Because more than seventy percent of our planet is covered by oceans, the study of marine systems is crucial to our understanding of Earth History and life on the planet. We will examine chemical, physical, geological, and biological processes in the oceans at a variety of scales in time and space. We will explore how the Earth's oceans formed, how they provided the foundations for life, and how they continue to affect weather and climate, stabilize global chemical cycles, erode coastlines and provide access to resources. We will conclude the semester with a discussion of the human impact on the ocean environment including sea level rise, acidification, coral bleaching and over-fishing.
GEOL-107 Environmental Geology
The only planet known to sustain life, Earth provides all the resources that sustain us, yet at the same time it can be an unpredictable and sometimes dangerous home. Floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other natural processes challenge our ingenuity, while we also contend with self-induced problems such as pollution, desertification, and even global climate change. This course examines earth processes, how these affect our lives, and how we can best live with and sustain our environment. May be taken for 200-level credit with permission of instructor.
GEOL-109 History of Life
Life forms have inhabited the surface of our planet for most of its history. Earth, as a result, has a strange geology unlike that of any other known planet. In this course we will examine the interrelations between life processes and Earth's crust and atmosphere, and how these relationships interact to generate the geology of the planet. By means of hands-on analysis of rocks and fossils, we will study the origin and evolution of life, the diversification of complex life forms, the appearance of large predators, and the causes and consequences of oxygenation of the atmosphere.
GEOL-116 Art in Paleontology
Paleontological art brings ancient organisms back to life. In this course we will consider the role that "PaleoArt" itself plays as a mode of scientific discovery. Beginning with an analysis of the pioneering paleoart of Charles R. Knight, we will examine how paleoartists have uncovered key information about prehistoric life well in advance of its recognition by the scientific community. In a collaborative class project, we will identify the best and most representative works for a possible display somewhere on campus. For individual final class projects, students may choose between a research paper and presentation, and their own paleontological artwork in any visual medium. For the latter, students will be able to utilize resources of the Fimbel Maker and Innovation Lab.
GEOL-126 The Cambrian Explosion
The origin of animals was arguably the most important event in earth history. In this course we will review the history of earth, learn basic geology, and then examine the problem of the origin of animals by studying Mount Holyoke College's superb and unique collection of Proterozoic and Cambrian fossils. The emergence of animals has been called the Cambrian explosion. We will examine what this means for our understanding of evolution as we evaluate hypotheses proposed to explain the relatively sudden appearance of more than half of known animal phyla during the Cambrian event.
GEOL-131 Introduction to Hydrology: A Data Perspective
Understanding hydrology (the distribution and movement of water at the earth's surface) is critical for resource management and climate modeling. With an eye toward these applications, we will use observational data to explore the components of the water cycle (precipitation, evapotranspiration, soil moisture, and streamflow) and the physical processes that govern them. Lectures and hands-on computer exercises are aimed at students with interests in earth and environmental science or data science. No previous experience is necessary. Students will receive an introduction to statistics, computer programming, data visualization techniques, and available environmental data sources.
GEOL-133 Mass Extinction, Dinosaurs and Ecological Recovery
Beginning in Precambrian time over a half billion years ago, mass extinctions have periodically decimated earth's biota and left the biosphere in ruins. For example, both the Permo-Triassic and the End-Cretaceous mass extinctions reshaped life on earth and initiated new geological eras. In this course we will examine why mass extinctions occur and study the ways in which the biosphere recovers from mass extinction events. We will also evaluate the claim that we humans are causing a mass extinction and examine proposals regarding the steps we might take to hasten biospheric recovery.
The first dinosaur fossils to be recognized in North America, footprints of the creatures, were found in South Hadley. The very first dinosaur species described by a woman researcher, and one of the most ancient dinosaur species in the United States (Podokesaurus holyokensis), was discovered close to the Mount Holyoke campus. In this course we will learn the main types of non-avian dinosaurs, compare them to other ancient and modern vertebrates, assess their relationship to birds, debate their physiology (cold-blooded or warm blooded?), examine the ecology of the world they inhabited, and by means of field work, rock drilling and excavation, resume the search for a new specimen of Podokesaurus. To complete the final project, students will select a dinosaur species and study its geological age, geographic distribution, environmental preferences, ecological roles, feeding and reproductive strategies, and body form as they review the history of attempts to reconstruct their adopted dinosaur.
GEOL-141 Making the Past: Geosciences in the Makerspace
The great German paleontologist Dolf Seilacher once remarked that "drawing enforces careful observation." As a consequence, Seilacher drew all of the illustrations for his influential scientific publications. Taking Seilacher's insight into three dimensions, in this course we will utilize Mount Holyoke's Makerspace to reconstruct ancient organisms. Studies have shown that well-crafted reconstructions of ancient creatures contribute substantially to improved scientific interpretation of their functional morphology, behavior and paleoecological role(s). We will use Makerspace resources, Pixologic's Sculptris, 3D printing and other tools to improve our understanding of the morphologies and activities of ancient organisms, while gleaning information derived from the rock record to analyze their ancient morphologies and behaviors.
GEOL-201 Rocks and Minerals
In this course you will learn to recognize the common rock-forming minerals and principal rock types, and to understand their origins, properties, associations, and geological significance. Observational skills and hand sample identification will be emphasized in lab.
GEOL-202 History of Earth
This course explores the evolution and interaction of life, rocks, oceans, and air during the past 4 billion years of earth history. Some topics covered are: the geologic time scale, significant events in earth history, ice ages and greenhouse atmospheres, continental drift, extinctions and radiations of flora and fauna, the geology of the anthropocene, and absolute and relative dating of rocks. Oral presentations and writing assignments focus on the design and testing of earth science hypotheses, critical analysis of recently published research on earth history, and proposal writing.
GEOL-203 The Earth's Surface
The surface of the Earth is a history book of past environmental change. Every hill and valley, every erosional feature and every deposit is the result of processes acting at the Earth's surface. In this course we study these processes (e.g. glaciers, rivers, slopes, coastlines, arid regions, frozen ground, cave formation, soil development and groundwater) to understand how they work and to understand the resulting landforms and deposits. With this understanding we can then observe different landforms and deposits and infer past processes (i.e. environments of deposition). Field work and trips allow students to explore first-hand the processes that have created and modified the Earth's surface.
GEOL-210 Plate Tectonics
Plate tectonic theory explains the origins of volcanoes and earthquakes, continental drift, and the locations of mountain belts and oceans. This course focuses on the geometry of plate tectonics. Topics include mid-ocean ridge systems, transform faults, subduction zones, relative plate motion, earthquake analysis, triple point junctions, and stereographic projection. Work includes individual research projects on active plate boundaries.
From the A-bomb to zircon, uranium has revolutionized humanity's destructive potential and wisdom about time. Uranium is the planet's heaviest naturally occurring element, and it transforms by both radioactive decay and nuclear fission. This course uses computer modeling to explore these two transformations and what we make of them, specifically: the age of the earth, high-precision dating of recent geologic and climate events, nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and radiation and health. Writing and reading assignments focus on science communication for a general audience.
GEOL-227 Groundwater Geology
The demand for and the contamination of groundwater resources are major environmental concerns. To better understand the dynamics of the groundwater system, we will cover topics including the hydrologic cycle, surface and subsurface hydrology, groundwater resource evaluation, and groundwater contamination.
GEOL-229 Hydrology and Hydrogeology: Hydrological Cycle, Surface, and Groundwater Movement
This course will introduce students to water science where we investigate the hydrological cycle, water distribution on the earth's surface and subsurface at the continental and catchments scale. We will study atmospheric processes such as precipitation, evapotranspiration, and surface runoff to understand how it affects the quantity and quality of potable water availability. Students will learn and practice introductory level groundwater calculations which are mathematical equations that describe the flow and storage of water. This introduction to hydrology and hydrogeology contains a laboratory component which will be conducted both indoors and outdoors during the semester. Laboratory experiments will reflect the topics and equations discussed during lecture periods. There will be at least one class local field trip to show students hydrologically significant locations in our area. Some labs will be held at MHC's Environmental Monitoring Program sampling sites on campus where students will learn to use instruments that are commonly used in this field of study.
GEOL-240 Geological Resources and the Environment
This course surveys the geology and exploitation of important mineral deposits and energy resources. We will discuss factors that govern the economics of their production and the environmental implications of their extraction and use.
GEOL-295 Independent Study
GEOL-322 Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology
This course covers mineralogical and chemical compositions, classification, genesis, and mode of occurrence of igneous and metamorphic rocks, including relationships between rock-forming processes and global plate tectonics; labs involve the study of representative rock suites in hand specimen and thin section, introduction to analytical techniques and in-depth coverage of mineral optics.
GEOL-326 Climate Change: Polar Places and Spaces
Earth's polar environments have undergone rapid change during the 21st century and scientists have generated important new data and made groundbreaking insights. Using real data, diverse material types, and a range of activities, we have been selected to "Beta-test" education modules designed to teach polar science and polar exploration. Every module uses a combination of 360-degree interactive environment(s), GIS, and other materials to provide students with authentic scientific data and the opportunity to dive into the field experience. According to the PolarPass website, "Each module explores a specific theme, provides a series of units within that theme to walk students through discovery. Learning activities are designed to enhance students' geospatial skills and support development of a sense of polar place, even without traveling to these exciting environments." Note: this is an upper-level climate science course that will involve using real climate and proxy data to better understand past and present climate change. Human dimensions of climate change although incredibly important are not the focus of this course.
GEOL-333 Structural Geology and Orogenesis
This course covers the basic techniques of field geology and structural analysis. Lectures concentrate on field techniques, stress, strain, faulting, folding, rock strength, deformation mechanisms, and multidisciplinary approaches to mountain building (orogenesis). Many labs are field trips that involve data collection. Weekly writing assignments focus on presenting original research and distinguishing between observations and interpretations.
GEOL-342 Seminar in Geology
Seminars offer directed study and discussion of one or more selected topics in geology. Topics vary from year to year. Consult the department for information about future seminars.
GEOL-342DV Seminar in Geology: 'Death Valley Field Course'
This seminar will cover selected topics on the geology of Death Valley region, California. We will meet for two hours per week up until spring break, then embark on a nine-day field trip to Death Valley National Park, March 2021. A participation fee is required. Students will be responsible for researching particular topics and presenting a final report.
GEOL-342HY Seminar in Geology: ''Geology and Hydrology Underfoot'
To avoid the worst of climate change we must wean ourselves from fossil fuels and develop and use more sustainable methods of heating and cooling. Is it possible to replace our central heating plant with heat from earth? What are the rocks that underlie campus and how does ground water move through them? In this course we will learn about the geology of the Connecticut Valley to better understand the geology under our campus. Using borehole geophysical and temperature data collected from a deep well on campus, we will correlate the borehole stratigraphy with the regional valley stratigraphy and we will assess the hydrology and geothermal potential of the geology beneath campus.
GEOL-342PE Seminar in Geology: 'Plastics in the Environment'
Plastics are a part of everyday life. They are inexpensive, lightweight, last forever, and are accumulating in the environment. Macro-plastics are killing whales and micro-plastics are ingested by plankton. Studies have found micro-plastics in remote areas of the planet and in rainwater indicating wide-scale atmospheric transport and deposition. This seminar is aimed at understanding plastics as a material, how they are used, the ways they enter the environment, the ecological and health impacts and potential solutions to the problem. There will be weekly readings with faculty or student-led discussions. A term paper on a plastics topic of your choice will culminate the course.
GEOL-342WA Seminar in Geology: 'Water Issues Worldwide'
Potable water is in much higher demand worldwide because of climate change. This seminar discusses research publications about the problems contributing to current water insecurity. Lectures will focus on assigned weekly readings that discuss each issue, case studies in multiple countries, and the analytical methods used for analyses. In addition, students will be required to complete weekly written assignments and a research project where they will apply the gained knowledge. The structure of this course will be beneficial to students who plan on attending graduate school in the STEM fields.
GEOL-395 Independent Study