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Undergraduate Course Catalog

Check the 2017-2018 Course Offerings

The curriculum for the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department is currently in transition. As part of that transition, some course numbers have changed. Please see the conversion table below for reference.

Old Number Course Title New Number
317 Biogeochemistry 371
320 Global Tectonics 352
322 Scientific Computing in the Physical Sciences 361
326 Data Analysis for Earth and Planetary Sciences 362
328 Tectonics and Structural Geology 335
329 Mathematical Inverse Methods in Earth and Environmental Sciences 353
351 Forming a Habitable Planet 380

101-0 – Earth Science for the 21st Century

Earth science encompasses the geology, chemistry, biology, and physics of our planet, while appreciating its beauty. Environmental degradation, natural resources, energy, climate change, and geologic hazards are among the most pressing issues facing society in the 21st century. This course introduces students to Earth science through topical lectures and discussion of current events and research in Earth science. Topics include formation, evolution, structure, and composition of the Earth, plate tectonics and the rock cycle, the water cycle, climate change, paleoclimate, peak oil and fracking, renewable energy, nuclear fuel cycle and policy, geology of the National Parks, and job prospects in Earth science. 

102-6 – Death of the Dinosaurs (First Year Seminar)

The death of the dinosaurs as well as theories and evidence for other catastrophic extinctions will be examined. Geologic time and the history of life on Earth; plate tectonics; dinosaur classification and behavior, periodicities, and the search for Nemesis, the "Death Star", will be included in the seminar.

102-6 – Earthquakes and Other Earth-Shaking Events (First Year Seminar)

Earthquakes occur each hour, day, week, month, etc. Many go barely noticed while others turn catastrophic. Recall the December 26, 2004 Sumatra earthquake, tsunami, and aftershocks. Learn about causes and consequences of earthquakes and why we can't yet predict them. Learn about non-earthquake events that send tremors through our planet and alter its evolution, locating and classifying earthquakes, plate tectonics, and using earthquakes to CAT-scan the Earth.

102-6 – Global Warming: Scientific Evidence (First Year Seminar)

Global warming represents a massive global experiment with unknown consequences. In this course we will discuss the scientific evidence for modern-day global warming including melting ice sheets, long-term temperature records from ice cores and extreme weather events such as hurricanes. Current trends and the role of human activities will be examined in the context of the geologic record of natural climate variability and the feedbacks inherent in the climate system. Anticipated future impacts include droughts, floods, sea level rise, spread of infectious diseases, drinking water shortages, habitat loss, and extinctions. Given these forecasts, strategies for managing the effects of global warming will be assessed. This writing seminar specifically aims to develop effective scientific writing and visual communication for the natural and physical sciences.

102-6 – Sustainability & Social Justice (First Year Seminar)

The challenge of sustainability to "meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" has evolved over the past few decades. This course will introduce fundamental concepts of sustainability, consider the application of these concepts in diverse societal, economic, and cultural settings, and explore the potential of climate science and sustainable development to act as forces for environmental and social justice.

103-0 – Geologic Hazards

An examination of the principal sources of natural hazards (earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes...) in the framework of modern geological theories. Lectures and discussion.

105-0 – Climate Catastrophes in Earth History

The objective of this course is to introduce students to the fundamental components of the Earth system--the atmosphere, hydrosphere and solid Earth--and more importantly, examine how these components interact in response to internal and external influences to control climate. Within this Earth systems context, we will explore how climate is changing today, how it has changed (sometimes catastrophically) in the geologic past, and how it may change in the future.

106-0 – The Ocean, The Atmosphere and Our Climate

The course presents basic concepts of the Earth System that control and regulate the planetary climate. The uniqueness of planet Earth is discussed in the context of its oceans, land, atmosphere, organisms, and climate. Specific questions addressed are: What are the essential factors that determined the climate of a planet? How do living organisms affect the atmosphere, land, ocean, and climate? How is the Earth's climate controlled by the greenhouse effect, solar radiation, orbital parameters, and other factors? How has the growing human population affected the Earth's atmospheric composition and hence climate? What has human society done to deal with the potential of global warming of the planet?

108-0 – Geological Impacts on Civilization

Geological processes and materials have had a profound impact upon the development of civilizations on Earth. By examination of the geological, archaeological, and historical records, we will explore societal responses to factors such as natural disasters, environmental changes, and the distribution of natural resources. We will focus largely upon the ancient world, with reference to modern analogues. (For example, we may discuss sediment transport by rivers, the effects of sedimentation upon ancient Roman harbors at Ostia and Ephesus, and the role of sedimentation in the modern Mississippi delta.)

110-0 – Exploration of the Solar System

Explore the Solar System from the birth of the Sun and its planets to the latest discoveries including the possibility of life on the icy moons of the giant planets and the search for Planet IX. Understand the phases of the Moon, the seasons of Earth, and the other motions of the planets. Learn what's inside planets, what's happening on their surfaces, and the history of planetary exploration. Prerequisites: Registration is reserved for first years, sophomores, and juniors in all majors.

114-0 – Evolution and the Scientific Method

The scientific method is explored through the role it has played in the development of evolutionary thought.  The course tracks the history of evolutionary theory from its earliest origins to the modern consensus, and in so doing, provides examples of scientific method as practiced in biology, geology, physics, and chemistry.  It is the story of one of the greatest paradigm shifts in the history of human thought, and is designed to serve the needs of a broad spectrum of non-science majors seeking to satisfy the Area I distribution requirement.

201-0 – Earth Systems Revealed

Introduction to Physical Geology: The study of Earth systems and their interactions. This course will approach the study of Earth systems from two perspectives: 1) description and classification of Earth's features, including Earth materials, internal structure, and landforms and 2) description and explanation of the physical, chemical and biological processes that form and modify these features. Topics include minerals; sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks; the interior Earth, oceans, and atmosphere; solid Earth processes, such as volcanism, seismicity, and plate tectonics and their interactions with the atmosphere and hydrosphere to drive surface Earth processes, such as climate, weathering, and glaciation; geologic time; global change. This course includes a MANDATORY field trip to Baraboo, Wisconsin. Preregistration will include all EARTH majors/minors and up to 10 first year and 10 sophomore students with at least one credit in math, chemistry, biology or physics. If you are unable to preregister for the course, please sign up on our departmental waitlist found in the CAESAR course description.  We do not use the Caesar waitlist for this course. In order to be considered, you must fill out the questionnaire on the departmental waitlist. We do not choose students based on their waitlist order.

202-0 – Earth's Interior

Size, mass, & density of the earth, seismic waves; earth structure from seismology; minerals and rocks; composition of mantle and core; heat and temperature in the earth, radiometric age dating; origin of the elements, formation of the solar system; meteorites, formation of the planets; continents and oceans, paleomagnetism, continental drift; earthquake focal mechanisms, plate boundaries and kinematics, mechanics of plate tectonics. Prerequisites: MATH 224, PHYSICS 135-1, and CHEM 110 (formerly CHEM 101); or consent of instructor.

203-0 – Earth System History

Evolution of the earth system and its record through geological time. Interactions among the atmosphere, hydrosphere, sediments, and life on earth.

204-0 – Communication for Geoscientists

This course will help undergraduate Earth Sciences majors hone their communication skills, and learn some specific communication styles applicable to our field. Science writing and scientific literature can be intimidating and obtuse. This course is designed to break manuscripts down into their base components, detailing the goal, style, and content required for each section. In addition we will cover verbal and visual forms of communication such as posters and talks. Writing is learned through practice, so this course will be hands on with weekly assignments, peer review, and required classroom engagement. Prerequisites: Restricted to declared or potential earth majors and minors (or with instructor permission).

300-0 – Earth and Planetary Materials

The Earth and planets are composed of minerals, rocks, melts, and fluids. The study of Earth materials is fundamental to Earth and environmental sciences and deals with formation, stability, environments, and properties of materials that control large-scale processes from weathering to earthquakes. The physical properties of Earth materials are largely controlled by bonding and crystal structure. This course begins with an atomistic approach to understanding mineral properties, but also extends physical properties and mineral stability to the larger geological and planetary scales. The properties of minerals also dictate how we use them for societal applications, ranging from raw materials to chemical filters and energy sources and storage materials. Mineralogy is the application of physics, chemistry, and biology to natural materials, and this course emphasizes the interdisciplinary nature of mineralogy. Students will gain skills in learning to identify the major rock-forming minerals in hand-specimen and in the optical microscope. Students will apply analytical techniques including X-ray diffraction and optical spectroscopy to quantitative analysis of minerals. Recommended Background: EARTH 201, CHEM103, MATH 220, and PHYSICS 135-1, or equivalent, or with consent of instructor.

301-0 – Petrology: Evolution of Crustal and Mantle Rocks

Origin, composition, and classification of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks. Application of laboratory characterization and basic thermodynamics to interpreting observed rock textures and mineral assemblages in terms of geological processes. Prerequisite: EARTH 300 or consent of instructor.

302-0 – Geological Thermodynamics

Finite strain theory, solid solution thermodynamics, phase transitions, subduction zone processes, seismic velocity structures.

310-0 – Aqueous Geochemistry

The geochemistry of rivers, groundwater, lakes, and seawater. Topics include thermodynamics, kinetics, acids and bases, pH and alkalinity, carbonate equilibria, redox chemistry, chemical weathering, and numerical modeling. Prerequisites: EARTH 201 and CHEM 132 (formerly CHEM 103); or consent of instructor.

312-0 – Stable Isotope Geochemistry

A survey of the chemical, physical and biological mechanisms and fundamental concepts of stable isotope fractionation. The course will focus on applications of H, O, C, S, N and trace metal (i.e., Fe and Mo) isotopes to geologic problems with an emphasis on climate change and ancient ocean chemistries. Recommended Background: Earth 201 and 203, or equivalent

313-0 – Radiogenic Isotope Geochemistry

Application of radiogenic isotopes to problems in geochemistry, petrology, hydrology, oceanography, ecology, and environmental science. Includes radioactive decay, nucleosynthesis, cosmochemistry, geochronology, mixing processes, and numerical modeling. Prerequisites: CHEM 132 (formerly CHEM 103) or consent of instructor.

314-0 – Organic Geochemistry

The origin, modification and preservation of organic matter in the sedimentary record; how it relates to global carbon cycle and climate in the geologic past; implications for future greenhouse warming.  Prerequisite: one quarter of earth or environmental sciences and one quarter of chemistry; or consent of instructor.

317-0 – Biogeochemistry

This course has been renumbered, please see EARTH 371.

320-0 – Global Tectonics

This course has been renumbered, please see EARTH 352.

322-0 – Scientific Computing in the Physical Sciences

This course has been renumbered, please see EARTH 361.

323-0 – Seismology and Earth Structure

In this course you will study and explore elastic theory, wave equation, seismic waves, seismic wave propagation, seismic ray paths, seismic reflections & refractions, seismic reflection coefficients, seismometers, seismic travel times, seismograms, and what seismic waves tell us about the internal structure of the Earth. Recommended Background: Calculus (functions, differentiation, integration, Taylor expansion, etc.), ordinary differential equations, and some exposure to complex numbers. Courses at NU that would fulfill this recommended background are: (MATH 220/224/230/250 and PHYS 135-1/-2/-3). No prior earth science experience required.

324-0 – Earthquakes and Tectonics

Earthquakes: location, characteristics, origin, mechanism, and relation to plate motions; seismic hazard. Prerequisites: EARTH 202, MATH 250, and PHYSICS 135-2; or consent of instructor.

326-0 – Data Analysis for Earth and Planetary Sciences

This course has been renumbered, please see EARTH 362.

327-0 – Geophysical Time Series Analysis and Inverse Problems

Introduction to analysis techniques applied to seismic and other geophysical data. Sampling, windowing, discrete and fast Fourier transforms, deconvolution, filtering, and inverse methods. Prerequisites: EARTH 202 and MATH 250; or consent of instructor.

328-0 – Tectonics and Structural Geology

This course has been renumbered, please see EARTH 335.

329-0 – Mathematical Inverse Methods in Earth and Environmental Sciences

This course has been renumbered, please see EARTH 353.

330-0 – Sedimentary Geology

Review of description and classification of sedimentary rocks; principles of stratigraphy and sedimentology; methods of local, regional and global correlation; interpretation of ancient depositional systems (facies analysis); cyclostratigraphy and sequence stratigraphy in the context of tectonic, eustatic, and climatic controls on deposition; tectonics and basin analysis. Recommended Background: EARTH 201 or equivalent, or permission of instructor.

331-0 – Field Problems in Sedimentary Geology

Field methods in stratigraphy and sedimentology; interpretation of depositional systems and paleoenvironments; methods of observations, data recording and analysis, and presentation of geological information (maps, cross sections). Course involves 2.5-week field trip to Colorado/Utah in late August - mid September (returning to Evanston in time for regular classes) and meets through the Fall quarter. Prerequisite: EARTH 330.

335-0 – Tectonics and Structural Geology

Like to hike in the mountains? Ever wonder how all those rocks got the way they are, folded, faulted, and so high up? If so, this is the class for you. Learn to interpret the structures of deformed mountain belts: We will cover a broad introduction to the theory and methods of structural geology and tectonics. Topics include force and stress and strain tensors, rheology, microstructures, and results from experimental deformation studies, brittle deformation processes and structures, ductile deformation processes and structures, and regional tectonics in the global context. Weekly labs required. Prerequisites: EARTH 201 and PHYSICS 135-1, or equivalent; or consent of instructor. [Previously listed as EARTH 328]

340-0 – Physics of Weather and Climate

An investigation of atmospheric processes and the physical laws that govern them. Topics covered include atmospheric composition and structure, radiative transfer, thermodynamics, convection, precipitation, and the general circulation of the three-dimensional atmosphere. When possible, course content will engage with contemporaneous atmospheric conditions and provide students with a better understanding of their meteorological and climatic environments. Completion of introductory calculus and physics are required prior to enrollment. Prerequisites: EARTH-, ENVR_SCI-, or CIV_ENV-201, PHYSICS_135 or 136, and MATH_220 and 224 or equivalent

341-0 – Quaternary Climate Change: From the Ice Age to the Age of Oil

Methods for reconstructing and dating past environmental changes, causes of natural climate change, and major climate events of the Quaternary through the present. Their relevance for understanding current climate change. Prerequisite: EARTH 201 or consent of instructor.

342-0 – Topics in Contemporary Energy and Climate Change

The increasing worldwide demand for energy presents a number of complex interdisciplinary challenges, from oil depletion to climate change. This class will challenge students to answer the question, how shall we power the world in the 21st century? We will examine the history and geography of energy use; links between energy and climate change; and technological, economic, and environmental benefits and drawbacks of various energy sources. Prerequisite: Graduate standing in any field, senior standing in the physical sciences or engineering, pr permission of instructor. Cross-listed with ISEN-410.

343-0 – Earth System Modeling

Earth System Modeling is an introduction to the art and science of reducing Earth's complex systems into simple numerical models. This course will survey core Earth system science topics, introduce numerical modeling concepts, and facilitate the construction of dynamical models in a hands-on computational laboratory environment. Core topics reviewed and modeled include the rock cycle, hydrological cycle, Earth's climate, and the global carbon cycle. The lecture portion of the course will highlight/review Earth science concepts, while the modeling component of the course will focus on the design, construction, and use of models to test hypotheses, and increase understanding of the forces and processes that shape the global environment. The modeling software to be used will be appropriate to undergraduates and beginning graduate students who do not have previous experience with solving differential equations or with computer programming, though students with these skill sets will appreciate the manifestation of numerical rules in the software package. Ultimately, this course is designed to empower students with introductory modeling skills that can be used to build a better understanding of how Earth's various components interact and evolve. Prerequisites: At least one quarter of EARTH or ENVR SCI coursework at the 200 level or above; plus one quarter of calculus and one quarter of physics.

350-0 – Physics of the Earth for ISP

Introduction to geophysics for students with strong mathematics and physics backgrounds. Basic ideas in seismic wave propagation, plate tectonics, geomagnetism, geothermics, and gravity. Study of the earth's surface and the deep interior.  Prerequisites: Second-year standing in ISP, or equivalent background in physics and mathematics with permission of both instructor and ISP director.

351-0 – Forming a Habitable Planet

This course has been renumbered, please see EARTH 380.

352-0 – Global Tectonics

Kinematics of plate tectonics. Geometry, determination, and description of plate motions. Paleomagnetism, marine magnetism, and hot spots. History of ocean basins and mountain-building processes. Prerequisites: EARTH 202 and PHYSICS 135-2; or consent of instructor. [Previously listed as EARTH 320]

353-0 – Mathematical Inverse Methods in Earth and Environmental Sciences

Data-driven modeling via solving inverse problems and estimating model parameters. Application of linear algebra to the modeling of physical data. Students learn to model large amounts of imperfect data using linear algebra, optimization and regularization techniques, and common physical sense.  Via lab exercises and homework, the course emphasizes application over theory. Exercises include but are not restricted to 1) locating events or objects from line-of-sight signal travel times, 2) de-blurring an image, 3) characterizing the subsurface from surface measurements of wave dispersion, 4) locating engineering structures from anomalous gravity data, and 5) tomography: non-destructive characterization of internal structure of materials, human bodies, or the Earth.  We will emphasize linear, discrete, ill-posed inverse problems, but will also review time series analysis, including Fourier Transforms and matched filtering, and touch on the principles of solving non-linear inverse problems via directed and random searches in model space. Prerequisites: MATH 230, STAT 232, or equivalent; MATH 240 or STAT 320-1, 2 recommended. [Previously listed as EARTH 329]

360-0 – Instrumentation and Field Methods

Theory and practicum on electronic instrumentation for monitoring and measurement in earth sciences, including data loggers, hands-on design and construction of electronic sensors, signal processing, data management, and network design. Prerequisites: Majors/minors in EARTH or ENVR SCI, or completion of three 300-level EARTH or any other 300 level science courses, or consent of the instructor.

361-0 – Introduction to Scientific Computing in the Physical Sciences

Introduction to coding, scientific computing, and visualization for analyzing and modeling geophysical and other data via Python, unix, shell scripting, Generic Mapping Tools, parallel processing, and an individual or paired final project. [Previously listed as EARTH 322]

362-0 – Data Analysis for Earth and Planetary Sciences

Types and characteristics of earth science data, development and applications of model types, observational and systematic sources of uncertainties and their characterization, spatial and temporal predictions. [Previously listed as EARTH 326]

370-0 – Geobiology

This class will center on evaluating the interplay between biological and physical processes in shaping the environment. Major topics include: the role of microbes in major element cycling (C, N, S, P), historical geobiology (how have microbes changed the planet over time?), methodologies applied in geobiology, humans as agents of geobiology, and the related fields of astro/exobiology. Prerequisite: EARTH 201 and either CHEM 132 (formerly CHEM 103), CHEM 172 or CHEM 210-1, or permission from instructor.

371-0 – Biogeochemistry

The cycling of biogenic elements (C, N, S, Fe, Mn) in surficial environments is the focus of this course. Emphasis will be placed on microbial processes and isotopic signatures. Prerequisites: One quarter of chemistry plus one quarter of geoscience, environmental science, or biology to enroll in this course. Taught with CIV ENV 317; students may not earn credit for both courses. [Previously listed as EARTH 317]

373-0 – Microbial Ecology

This course will provide a framework for understanding the role of microbes in natural environments in terms of cell numbers, metabolisms, and interactions with geochemical cycles. We will delve deeply into the interactions between microbial populations, higher organisms, and even our own bodies. The course will finish on a survey of microbial composition and dynamics in key settings across the planet. Laboratory exercises will be incorporated into the classroom framework. Recommended Background: Basic understand of chemistry, biology, and earth science.

380-0 – Forming a Habitable Planet

Formation and evolution of planets permitting life; global geophysical and geochemical processes critical in our planet's development; prospects for life within our solar system and beyond; exoplanet discovery and characteristics. Prerequisites: Students must have completed one of the following: CHEM 110 (formerly CHEM 101) or 171; PHYSICS 125-1, 130-1, or 135-1; or consent of instructor. [Previously listed as EARTH 351]

381-0 – Planet Formation and Evolution

Survey of planet formation processes including growth from the first solids to the giant planets as well as the internal evolution of planetary bodies. Recommended Background: Completion of introductory Earth science, physics, and calculus courses.

382-0 – Cosmochemistry

Examine the chemical composition of the universe, the Sun, the planets, and their building blocks. Learn the origin of the elements and their evolution through Solar System history. Use isotopic data to trace cosmic genetic relationships and date important events like the birth of the first solids in the Solar System. Understand the chemical processes that segregate elements into different astrophysical and planetary reservoirs. Observe primitive and evolved meteoritic and planetary materials in the laboratory. Completion of introductory Earth science, chemistry, and calculus courses are required prior to enrollment. The class will visit the Field Museum on April 23 leaving Northwestern at 2 pm and returning by 6:30 pm. Recommended Background: EARTH 201-0, CHEM 131-0 and 132-0, and MATH 220-0 and 224-0, or equivalents.

383-0 – Planetary Physics

Quantitative survey of planetary science including dynamics, atmospheres, surfaces, interiors,
magnetospheres, rings, and small bodies. Apply back-of- the-envelope and dimensional analysis techniques to shift from qualitative to quantitative understanding of planet-scale processes. Recommended Background: Completion of introductory Earth science, physics, and calculus courses are required prior to enrollment.

390-0 – Special Topics in Earth and Planetary Sciences

Special Topics courses may be repeated for credit with a change of topic.

399-0 – Independent Study

Special problems under direct supervision of one or more faculty members. Comprehensive report and examination required. Open with consent of department to juniors and seniors who have completed field of concentration in the department.

ISEN 230 – Climate Change and Sustainability: Political and Ethical Dimensions

Interdisciplinary analysis of the politics and ethics underlying a sustainable approach to climate change; includes introduction of the scientific evidence for anthropogenic global warming, discussion of the politics of sustainability in relation to the climate, and exploration of the ethics of resource use, conservation practices, and environmentalism. Visit ISEN on the web

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