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GY140: Introduction to Physical Geology

Two threads of analysis will be intertwined throughout this course. The first thread will be a study of Physical Geology starting from the atomic scale and going through global systems. This thread will be developed though learning to recognize minerals, igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic, and mixed rocks to interpretations of depositional environments, understanding geological time, earth movements, and historical geology through plate tectonics. The second thread, Environmental Geology, studies the impact of these geological processes on humans.  This includes volcanoes, earthquakes, flooding, soils and desertification, mineral and energy resources, and so on.  Both threads come together in thinking about Earth Systems Science. So we will also consider biogeochemical cycles and circulation patterns in the atmosphere and oceans, as we develop a sense of the Earth as a system.

Throughout the course, we will reflect on the place of humans within this system. What readings have you done in the Philosophy of Science (including gender and racial perspectives)? You have all been practicing some form of science in school. How much of that training is reflective of the reality of scientific discovery? We will work through a series of readings, designed to examine the nature of science and environmental ethics, with ideas drawn from deep ecology, ecofeminism, environmental racism, and alternative perspectives on the environment in which we live, leading to philosophical questions about the place of humans in the Earth System.

The course makes good use of local Rocky Mountain
settings as a natural laboratory where we
investigate the record of Earth history
preserved in the rocks and the dynamic
earth processes in effect in the mountain
environment. A vast span of geological time
from 1.8 billion years ago to the present is
well represented in the
Colorado Front Range, allowing
interpretation of the succession of ancient
environments, supporting both marine and terrestrial organisms, that existed in Colorado. The structural architecture and the sedimentary record exposed in the mountains of Colorado and surrounding regions offer a context for investigation of several cycles of mountain building activity related to plate tectonic events.  We will see how human use of land that is not necessarily stable (over floodplains, landslides, abandoned mines, swelling soils, …) has led to various predicaments.

The course devotes time to learning the language of geology and to recognition of earth materials as the basis for field investigation and scientific questioning in the domain of earth science. Applied field and laboratory exercises will develop skills in use of topographic maps and compass, rock & mineral identification and interpretation, rock origins and plate tectonic processes. The course will involve a fair amount of time on day-long field trips.