Dynamic Meteorology II
GEO 355 Mesoscale and Severe Weather
GEO 360 Applied Climatology
GEO 365 Environmental Meteorology
GEO 370 Structural Geology
GEO 380 Evolution of Plants in Geological Time
GEO 390 Gondwana
GEO 450 Independent Study
GEO 495 Honors
140 Intro to Environmental Geology Understanding the risks associated with natural hazards such as earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, droughts and floods, and conversely sustainably managing important resources such as energy, minerals, wetlands, coastal areas and fresh water supplies demands an understanding of fundamental geologic principles, materials and processes. (Curtin or Halfman, offered annually)
141 Science of Climate Change Climate change is one of the great challenges of our society. Scientists warn that if we ignore the problem, by the end of this century the changes will be large enough to have significant consequences for global societies and ecosystems. But how certain are scientists that human activity is altering Earth’s climate? What is known about past climate changes? How much more warming might we expect over the next century? What will be the impacts on hurricanes, tornados, floods and droughts? This course will explore the scientific evidence underlying each of these questions using lecture, discussion, and lab-equivalent classroom exercises. The course will also compare past natural fluctuations in climate to our current situation, introduce how scientists study climate, present the current thinking on future changes, and discuss what can be done to minimize the effects. (Laird, Metz, or Curtin, offered annually)
142 The Earth System Our planet is an integrated system in which rocks, water, ice and air interact and influence each other. This applied geoscience course investigates Earth and its systems for non-majors. The course focuses on global environmental change by exploring the complex links between the geosphere (Earth’s rocky surface), hydrosphere (oceans, lakes, rivers and ice), atmosphere and biosphere (living things). This course examines each of these “spheres.” What are they made of? How are they structures? How do they work? How do they interact with each other? We will consider how humans manipulate Earth’s system, particularly considering climate change, nutrient pollution, ozone depletion and loss of biodiversity. We recognize that the geologic past is the key to the present and future, and explore how contemporary environmental change has analogues in Earth history. This course is designed to fulfill a student’s goal of experiencing scientific inquiry. It does not count toward the Geoscience major. (Arens, Halfman, or Kendrick, offered annually)
143 Earth and Life Through Time Is Earth’s current condition—with a global ocean, polar ice caps and an oxygen-rich atmosphere—an inevitable consequence of the planet’s size and position in the solar system? Should we expect all such Goldilocks Planets to have the same habitable environment? Or has our planetary home been shaped by the chance events of history? This course will begin with an examination of history. What makes a system like the Earth historical? Then we will explore how scientists ask and answer questions about historical systems and understand how this method differs from the classic “experiments” that most students performed in science class. Finally, we will study a series of moments in Earth’s history where everything really did change. These may include the origin of life, the transition to an oxygen-rich atmosphere, the origin of animals, land plants, flowering plants, dinosaurs, mammals, and consider why our species—Homo sapiens—is the last bipedal ape standing. We will consider ice ages, wandering continents, meteor impacts and titanic volcanic eruptions. We will examine episodes of mass extinction when life hit the reset button. And we will conclude with a final question: If chance events can change the course of Earth’s history, can we? (Arens or Kendrick, offered annually)
144 Astrobiology and the Search for Life in the Universe Astrobiology is the scientific study of the origin and evolution of life in the Universe. It brings together perspectives from astronomy, planetary science, geoscience, paleontology, biology and chemistry to examine the origin of life on Earth and the possibility of life elsewhere in the Universe. This course is designed to help students understand the nature and process of science through the lens of astrobiology. We will explore questions such as : What is life? How did I arise on Earth? Where else in the Universe might life be found? How do we know about the early history of life on Earth? And how do we search for life elsewhere? We will evaluate current theories on how life began and evolved on Earth and how the presence of life changed the Earth. We will review current understanding on the range of habitable planets in our solar system and around other stars. And we will discuss what life might look like on these other planets and what techniques we could use to detect it. This course is designed to fulfill a student's goal of experiencing scientific inquiry and understanding the nature of scientific knowledge. It does not count toward the major in Geoscience or Physics. ( Arens, Hebb, Kendrick, offered annually)
182 Introduction to Meteorology The influence of weather and climate affect our daily activities, our leisure hours, transportation, commerce, agriculture, and nearly every aspect of our lives. In this course many of the fundamental physical processes important to the climate system and responsible for the characteristics and development of weather systems will be introduced. We will examine the structure of the atmosphere, parameters that control climate, the jet stream, large-scale pressure systems, as well as an array of severe weather phenomena including hurricanes, tornados, thunderstorms and blizzards. Upon completion of this course, we will have developed: (a) a foundation of basic scientific inquiry, (b) a basic comprehension of the physical processes that govern weather and climate, and (c) an understanding of the elements of weather and climate that are most important to society. Prerequisite: MATH 100 or a score of 20 or better on the math placement test. This course is a prerequisite for many geoscience courses. (Laird or Metz, offered each semester)
184 Introduction to Geology We will explore the form and function of the solid Earth, using plate tectonics as a central paradigm. From this framework, we investigate minerals and rocks, volcanoes, earthquakes, the rise and fall of mountains, the origin and fate of sediments, the structure of our landscape and geologic time. We analyze geological resources such as minerals and fossil fuels, and the many other ways human society interacts with our restless planet. We work extensively in the field and may take one mandatory weekend field trip. Prerequisite: MATH 100 or a score of 20 or better on the math placement test. This course is a prerequisite for many geoscience courses. (Arens, Kendrick or McKinney, offered each semester)
186 Introduction to Hydrogeology Water and water resources are critical issues for the sustenance of every society. This course is an introduction to hydrogeology and explores water in the atmosphere, lakes, oceans, and other reservoirs found on land and the movement among reservoirs. Discussion of the role of water in natural systems results in an exploration of (1) atmospheric moisture; (2) floods and stream processes; (3) the physical, chemical, and ecological characteristics of lakes and oceans; (4) aquifers and groundwater processes; and (5) wetlands. We will use quantitative reasoning to examine the characteristics and importance of water across environmental and geophysical sciences. Prerequisite: Math 100 or a score of 20 or better on the math placement test. This course is a prerequisite for many geoscience courses. (Curtin or Halfman, offered each semester)
210 Environmental Hydrology “All the rivers run into the ocean; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again” (Ecclesiastes 1:7-8). Hydrology is the study of water at or near the surface of the Earth. Modern society’s demand for water from surface and groundwater sources to feed industrial, agricultural, municipal, recreational and other uses typically outstrips the supply, which has become increasingly scarce due to the environmental degradation of existing water resources by the disposal of wastes. Thus no other discipline in the geological sciences has experienced such an explosion of interest and growth in recent years. This course investigates the physical properties of water, the hydrologic cycle, surface and groundwater processes, water quality issues, and other environmental concerns focusing on the quantitative aspects of hydrology. Project-based laboratories are mostly done in the field and analyzing/modeling data in the lab. Prerequisites: CHEM 280, GEO 184 and GEO 186, or permission of instructor. (Halfman, Spring, offered occasionally)
215 Hydrometeorology Water availability is vital to human survival. However, water can also be a destructive force of nature. This course will examine water from many perspectives with a particular emphasis on meteorological impacts of water. Key topics covered in this course will include floods, droughts, probabilistic forecasts of precipitation, summertime rain-producing convective systems, snowfall, evapotranspiration, and a general overview of the hydrologic cycle. Meteorologists often have trouble producing accurate precipitation forecasts, and even when the precipitation location can be accurately predicted, the precipitation amount is often in error. Students will examine the difficulties that water creates in the forecast cycle by utilizing numerical models and the current weather to understand the impact that water, or the lack thereof, has on atmospheric and environmental processes. Prerequisite: GEO 182. (Metz, Fall, offered alternate years)
220 Geomorphology We live on the thin surface of the earth, which is the interface between the lithosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. Geomorphology is the study of how these “spheres” interact and form the landscapes we see around us. Through both descriptive and quantitative analysis, we will assess the scales and rates at which surface processes occur. Exploring the connection between modern processes and modern deposits is essential to deciphering the geologic record. We will explore the link between process, landform and deposit. We will evaluate fluvial, glacial, slope, eolian, weathering, and karst processes and the landforms that they produce and the deposits that are left behind. An understanding of surficial processes is critical to understanding the interaction of humans and their environment. Note: Weekend field trips are required. Prerequisites: GEO 184 and GEO 186. (Curtin, Fall, offered alternate years)
230 Problems in Earth History This course develops the methods by which the Earth’s history is deciphered. It looks at tectonics, sedimentary rocks and their structures, fossils and the fossil record, organic evolution, climate evolution, and various ways of delineating geologic time, using careful analysis of key moments from Earth’s past. Laboratory work is centered on analysis of maps, structures, facies, and stratigraphy. Students will read and write extensively in the primary scientific literature. Mandatory weekend field trips are required. Prerequisite: GEO 184 or permission of the instructor. (Arens, Fall, offered annually)
240 Mineralogy Mineralogy is the study of the structure, chemistry, and origin of minerals. Since minerals are the basic components of all rocks and sediments and are commonly in chemical equilibrium with natural waters, an understanding of minerals is crucial to many fields in geoscience. This course introduces students to the chemical and physical properties of minerals, their occurrence in rocks, and their economic uses. It also familiarizes students with some of the most important minerals and the techniques used in their identification and characterization. Techniques covered include crystallographic, X-ray, spectroscopic, and optical microscopy. Laboratory. Prerequisites: GEO 184 and CHEM 110 (or concurrent enrollment). (McKinney, Spring, offered annually)
255 Global Climates The climate of a particular region is defined by annual and seasonal temperature and precipitation variations. This course examines the physical characteristics, processes and controlling mechanisms of Earth's climate system and the patterns of its change across both space and time. Fundamentals of Earth's atmospheric composition, heat budget, circulation and moisture will be covered with a focus on global climate and regional climates. (Laird, Fall, offered annually)
260 Weather Analysis Few things capture the public's attention and influence daily decisions like weather. In this course, we will examine day-to-day weather patterns with an emphasis on understanding the basics of meteorological processes and forecasting, independent analysis of weather events and mastery of hands-on data analysis. We will examine and discuss conceptual models of the structure of mid-latitude cyclones and convection weather systems, including the processes of cyclogenesis and frontogenesis. Interpretation of atmospheric kinematic and dynamic processes on weather charts is emphasized along with an introduction to weather predication. Prerequisite: GEO 182. (Metz, Spring, offered annually)
262 Polar Meteorology Polar regions are important areas in understanding and monitoring changes in the Earth's atmospheric environment and have some unique weather systems, as well as climate characteristics. Perhaps surprisingly to many, the polar atmosphere is governed by the same physical principles that operate in middle latitude and tropical regions. This course will use the context of the Arctic and Antarctic to introduce and discuss the thermodynamic, radiative, and precipitation processes in the atmosphere. Additional topics that will be discussed include Polar lows, interactions between the atmosphere, cryosphere, and ocean, and stratospheric ozone. Related to many of these topics, we will use current, relevant data sets and collect our own measurements in a local winter environment to compare to observations from Polar regions. (Laird, Spring, offered alternate years)
265 Weather Measurements New atmospheric observation systems are being introduced frequently with the accelerated development of technology in today's world. This course will describe methods and instrumentation used to collect direct and remotely sensed observations of the atmosphere. Directly measured quantities discussed will include temperature, pressure, moisture, wind, and solar radiation. Atmospheric remote sensing of clouds, precipitation, and air motion by weather radars, satellites, profilers, and lidars will also be examined. Students will gain experience in observation techniques and data interpretation, and will learn about uncertainty and error assessment using basic statistical analysis methods. Prerequisite: GEO 182. (Laird, Spring, offered alternate years)
270 Paleoclimatology Paleoclimatology is the study of climate prior to the period of instrumentation. Understanding how and why climate changes is important for interpreting the geologic record and evaluating contemporary climate change. After an overview of Earth’s modern ocean-atmosphere system and energy balance is presented, dating methods and techniques for reconstructing past climates are discussed. Field and lab projects may include working with existing paleoclimate datasets in addition to collecting and interpreting archives of climate change such as tree rings, bog and lake cores, and speleothems from the local area. Note: There are required weekend field trips. Prerequisites GEO 184 and GEO 186; or permission of instructor. (Curtin, Spring, offered alternate years)
280 Aqueous and Environmental Geochemistry Aqueous fluids are the agents of geologic change. They initiate and control many geologic processes because they are ubiquitous, mobile and chemically reactive. Chemical interaction between fluids and rock, soil, or aerosols have a direct bearing on topics such as acid deposition, drinking water quality, acid mine drainage, and the chemical evolution of the hydrologic cycle. Students examine the chemical and geological processes that govern the concentration levels of dissolved substances in aqueous systems. Projects completed during lecture and lab will emphasize the collection and analysis of surface or near surface waters and the interpretation and presentation of data. Note: There are required weekend field trips. Prerequisites: GEO 184 and GEO 186, CHEM 280 or by permission of the instructor. (Curtin, Spring, offered alternate years)
290 Paleontology This course examines the fossil record from the perspective of the questions that can be asked of it. How do fossils contribute to understanding patterns of evolution? What large-scale patterns of biological diversity are seen only from the vantage point of fossils? How does form give clues to function? What can be learned about Earth’s past climates and environments from fossils? How do fossils tell time in the geologic record? The class answers these questions through a detailed study of the fossils themselves. (Arens or Kendrick, Spring, offered alternate years)
299 Geoscience Field Studies The course is designed to introduce you to field-based scientific investigations in an intensive two-week course. We will conduct several mapping and data collection projects that will provide you experience with field observations in areas of geology, meteorology, and climatology. Students completing the course receive one full course credit. The course is offered as credit/no credit and can be counted toward a Geoscience major or minor. (Offered annually)
320 Sediments and Sedimentary Rocks Sediments and sedimentary rocks are the most common of the geologic materials on the Earth’s surface. Found in them are many of the raw materials used in our industrial society, the record of life in the past and the record of ancient environmental change. Laboratories involve the description, classification, correlation, and interpretation of sediments and sedimentary rocks. Note: There are required weekend field trips. Prerequisite: GEO 184. (Curtin, Fall, offered alternate years)
330 Limnology Limnology is the study of lakes from a chemical, biological, physical, and geological perspective. Topics include the thermal structure of lakes, lake optics, dissolved gases, biological nutrients, trace elements, plankton populations, food-chain dynamics, estuaries, and the origin and nature of lake basins. Freshwater and marine systems are contrasted, with Seneca Lake serving as an example of the former. The roles of planktonic life, input from rivers, and thermal stratification on the chemistry of Seneca Lake are explored. Special emphasis is placed on biological nutrient dynamics and environmental concerns. Weekly laboratories and a few weekend day-trips are conducted on Seneca Lake aboard The William Scandling, and selected Finger Lakes aboard the JB Snow. Prerequisites: CHEM 280, GEO 184 and GEO 186, or permission of instructor. (Halfman, Fall, offered annually)
340 Petrology Petrology deals with the description, classification, and origin of rocks. Although the subject encompasses all classes of rocks, this course focuses principally on igneous and metamorphic rocks. Topics include the mineralogical and chemical makeup of the common rock types, crystal growth, and equilibrium in magmatic and metamorphic environments, the application of experimental studies to the interpretation of igneous and metamorphic rocks, and the origin of magmas. Laboratory work emphasizes the systematic description of rocks in hand specimen and thin section, and the interpretation of origin from mineralogy and texture. Laboratory and one extended field trip are required. Prerequisite: GEO 240. CHEM 280 is also recommended. (McKinney, Fall, offered alternate years)
350 Synoptic-Dynamic Meteorology Synoptic and dynamic meteorology are the cornerstones of meteorological forecasting and the foundation of modern weather prediction computer models. Synoptic meteorology describes large-scale atmospheric weather systems, while dynamic meteorology quantitatively utilizes mathematical equations to explain atmospheric motion. This course will examine common synoptic-scale weather features such as mid-latitude cyclones, jet streams, and other large-scale aspects of tropospheric weather systems, by relating near real-time atmospheric conditions to the mathematics that govern atmospheric motion and structure. Students will make regular use of archived atmospheric datasets and numerical models along with the current weather to develop and interpret the atmospheric equations of motion in terms of sensible weather. Prerequisites: GEO 260 and MATH 130. (Metz, Fall, offered alternate years)
351 Synoptic-Dynamic Meteorology II The second semester of synoptic-dynamic meteorology will continue to intertwine the qualitative study of large-scale atmospheric weather systems, with the quantitative mathematical equations of atmospheric motion. This course will focus on advanced meteorological topics such as quasi-geostrophic theory, potential voracity, baroclinic instability, frontogenesis, ensemble forecasting, atmospheric waves, and instabilities. Students will utilize numerical model simulations along with current atmospheric data to explore the large-scale meteorological circulation from both a theoretical and observational viewpoint. Prerequisite: GEO 350. (Metz, Spring, offered alternate years)
355 Mesoscale and Severe Weather Many of the most destructive, severe and awe-inspiring weather events, such as tornadoes, squall lines, hurricanes, and lake-effect snow occur with spatial and temporal dimensions described as mesoscale. Mesoscale meteorology typically encompasses atmospheric phenomena that are smaller than 1000 km in size. Thus, in addition to severe weather systems, this course will investigate fronts, mountain wind systems, land-sea breezes, and precipitation bands, with a focus on the processes and dynamics that govern their formation and distribution. Mesoscale weather is inherently difficult to predict given the relatively small size and complex nature of the various phenomena. In order to facilitate investigation of mesoscale meteorology and severe weather, this class will regularly utilize archived meteorological measurements, mesoscale computer models, and current observations of the atmosphere, which continuously provides interesting and dynamic situations to learn from. Prerequisite: GEO 260. (Metz, Spring, offered alternate years)
360 Applied Climatology Climatology is the study of the modern variations in climate and the parameters important for this variability. Understanding the modern climate is critically linked to all areas of geoscience and provides an important bridge between the study of weather (meteorology) and past climates (paleoclimatology). This course examines the physical characteristics, processes and controlling mechanisms of Earth’s climate system and the patterns of its change across both space and time. Fundamentals of Earth’s atmosphere will be covered with a focus on global climate, and regional climates. Students will develop and strengthen analytical skills through building or enhancing a foundation in statistics; analyze and interpret climate data; and examine the relationship of climatic conditions to physical, biological, and human environments. (Laird, Spring, offered alternate years)
365 Environmental Meteorology The atmospheric boundary layer can be viewed as the most important layer of the atmosphere since it directly impacts humans, animals, plants and the Earth's surface. Additionally, it is within this portion of the atmosphere where pollutants are typically introduced to the air and directly influence air quality through their transport and dispersion. In this course, we will examine the relationships and controls on the transfer of properties (mass, energy, and moisture) between the Earth's surface and the overlying atmosphere, and within the atmospheric boundary layer itself. We will examine the sources, sinks, and transport of atmospheric pollutants under a variety of atmospheric conditions. To achieve these goals, we will use current, relevant data sets and conduct analyses to examine properties of the atmospheric boundary layer and pollutant transport. Prerequisites: GEO 182 and PHYS 150. (Laird, Fall, offered alternate years)
370 Structural Geology Structural geology is the study of the deformed rocks that mark areas of present or past crustal movement, chiefly the Earth’s mountain belts. Its basic tasks are the recognition, representation, and genetic interpretation of a variety of rock structures. These structures range from microscopically deformed mineral grains to entire mountain belts. Major goals of the course include the visualization of rock geometries and structures from maps and cross sections, and the interpretation of these structures in terms of rock deformation processes. Field observations and mapping of deformed rocks constitute an important part of the course. Laboratory with two extended field trips. Prerequisite: GEO 184. (McKinney, Fall, offered alternate years)
390 Gondwana Formed in the latest Proterozoic and finally rifting apart in the Cretaceous, the supercontinent Gondwana lasted around 500 million years, making it one of the Earth’s most enduring features. The complex history of its assembly and eventual breakup, its dramatic range of topographic and climatic variation, and its remarkable biological passengers make up a fascinating chapter of Earth history. In this course we will probe the history of Gondwana from tectonic, climatic, and evolutionary viewpoints, integrating the data into a coherent narrative. Discussion of readings from the primary literature are an integral part of this course. Prerequisite: GEO 184 and GEO 290. (Kendrick, offered annually)
450 Independent Study