Geology (GEO)

Academic Catalog: 2014–2015

  • Julie Bartley, Chairperson
  • Lee Petersen (Visiting, January 2015)
  • Laura Triplett
  • James Welsh

Geology is the science of the earth. Our planet is changing, and geologists help us understand those changes by examining the nature of the earth, the processes that act on and within it, and the particular history of geological and biological events that have occurred on it. Geology is particularly relevant for today’s world, because it can answer questions about the causes of change and help understand how the earth responds to those changes. It is a key discipline in locating, understanding, and conserving natural resources, understanding and avoiding natural hazards, tracing the evolution and extinction of life, and, importantly, interpreting the workings of the planet to better appreciate the context of human culture and activity. Environmental conservation requires that we understand the processes that shaped that environment long ago, as well as those occurring today.

Our geology program appeals to students who like the outdoors, have an interdisciplinary attitude, and enjoy learning about the processes that affect our planet. We emphasize field and research experiences at all levels of the program. Overnight to week-long field excursions are a hallmark of our courses. To graduate with a major in Geology, students must participate in at least one extended field experience, in addition to normal class field trips, as part of a departmentally organized or approved field trip. Students conduct individual and class research projects and undertake independent research that culminates in a thesis. Students in our department enjoy a close-knit community, working on class research projects, doing fieldwork, and participating in geology club activities. Examples of post-graduate paths for recent geology alumni include prestigious graduate schools, environmental consulting, mineral resources, petroleum, education, and public sector earth science.

The Department of Geology 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 programs in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark and Sweden.

Major:12 courses, including: GEO-111 or GEO-120, GEO-212, 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.

Students intending graduate study should plan to take additional courses, including a second semester of calculus (MCS-122), a second semester of chemistry, a year of physics, and field camp. Most graduate schools also require paleontology, petrology, and/or sedimentary systems.

Minor: Five courses in Geology, including GEO-111 or GEO-120, GEO-212, GEO-246 or GEO-271, and two other courses, which must be at Level II or III and approved in consultation with an advisor.

Geology Courses

111 Our Planet: Introduction to Earth Science (1 course) In this course, students learn about Earth, how its character and processes influence human endeavors, and how humans, in turn, alter the planet. We emphasize plate tectonics as a unifying theory to explain phenomena such as earthquakes, volcanoes, mountains, continents and ocean basins, as well as the rocks and minerals formed in those settings. Also central to the course are the roles of gravity, climate, water, and ice in sculpting the landscapes and environments in which we live. Hands-on lab and field experiences help students answer real-world questions like “will the Minnesota River flood St. Peter?” “What happens when groundwater gets polluted?” “How does local geology influence economic activities like farming and industry in our region?” And “what was the earth like in the distant past?” An optional one-day weekend fieldtrip explores nearby geology. NASP, Fall and Spring semesters.

120 Geochemistry of the Environment (1 course) This course is the same as ENV-120. The complete course description can be found in the Environmental Studies listings.

212 Evolution of the Earth (1 course) This course explores the geological evolution of the earth and the history of life by applying the theories, observations, data, and methods that geologists use to approach complicated histories and unrepeated events. We investigate both the physical and the biological evolution of the planet and examine the current scientific explanations for events that have occurred on this planet. We answer questions such as “Why does Minnesota have some of the oldest rocks on Earth?” “What caused 90% of all species on Earth to become extinct?” “Why are the Himalayas tall?” And “How did dinosaurs evolve?” A weekly laboratory introduces the techniques of historical geology and develops skills fundamental to geology. Students investigate the geologic process recorded in grains of sand, as part of an individual laboratory project. A required field trip, conducted over Spring Break, explores the development of hypotheses from field observations. Prerequisite: any Level I course in Geology or permission of the instructor. Spring semester.

237 Global Climate Change (1 course) Human-induced global climate change is one of the greatest scientific and political challenges of our time. In this course, we begin by asking questions like “What caused climate change through Earth’s history?” “How do energy and mass move between the oceans, atmosphere, cryosphere and biosphere?” We read about the beginnings of agriculture, and how humans may have begun impacting the climate thousands of years ago. Then, we shift our focus to how oceans, ecosystems and human societies are currently changing as the planet heats up. We explore question such as “What are projections for Earth’s climate in the future?” And “What can we do to adapt to and mitigate climate change?” Students then determine what topics they want to explore in more depth. Finally, we take action to counter climate science illiteracy in our communities. In lab, we collect sediment cores from a local lake and analyze them for climate signals, use simple computer models to experiment with changing climate patterns in the future, and answer climate change questions using the enormous datasets being produced and published by public agencies. Prerequisite: GEG-105, GEG-108, GEO-111 or GEO-120. Spring semester, even years.

241 Paleontology (1 course) This course explores the life of the geologic past, including the application of the study of fossils to evolution, paleoecology, biogeography, and biostratigraphy. Students explore topics from the origin of life to the Impact of humanity on biodiversity. We explore questions such as “How did animals first evolve?” “How has life, from microbes to humans, altered Earth’s climate, atmosphere, and oceans?” And “How does the distribution of organisms in time and space tell us about past climate and geological processes?” Laboratories will emphasize hands-on work with fossils, including specimens collected on a required weekend field trip to southeastern Minnesota and northern Iowa. Students choose individual research topics about fossils to investigate as part of a term project. Fall semester, odd years.

246 Earth Surface Processes (1 course) Every hill and valley has some story to tell, some history behind why it is there. This course is about the earth’s surface and the processes that shape it. We begin this course by studying rivers and glaciers, the most powerful natural geomorphic forces that have shaped our local landscape. We continue on to investigate landslides, weathering, soils, wind and waves, and perhaps the most powerful force of all: humans. We also take a quantitative, systems-level approach to the interaction of vegetation with the landscape, presently and in the past. Throughout the course, we ask “How do human endeavors interact with natural processes?” The laboratory is research oriented and focused on answering questions in the field. One overnight weekend fieldtrip is required. Prerequisite: GEG-105, GEO-111 or GEO-120. Fall semester.

259 Earth 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 or GEO-120 and high school chemistry. Offered occasionally.

268, 368 Career 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.

271 Mineralogy (1 course) Mineralogy is the study of naturally occurring crystalline substances (i.e., minerals). It underpins and is essential for understanding more advanced topics in geology concerning the makeup of the earth and its resources. Included in this course is an introduction to concepts of crystallography and crystal chemistry; the physical, chemical, and optical properties of minerals; and modern techniques involved in the study of minerals. 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 or GEO-120. CHE-107 is recommended. Spring semester.

322 Petrology (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, with implications toward an understanding of the earth’s inner workings. (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, odd years.

324 Sedimentary Systems (1 course) This course explores the sedimentary record, examining the ways by which earth scientists decipher the geologic history of Earth’s surface. By studying sediments, sedimentary rocks, and stratigraphy, we can answer questions such as “Where were ancient shorelines?” “What did Minnesota’s ancient watery environments look like?” “Where were the tropics in the geologic past?” And “How and when did the Appalachian Mountains erode?”. Students explore major concepts such as sequence stratigraphy, biostratigraphy, basin analysis, geochemistry, and geochronology through a series of hands-on projects in which they solve geologic puzzles. Required one-day and weekend field trips provide a field context in which to interpret sedimentary rocks. Prerequisites: GEO-111 or GEO-120 and one additional Geology course, or permission of the instructor. Fall semester, even years.

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

348 Earth Structure (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 or GEO-120. Spring semester.

350 Hydrogeology (1 course) Hydrogeology is the study of the physical, chemical and biological processes that occur as water interacts with the solid earth. We will study how water flows across the land surface and moves into the ground; where groundwater flows; what its chemistry is like; and, what happens when people use it or pollute it. 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, so this information is highly relevant. We will seek to understand the properties that control an aquifer and the 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 specifically designed to prepare students for careers in environmental consulting, natural resources exploration, public policy or other realms of earth science. We practice using the mathematical methods that scientists, engineers, and consultants use to characterize groundwater. One overnight weekend field trip is required. Prerequisites: GEO-111 or GEO-120. Spring semester, odd years.

291, 391 Independent 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, 393 Research in Geology I, II (.5 course, .5 course) The Geology major is completed with this two-course sequence in geological research. In GEO-392, research methods, field exercises, laboratory techniques, seminars, and literature review in weekly meetings allow students to explore a research topic of their choosing and to draft and present a research proposal. 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.