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2020-2021 Course Descriptions

Course Categories:


101-0 – Earth Science for the 21st Century

Introduction to earth science through topical issues facing contemporary society. Evolution of the earth, geologic hazards, natural resources, peak oil, climate change, the water cycle, nuclear fuel cycle, geology of US national parks. Natural Sciences Distro Area

102-6 – Climate Change: The Scientific Evidence (First-Year Seminar)

Anthropogenic climate change represents a massive global experiment. In this course we will discuss the scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change, including atmospheric composition changes, sea level rise, melting ice sheets, temperature records, 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, 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 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.

105-0 – Climate Catastrophes in Earth History

Introduction to fundamental components of the earth system that control climate. Exploration of present-day climate change and how climate has changed (sometimes catastrophically) in the geologic past. Natural Sciences Distro Area

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

The role of the world's oceans in the earth's climate system. Properties of the oceans and marine life. Interaction of oceans, atmosphere, and land. Natural Sciences Distro Area

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

Rocks, minerals, earth surface and interior processes, basic field methods. Required weekend field trip. Recommended Background: At least one credit in math, chemistry, biology or physics. Natural Sciences Distro Area

202-0 – Earth's Interior

The earth as a planet: origin, composition, and evolution of the solar system and the earth; internal structure of the earth; plate tectonics. Recommended Background: At least one credit in math, chemistry, biology or physics. Natural Sciences Distro Area

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. Recommended Background: At least one credit in math, chemistry, biology or physics. Natural Sciences Distro Area

204-0 – Communication for Geoscientists

Science writing and presentation skills necessary for careers in the earth sciences. Topics include science writing as a language, scientific manuscript components, abstracts, poster presentations, formal talks, and informal presentations. Registration is reserved for Earth & Planetary Sciences majors and minors.


300-0 – Earth and Planetary Materials

Mineralogy of the earth and planets from atomic to continental scales, focusing on structure, composition, identification, and physical properties of minerals as they pertain to geological and societal applications. Recommended Background: At least one course in each of chemistry, physics, and math. Natural Sciences Distro Area

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 300-0 or consent of instructor. Natural Sciences Distro Area

302-0 – Geological Thermodynamics

Finite strain theory, solid solution thermodynamics, phase transitions, subduction zone processes, seismic velocity structures, mineral equations of state. Prerequisite: EARTH 301-0 or consent of instructor. Natural Sciences Distro Area

310-0 – Aqueous Geochemistry

The geochemistry of rivers, groundwater, lakes, and seawater. Topics include thermodynamics, kinetics, acids and bases, pH and alkalinity, carbonate equilibria, chemical weathering, and numerical modeling. Recommended Background: At least one year of chemistry coursework. Natural Sciences Distro Area

312-0 – Stable Isotope Geochemistry

Fractionation and distribution of stable isotopes (C, H, N, O, S) in the biosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and geosphere. Isotopic biogeochemistry, environmental problems, and global climate change. Recommended Background: EARTH 201-0 and EARTH 203-0, 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. Recommended Background: At least one year of chemistry coursework.

314-0 – Organic Geochemistry

The sources and fates of organic matter in the natural environment; global cycling of organic carbon; applications to the study of modern and ancient environments. Recommended Background: at least one quarter of earth or environmental science, and one quarter of chemistry. Taught with CIV_ENV 314-0; may not receive credit for both courses. Natural Sciences Distro Area

323-0 – Seismology and Earth Structure

Elastic theory, seismic waves, seismometers and seismograms, ray paths, travel times; internal structure of the earth; field seismology. Recommended Background: EARTH 202-0, calculus, ordinary differential equations, and some exposure to complex numbers. No prior earth science experience required. Natural Sciences Distro Area

324-0 – Earthquakes and Tectonics

Earthquakes: location, characteristics, origin, mechanism, and relation to plate motions; seismic hazard. Recommended Background: Calculus, ordinary differential equations, and some exposure to complex numbers. No prior earth science experience required. Natural Sciences Distro Area

327-0 – Geophysical Time Series Analysis

Analysis of seismic and other geophysical data. Sampling, windowing, discrete and fast Fourier transforms, z-transforms, deconvolution, and filtering. Recommended Background: EARTH 202-0 and calculus differential equations; or consent of instructor.

330-0 – Sedimentary Geology

Sedimentary rocks; stratigraphy; local, regional, and global correlation. Ancient depositional systems; facies analysis in context of tectonic, eustatic, and climatic controls on deposition. Recommended Background: EARTH 201-0 or consent of instructor.

331-0 – Field Problems in Sedimentary Geology

Field methods in stratigraphy and sedimentology; interpretation of depositional systems, facies models, and sequence stratigraphy based on field observations. Includes 3½-week late-summer field trip to Colorado and Utah. Prerequisite: EARTH 330-0.

335-0 – Tectonics and Structural Geology

Deformation of rock masses: strain, fracture, slip, stress, and rheologic regimes; rock structures; folds, faults, foliations; seismic parameters in tectonic studies; orogenic belts and their tectonic evolution. Recommended Background: EARTH 201-0, and at least one credit of physics; or consent of instructor.

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. Recommended Background: Completion of full year of calculus Math and Physics. Natural Sciences Distro Area

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: At least one 200-level EARTH course; or consent of instructor. Natural Sciences Distro Area

342-0 – Contemporary Energy and Climate Change

Interdisciplinary course examining global energy use and associated challenges, including the history of energy use, the science of climate change, and technological, economic, and environmental aspects of various energy sources. Registration reserved for seniors majoring in math, science, or engineering, and graduate students in all disciplines. Taught with ISEN 410-0; may not receive credit for both courses. Natural Sciences Distro Area

343-0 – Earth System Modeling

Introduction to the art and science of reducing Earth's complex systems into simple numerical models to build a better understanding of how components interact and evolve. Recommended Background: At least one 200-level course in Earth or Environmental Science, one course in each of calculus and physics. Natural Sciences Distro Area

350-0 – Physics of the Earth

Solid-earth geophysics: the earth's gravity field, the earth's magnetic field, interior of the earth, heat flow, elementary wave propagation, plate tectonics. Prerequisites: second-year standing in ISP; or comparable background in mathematics and physics and consent of both instructor and ISP director.

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. Recommended Background: EARTH 202-0, and completion of first-year calculus and physics.

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

Theory and application of inverse methods to gravity, magnetotelluric, seismic, and other data. Nonlinear, linearized, underdetermined, and mixed-determined problems and solution methods, including regularized least-squares and neighborhood algorithms. Recommended Background: Linear algebra and differential calculus of multivariable functions.

360-0 – Instrumentation and Field Methods

Theory and practicum on electronic instrumentation for monitoring and measurement in earth sciences, including data loggers, conceptual design and construction of electronic sensors, signal processing, data management, and network design. Recommended Background: 3 EARTH courses.

361-0 – Scientific Programming in Python

Introduction to coding, scientific computing, and visualization for analyzing data in the physical sciences. Emphasis on Python, but Unix, shell scripting, and Generic Mapping Tools are also introduced. Students undertake a significant final coding project individually or in pairs. [Previously offered 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. Recommended Background: EARTH 201-0 and EARTH 202-0, or equivalent. Formal Studies Distro Area

370-0 – Geobiology

The cycling of biogenic elements (C, N, S, Fe, Mn) in surficial environments. Emphasis on microbial processes and isotopic signatures. Recommended Background: At least one course in biology, chemistry, and earth or environmental science. Taught with CIV_ENV 317-0; may not receive credit for both courses. Natural Sciences Distro Area

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 offered 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. Recommended Background: Basic understanding of chemistry, biology, and earth science.

390-0 – Special Topics in Earth and Planetary Sciences

Topics of current interest to students and faculty. Prerequisites vary. May be repeated for credit with different topic.

390-0-02 – Special Topics: GIS Level 2 (Geographic Information Systems 2)

This course offers digital representation and analysis of geospatial phenomena and provides foundations in methods and algorithms used in GIS analysis. The course is designed for students who want to get a comprehensive understanding of GIS and advanced spatial analyses. Each week we will focus on a specific topic and practice the skills in a mini-project. Course project will apply these skills in solving real-world problems based on students' interest of topics.

This course requires knowledge of GIS principles at an introductory level. Students are required to have taken ENVR_SCI 390 GIS Level 1, EARTH 390 GIS level 1, PBC 470 GIS level 1, or GEOG 343, or equivalent. The department will verify that this requirement has been met.

390-0-03 – Special Topics: R Data Science

As we are in the era of ‘big data’, the quantity and quality of data available for environmental, ecological and earth science research has exploded over the past few decades. The free and open-source R programming language has become a powerful tool in data analysis in scientific research. This course offers an introduction to the fundamentals of data science using the programming language, R. The course contents span from basic R programming skills to advanced skills including data management, visualization and analysis of spatial data such as weather and satellite imagery data. By conducting hands-on exercises and an extensive project, students will develop dynamic and reproducible outputs based on their own fields of interests. This course does not require prior coding experience.

390-0-03 – Special Topics: Environmental & Applied Geophysics

Environmental and Applied Geophysics is the use of noninvasive techniques to map the geophysical properties of the Earth's shallow subsurface (<100m). Similar to an MRI or a CT scan of the human body, these techniques allow us to generate an image of the Earth's near surface. This course will cover geophysical methods used to address important environmental issues such as managing Earth's groundwater supplies, locating areas for safe disposal of anthropogenic waste products, ensuring safe building site location, exploring for resources, and identifying ancient archaeological sites, among others. The course will revolve around a field project using a variety of geophysical imaging techniques to address a local environmental issue. The geophysical data will be acquired by class participants over a MANDATORY FULL-DAY SATURDAY FIELD EXCURSION. The data will then by processed and analyzed by the class during four subsequent on-campus lab sections.

390-0-05 – Special Topics: Paleobiology

Fossils record the 3.8 billion year history of life on Earth, and extinct organisms make up 99% of all the species that ever lived.  The fossil record reveals insights into evolutionary processes and the distributions and structures of organisms and ecosystems that cannot be observed by studying living organisms.  This course is an introduction to the concepts of paleobiology: the nature of fossils, evolutionary trends and adaptations, systematics, paleoecology, and biogeography.  We will investigate how life, from individual organisms to whole biomes, has changed over time; the geologic processes that lead to the burial and preservation of organic material; and the scientific methods by which we infer the biological processes that occurred across deep time from the limited and often biased fossil record.  Course has prerequisites.

390-0-06 – Special Topics: Natural Hazards Policy

Defending society against natural hazards is a high-stakes game of chance against nature, involving tough decisions. How should a developing nation allocate its budget between building schools for towns without ones and making existing schools earthquake-resistant? Does it make more sense to build levees to protect against floods, or to prevent development in the areas at risk? Would more lives be saved by making hospitals earthquake-resistant, or by using the funds for patient care? What should scientists tell the public when—as occurred in L’Aquila, Italy, and Mammoth Lakes, California— there is a real but small risk of an upcoming earthquake or volcanic eruption? This course uses general principles and case studies to explore how we can do better by taking an integrated view of natural hazards issues, rather than treating the relevant geoscience, engineering, economics, and policy formulation separately. We will consider thought-provoking questions that confront the complex issues involved.

390-0-07 – Special Topics: Mineral Resources

Mineral Resources: This course provides an introduction to the field of economic geology. Broad topics include resource evaluation, the global distribution and formation of economic deposits, and mine waste in the environment. Topics in resource evaluation will include an introduction to the economic principles behind metals production and consumption, ore body description, the statistical approach to sampling deposits and the determination of cut-off grades. A large portion of this course is dedicated to understanding the physical and geochemical processes that concentrate earth materials into metallic deposits, industrial mineral and salt deposits, and fossil energy materials. The course will conclude with an examination of mining-related environmental issues such as acid mine drainage, heavy metal contamination and the deep disposal of dangerous waste.

399-0 – Independent Study

Special problems under direct faculty supervision. Comprehensive report required. Consent of instructor required.


 438-0 – Advanced Topics in Geophysics

Topics include tectonophysics and the bodily structure of the earth, dislocation theory in earth motions, glaciology, geochronology, and emerging and new areas of geophysics.

440-0 – Advanced Topics in Geochemistry

Topics include organic and environmental geochemistry, global cycling of elements, stable isotope geochemistry, mineral surface reactions.

440-0 – Advanced Topics: Isotope Geobiology

During this course we will delve deeply into the use of natural isotope distributions in the field of Geobiology. We will focus on one isotope system in particular and will read and analyze papers on that topic daily. The course is aimed at graduate students and upper level undergrads and will require deep reading and synthesis of the primary literature.

450-0 – Advanced Topics

Topics at the frontiers of research taught by visiting or departmental faculty.  

450-0-01 – Advanced Topics: Seminar Supercharged

The departmental seminar series provides graduate students with a unique opportunity to explore topics beyond their immediate disciplinary focus, meet with scholars from around the country, and evaluate different styles of scientific communication. This seminar will enrich the student experience through readings from each scholar’s lexicon prior to their seminar and the opportunity to ask the speaker questions in an intimate group setting. The seminar is open to all graduate students and upper level undergraduates with instructor approval.

450-0-02 – Advanced Topics: Communicating Science Beyond Academia

Through reading, discussion, writing and peer critique, this course will explore strategies for successful scientific communication beyond academia. How can scientists break through barriers to understanding and foster engagement with scientific information, while still conveying nuance and uncertainty? What happens when science becomes politicized and controversial? This seminar is open to graduate students in all STEM disciplines, with preference to students who have begun to conduct independent research.

450-0-03 – Advanced Topics: Atmospheric Science

In-depth engagement with subjects and research methodologies pertinent to contemporary atmospheric and climate science. Topical focus varies by offering, but will include topics relevant to the following themes: climate change, detection and attribution, air pollution, atmospheric chemistry, earth system modeling, environmental and societal impacts of atmospheric phenomenon, and/or extreme meteorological events. Interested students should contact course instructor to discuss participation and theme.

451-0 – Advanced Topics in Paleoclimate

Methodology in paleoclimate: stable isotopes, paleoecological and other methods for reconstructing the past climate. Fundamental principles of climate change on the time scale of thousands to millions of years. Climate reconstructions from the Cretaceous to the present.

451-0 – Advanced Topics: Paleoclimate Perspectives on Future Climate Change

What does Earth's eventful climate history tell us about our future?  Emphasis on understanding methods used to reconstruct Cenozoic climates, and on exploring the causes and consequences of climate shifts from the PETM to the late Holocene.  Graduate-level discussions of primary literature. Advanced undergraduates with knowledge of climate change or paleoclimate may register with instructor permission.

461-0 – Advanced Topics in Plate Tectonics

Geophysical study of plate boundary and intraplate processes; intraplate earthquakes and intraplate deformation; the subduction process; physical processes at mid-ocean ridges; history of the ocean basins; evolution of the earth's mantle/crust.

462-0 – Advanced Topics in Seismology

Earthquake source models, normal modes of the earth, and body wave synthesis methods.

519-0 – Responsible Conduct of Research Training

All Earth and Planetary Sciences Graduate Students and Post Doctoral Fellows must complete the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Training in their first year of the program. This course includes 6 online "CITI" modules as well as discussion sections. New students and fellows should contact the Assistant Chair with any questions. Recommended Background: Earth and Planetary Sciences Graduate Students and Post-Doctoral Fellows Only 

DATA_SCI 401 – Data-Driven Research in Physics, Geophysics, and Astronomy

Major projects in earth sciences, physics, and astronomy have revolutionized research in these fields and have created major data challenges. In this course we will review the science motivation and goals and the relevant data challenges of the Earthscope, aLIGO, and LSST projects that represent large-scale investments in these research communities. Although the goals for the three projects may appear to overlap only partially, there are strong intellectual bridges and shared challenges because of the data-intensive science involved.


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