Geology (GEO)

Academic Catalog 2010–2011

  • Julie Bartley, Chairperson
  • Elizabeth Goeke (Visiting, 2010–2011)
  • Laura Triplett
  • James Welsh (On leave, 2010–2011)

When Sir Charles Lyell wrote Principles of Geology in 1830, it opened humanity’s eyes to a new view of the earth as a planet that evolved over an immense span of time, by ordinary processes still operating today. Over one hundred years later, Geology is fundamental to the studies of landscapes, climate, natural resources, environment, natural hazards, and the evolution and extinction of life. Geology is the scientific study of the earth, including its composition, the processes that act on and within it, and the particular history of geological and biological events that have occurred on it. It is a key discipline in locating, understanding, and conserving natural resources, understanding and avoiding natural hazards, and, importantly, Interpreting the workings of the planet to better appreciate the context of human culture and activity.

The Geology program emphasizes field and research experiences at all levels of the major. First-year courses provide an overview of the principles of geology and an outline of the history of the earth, while students gain basic skills in addressing geologic problems. Second-year courses are designed to deepen understanding of earth processes and to sharpen field, laboratory, and research skills. Third-year courses emphasize the development of critical thinking and communication skills within the context of the mechanisms of and evidence for earth processes. In the fourth year, students use their accumulated skills and knowledge to conduct a senior research project under the direction of a faculty member, culminating in a senior thesis. To graduate with a Geology major, students must also participate in at least one extended filed experience, in addition to normal class field trips, as part of a departmentally organized or approved filed trip.

The Department of Geology welcomes and encourages students to take advantage of study-abroad opportunities available at Gustavus. Courses taken abroad can be applied towards the Geology major, if approved in consultation with the department. International sites that offer Geology courses recognized by the department include the University of Aberdeen (Scotland), Lancaster University (England), Murdoch (Western Australia), and the University of Otego (New Zealand).


12 courses, including: GEO-111, GEO-112, GEO-246, GEO-271, GEO-348, GEO-392, and GEO-393; CHE-107 and MCS-121; two additional courses chosen from GEO-241, GEO-322, GEO-324, or GEO-350; two additional major electives selected from Level II or III GEO courses or GEG-240; and one extended field experience.

These are minimal requirements. Students planning graduate study should also take a second semester of calculus (MCS-122), a second semester of chemistry, a year of physics, and field camp. Many graduate schools also require paleontology.

Earth/Space Science Teaching Major:

This major is only for students who have been admitted into the Minnesota Teacher Licensure program to teach all areas of science in grades 5–8 and Earth/Space Science in grades 9–12. It requires the core science and education courses for Secondary Education and also the requirements for the Geology major. In addition to the Geology major, the following core courses are also required: BIO-101, BIO-102, CHE-107, CHE-141, GEG-108, MCS-121, PHY-102, PHY-120 or PHY-122, PHY-170 or PHY-172, and EDU-248. Please see the Education Department section of this bulletin for a listing of the education courses required.


Five courses in Geology, including GEO-111, GEO-112, GEO-246 or GEO-271 and two other courses which must be at Level II or III and approved in consultation with an adviser.

111Principles of Geology(1 course) This course introduces students to the scientific study of the earth and examines the influence of earth processes on human endeavors, and how humans, In turn, alter the earth. The course emphasizes plate tectonics as unifying theory to explain phenomena such as earthquakes, volcanoes, mountains, continents, and ocean basins as well as the rocks and minerals formed in these settings. Also central to the course are the roles of gravity, climate, water, and ice in sculpting the landscape and shaping the environment. Hand-on lab and field experiences provide a framework for geologic problem-solving. An optional one-day weekend field trip explores nearby geology. NASP, Fall and Spring semesters.

112Evolution of the Earth(1 course) This course is a second course in geology covering the geological evolution of the earth and the history of life. This course explores the theories, the types of information, and the methods that earth scientists use to approach complicated histories and unrepeated events. This course addresses both the physical and the biological evolution of the planet and examines the current scientific explanations for the events that have occurred on this planet. A weekly laboratory introduces the techniques of historical geology and develops skills fundamental to geology. A required field trip, conducted over Spring Break, explores the development of hypotheses from field observations. Prerequisite: GEO-111 or permission of the instructor. Spring semester.

237Global Climate Change(1 course) Human-induced global climate change is one of the greatest scientific and political challenges of our times, but the earth’s climate has been changing ever since the planet first formed. This course explores the mass and energy exchanges among the oceans, atmosphere, and cryosphere in the context of Earth-surface processes and over the course of geologic time. The focus is on chemical and biological signatures of past climates in the geologic record, the likely causes of major climate-change events throughout Earth’s history, and geologic responses to historical climate change. Laboratory exercises involve characterizing surface processes, data-rich studies of climate-change records, and quantitative analysis of modern climate data. Prerequisite: one course from ENV-110, GEG-105, GEG-108, GEO-111. Spring semester, odd years.

241Paleontology(1 course) The life of the geologic past, including the application of the study of fossils to evolution, paleoecology, and biostratigraphy. Laboratories will emphasize invertebrates fossils, including specimens collected on field trips to southeastern Minnesota and northern Iowa. Fall semester, odd years.

246Geomorphology(1 course) Every hill and every valley has some story to tell, some history behind why It’s there. This course is about the earth’s surface and the processes that shape it. The course begins with rivers and glaciers, the most powerful natural geomorphic forces that have shaped our local landscape. It continues on to investigate landslides, weathering, tectonics, and wind and waves and perhaps the most powerful force of all: humans. The role of the physical environment on human behavior and the converse effect of humans on the environment is an important theme of the course. The laboratory is research oriented and focused on answering questions in the field. One overnight weekend fieldtrip is required. Prerequisite: GEO-111or GEG-105. Fall semester.

259Earth Resources(1 course) An introduction to the geology of mineral and energy resources. Focus will be on the geological processes that form these deposits. Economic considerations involved in the development and exploitation of these deposits as well as the environmental concerns associated with the extraction of these deposits will also be addressed. Prerequisites: GEO-111 and high school chemistry. Fall semester, odd years.

268, 368Career Exploration, Internship(Course value to be determined) Off-campus employment experience related to the student’s major. See description of the Internship Program. Prerequisite: junior or senior status. Fall and Spring semesters.

271Mineralogy(1 course) Mineralogy is the study of naturally occurring crystalline substances; i.e. minerals. Included in this course is an introduction to concepts of crystallography and crystal chemistry; the physical, chemical, and optical properties of mineral; and modern techniques involved In the study of minerals. Emphasis is on the rock forming minerals. Mineralogy underpins and is essential for understanding more advanced topics in geology concerning the makeup of the earth and its resources. Laboratory sessions will focus on the practical aspects of mineral identification and analysis including hand specimen, optical, and chemical techniques. A weekend field trip is required. Prerequisite: GEO-111. CHE-107 is recommended. Spring semester.

322Petrology(1 course) Petrology is the study of rocks and the processes that form them. This course focuses specifically on the igneous and metamorphic rocks, their origins and occurrence. (Sedimentary rocks and processes are studied in GEO-324). Laboratory sessions will emphasize hand specimen description and Identification, microscopic examination and interpretation of rocks in thin section, and petrochemical methods of analysis. A weekend field trip is required. Prerequisite: GEO-271. Fall semester.

324Sedimentology/Stratigraphy(1 course) An introduction to the study of sediments, sedimentary rocks, and stratigraphy. Topics include the creation, transport, and deposition of sediments; the nature and interpretation of sedimentary rocks; the interpretation of rock layers and the environments that produced them. The course will also include a thorough look at global depositional environments. Concepts such as sequence stratigraphy, biostratigraphy, basin analysis, aqueous geochemistry, and radiometric dating will be addressed during this course. Required one-day and/or weekend field trips provide a field context in which to interpret sedimentary rocks. Prerequisites: GEO-111 and one additional geology course, or permission of the instructor. Fall semester, even years.

348Structural Geology(1 course) This course studies the structures (such as folds and faults) that make up the “architecture” of the earth’s crust, and the processes, specifically those of rock deformation, that produce that architecture. The course focuses on techniques of analysis of these structures, with specific application toward interpreting geologic structures in the field; and introduces the concepts of stress and resulting strain in rocks. The laboratory involves solution of various structural problems, geologic map Interpretation, and some filed work. A one-day or weekend field trip is required. Prerequisite: GEO-111. Spring semester

244, 344Special Topics in Geology(1 course, 1 course) Lecture and discussion on advanced topics in Geology. Offered occasionally.

350Hydrogeology(1 course) Hydrogeology is the study of the part of the global hydrologic cycle that contacts geologic materials. More than two-thirds of Minnesotans get their drinking water directly from groundwater, and all lakes, rivers and related ecosystems are linked to groundwater to some degree. This course focuses on mathematical methods used to characterize ground water now, understanding the properties that control an aquifer, and chemical exchanges between water and rock, with an emphasis on local aquifers and watersheds. Laboratories and problem sets focus on real-world applications of principles, and are designed to prepare students for employment or further study in the field of hydrogeology. A weekend field trip will be required. Prerequisites: GEO-111. Spring semester, even years.

291, 391Independent Study(Course value to be determined) Study of a selected problem or area of earth science. Prerequisite: permission of the instructor. Fall and Spring semesters.

392, 393Research in Geology I, II(.5 course, .5 course) The Geology major is completed with this two-course sequence in research in geology. In GEO-392, research methods, field exercises, laboratory techniques, seminars, and literature review in weekly meetings will allow students to explore a research topic of their choosing and to draft and present a research prospectus. Research projects are carried out independently during the summer or early fall. Prerequisite: Geology major. In GEO-393, initial reports of research results are evaluated by course participants and instructors. Further field and laboratory work, seminars, data analysis, drafting, and literature review in weekly meetings will allow students to complete a research project and to produce and present a research paper. Prerequisite: GEO-392. WRITD for GEO-393, Spring semester.