Courses

Student working in a lab

We teach about how the earth works, inside and out. Whether to fulfill science distribution requirements, round out a background in physics or biology (or classics, or economics!), or to major in Geosciences, our Department has many topical and exciting courses.

Our Mountain setting is beautiful, and also acts as a natural Geoscience lab. Geosciences students often spend time outdoors, learning experientially about the world we all live in,  looking at earth systems processes as they are happening. Whether assessing the flood potential of local streams, mapping the folded and faulted rocks of the Taconics or Green Mountains, studying Pleistocene glacial deposits, or collecting minerals or fossils, Geosciences students gain a wealth of enriching earth science experience. 

In addition to field trips and activities, cutting-edge lab techniques and analyses are also central to Geosciences, and students gain hands-on experience with microscopy, coding (MatLab, R, and other programming languages), a wide range of analytic techniques (Scanning Electron Microscopy, various forms of chemical analysis), and GIS mapping and interpretation  Many courses have built-in research projects, and we also train our students in writing and presentation skills.

Introductory Courses

Introductory courses are designed for any student wanting to know more about our home planet. Not just for prospective majors, these courses are broad overviews that give fascinating insight into how the earth works. There are no prerequisites, and all courses include field and lab work.

Upper-Level Courses

Upper-level courses focus on specific aspects of geosciences in greater depth. The 200-level courses are open to any student who has taken a 100-level geosciences course.

Note: Courses in gray are not available this year.

GEOS 100 LEC Introduction to Weather and Climate

Last offered Spring 2020

How is it that we have such a hard time predicting if it's going to rain next week, but we can be confident in projections of future climate change decades from now? This course will explore the atmosphere and how air moves and changes, understanding the wind, clouds, precipitation, and extreme events (including thunderstorms, hurricanes, and tornados) that form our weather. Building off of our understanding of the atmosphere, we'll look at longer time scales to develop a basic understanding of earth's climate, global heat and moisture transport, climate change, and the ways that humans can change our planet. We will look at weather and climate models to learn how to scientists and meteorologists predict future conditions. Labs will include local field trips, bench top experiments, and running a climate model on a computer. This course is in the Oceans and Climate group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 101 LEC The Co-Evolution of Earth and Life

Last offered Fall 2019

Our planet is about 4.6 billion years old and has supported life for at least the last 3.5 billion of those years. This course will consider the inter-related nature of Earth and the life that inhabits it, starting with the first living organisms and progressing to the interaction of our own species with the Earth today. Students will investigate the dynamic nature of the Earth-life system, examine many of its feedbacks, and learn about the dramatic changes that have occurred throughout the history of the Earth. We will ask questions such as: How did the Earth facilitate biologic evolution, and what effects did those biologic events have on the physical Earth? When did photosynthesis evolve, how can we detect that in the rock record, and how did this biological event lead to profound changes in the environment? How and why did animals evolve and what role did environmental change play in the radiation of animal life? How did the rise and radiation of land plants affect world climate? How do plate tectonics, glaciation, and volcanism influence biodiversity and evolutionary innovation? What caused mass extinctions in the past and what can that teach us about our current extinction crisis? Labs will involve hands-on analysis of rocks, fossils, and real-world data as well as conceptual and analytical exercises; field trips will contextualize major events in Earth history and will help students learn to read the rock record. Through these investigations, the class will provide a comprehensive overview of Earth history, with special attention paid to the geological and paleontological history of the northeastern United States. This course is in the Sediments and Life group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 102(S) LEC An Unfinished Planet

The Earth is a work-in-progress, an evolving planet whose vital signs--as expressed by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and shifting plates--are still strong. In a geological time frame, nothing on Earth is permanent: ocean basins open and close, mountains rise and fall, continental masses collide and pull apart. There is a message here for all of us who live, for an infinitesimally brief time, on the moving surface of the globe. This course uses the plate tectonics model--one of the fundamental scientific accomplishments of the past century--to interpret the processes and products of a changing Earth. The emphasis will be on mountain systems (on land and beneath the oceans) as expressions of plate interactions. Specific topics include the rocks and structures of modern and ancient mountain belts, the patterns of global seismicity and volcanism, the nature of the Earth's interior, the changing configurations of continents and ocean basins through time, and, in some detail, the formation of the Appalachian Mountain system and the geological assembly of New England. Readings will be from a physical geology textbook, a primary source supplement, selected writings of John McPhee, and references about the geology of the Northeast. This course is in the Solid Earth group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 104(F) LEC Oceanography

In this wide-ranging and integrated introduction to the oceans we will examine formation and history of the ocean basins; composition and origin of seawater; currents, tides, and waves; ocean-atmosphere interactions; oceans and climate; deep-marine environments; coastal processes; productivity in the oceans; marine resources; and human impacts. We will discuss current research, and address issues of colonialism and racism in oceanographic science. This course is in the Oceans and Climates group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 106 SEM Being Human in STEM

Last offered Fall 2019

This course combines academic inquiry and community engagement to investigate the themes of diversity and social climate within STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines. Students will examine how diverse identities including but not limited to gender, race, disability, sexuality, national origin, socioeconomic status, religion, and ethnicity shape the STEM experience both at Williams and nationally. We will ground our understanding through critical reading of primary scholarly research on topics such as implicit bias, identity threat, and effects of team diversity on excellence. From there, we will execute small group projects. Students will design, execute, and evaluate interventions that relate to the course goals and that have direct relevance to Williams students, faculty, and staff. For example, a student group could implement a survey of minoritized STEM students, or create a qualitative interview-based assessment of how socioeconomic status impacts students' abilities to participate in STEM fields. Course work includes weekly readings, reflective/opinion writing, in class discussion, and the development and presentation of a group project. [ more ]

Taught by: Savan Kharel

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GEOS 107(F) LEC Astrobiology

Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, and distribution of life in the universe. As such it is an inherently interdisciplinary field, incorporating all of the basic natural sciences: biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and the earth sciences, as well as aspects of philosophy, sociology, and engineering. Questions we will seek answers to in this class include: How, why, when, and where did life evolve on Earth, and what does that tell us about how it might evolve elsewhere? What are the chances that there is life on other planets and moons in our solar system, and why? Are there habitable planets elsewhere in the universe, and will we ever truly know if any of them contain life? We will approach these questions using a combination of lectures, activities, labs, homework assignments, and visits from some of the country's leading Astrobiology researchers. Examples of lab and homework activities include exploring our definition of life by making observations about living and non-living systems, examining evidence for ancient habitable environments in rocks, and modeling chemical fingerprinting tools used by Mars rovers. Assessment will be based on participation, quizzes, labs and homework assignments, and a final group project where students will present a mock NASA mission proposal. This course requires no previous experience in the sciences. This course is in the Sediments and Life group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 111(F) TUT Radical Science- How Geology Changed the Way We See the World

Copernicus shocked Europe when he suggested that the Earth is not the center of the universe. Hutton and other geologists made an equally radical proposal more than two centuries later when they introduced the concept of deep time and argued that the Earth was much older than 6,000 years, as determined by biblical scholars. Several decades later, Darwin and Wallace shook the foundation of western philosophy once more when they proposed that organisms evolved. When geologists reinterpreted landscape features once attributed to the great flood as evidence for past continental glaciation, the concept of extreme climate change through time sprang to life. During the 20th century, the permanence of Earth's geography was challenged by the continental drift hypothesis, which was initially rejected for decades until it reemerged as plate tectonic theory. This tutorial explores how geologic breakthroughs challenged western views of humans as the center of creation living in a world with limited change. There will be weekly tutorial meetings with pairs of students, and students will alternate writing papers on assigned topics. This course is in the Solid Earth group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 201(F) LEC Field Methods and Structural Geology

Geologic history is preserved in rocks and it can be deciphered using fundamental principles such as superposition and cross-cutting relationships. Field observations are essential to understanding the rock record, and data and interpretations are encoded in geologic maps. This course introduces students to topographic and geologic maps, best practices for geologic field work, the field identification of common minerals and rocks, geologic contacts, and structures such as folds, and faults. Students will develop skills for presenting field data in papers, figures, and oral presentations. This course is in the Solid Earth group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 202 LEC Mineralogy

Last offered Fall 2020

This course could be subtitled "An Introduction to Earth Materials and Analytical Techniques." As the basis for all subsequent solid-earth courses in the major, it provides a systematic framework for the study of minerals--Earth's building blocks: their physical and chemical properties at all scales and the common analytical methods used to identify and interpret them. The course progresses from hand-specimen morphology and crystallography through element distribution and crystal chemistry to the phase relations, compositional variation, and mineral associations within major rock-forming mineral systems. Laboratory work includes the determination of crystal symmetry; mineral separation; the principles and applications of optical emission spectroscopy; wavelength- and energy-dispersive x-ray spectrochemical analysis; x-ray diffraction; the use of the petrographic microscope; and the identification of important minerals in hand specimen and thin section. This course is in the Solid Earth group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

Taught by: Bud Wobus

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GEOS 205 LEC Economic Geology and Earth Resources

Last offered Fall 2019

"If it can't be grown, it must be mined." We depend on the solid Earth for a huge array of resources. The metal in your soda can, the plastic in your Nalgene, the components of your computer, the glass in your window, the hydrocarbons being burned to keep you warm in the winter or to transport you in cars or aircraft, the cars and aircraft themselves: all are made of materials mined from the Earth. Right now there are more people building more houses, paving more roads, making more vehicles, more electronics, and more plastic packaging-all with geologic materials. As demand soars in both established and growing economies, and as we realize the environmental damage that can result from resource extraction and processing, the importance of understanding Earth's resources increases. Finding new deposits and managing those we have requires insight into the geology that underlies the location and origin of strategic Earth materials. This class introduces the geologic processes that control formation, distribution, and extent of materials reserves: dimension stone and gravel, base and precious metal ores, gemstones, petroleum, nuclear energy sources, and specialty materials for medical, technological, and military uses. This course is in the SOLID EARTH GROUP for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 210(F, S) LEC Oceanographic Processes

This course examines ocean and coastal environmental science issues including carbon dioxide and the ocean's role in climate, El Niño and other ocean-atmosphere oscillations that influence our weather, coastal erosion and other hazards, coastal pollution, and fisheries. The focus is on controlling processes with regional comparisons. Blue water oceanography is conducted in the Atlantic and comparative coastal oceanography includes trips to southern New England shores, and the West and Gulf coasts of the US as part of the Williams-Mystic program. This course is in the Oceans and Climate group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

Taught by: Rachel Scudder

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GEOS 212(S) LEC Paleobiology

The fossil record is a direct window into the history of life on Earth and contains a wealth of information on evolution, biodiversity, and climate change. This course investigates the record of ancient life forms, from single-celled algae to snails to dinosaurs. We will explore how, why, when, and where fossils form and learn about the major groups of fossilized organisms and how they have changed through time. In addition, we will cover a range of topics central to modern paleobiology. These include: how the fossil record informs our understanding of evolutionary processes including speciation; the causes and consequences of mass extinctions; how fossils help us tell time and reconstruct the Earth's climactic and tectonic history; statistical analysis of the fossil record to reconstruct biodiversity through time; analysis of fossil morphology to recreate the biomechanics of extinct organisms; and using fossil communities to reconstruct past ecosystems. Laboratory exercises will take advantage of Williams' fossil collections as well as published datasets to provide a broad understanding of fossils and the methods we use to study the history of life on Earth, including using the programming language R (no previous experience is required). We will also view a diversity of fossils in their geologic and paleo-environmental context on our field trip to Eastern New York. This course is in the Sediments and Life group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 214(S) LEC Mastering GIS

The development of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has allowed us to investigate incredibly large and spatially complex data sets like never before. From assessing the effects of climate change on alpine glaciers, to identifying ideal habitat ranges for critically endangered species, to determining the vulnerability of coastal communities to storms, GIS tools have opened the door for important, large-scale environmental analyses. And as these technologies improve, our ability to understand the world grows ever greater. This course will teach you how to use GIS tools to investigate environmental problems. We will review fundamental principles in geography, the construction and visualization of geospatial datasets, and tools for analyzing geospatial data. Special attention will also be given to analysis of remotely sensed (satellite) imagery and to collection of field data. By the end of the course, you will be able to conduct independent GIS-based research and produce maps and other geospatial imagery of professional quality. [ more ]

GEOS 215 LEC Climate Changes

Last offered Fall 2020

In recent years, there has been a growing public and scientific interest in the Earth's climate and its variability. This interest reflects both concern over future climate changes resulting from anthropogenic increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases and growing recognition of the economic impact of "natural" climate variability (for example, El Niño events), especially in the developing world. Efforts to understand the Earth's climate system and predict future climate changes require both study of parameters controlling present day climate and detailed studies of climate changes in the past. In this course, we will review the processes that control the Earth's climate, like solar radiation, the greenhouse effect, ocean circulation, configuration of continents, and positive and negative feedbacks. At the same time, we will review the geological record of climate changes in the past, examining their causes. Laboratories and problem sets will emphasize developing problem solving skills as well as sampling and interpreting geological archives of climate change. This course is in the Oceans and Climate group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 217 LEC Planets and Moons

Last offered Spring 2020

This course examines the history and geology of the solar system. No two planets are exactly alike, and as we acquire more data and higher-resolution images, our sense of wonder grows. However, we can't hike around and hammer rocks on Venus or Titan, so we have to infer composition, form, texture and process from remotely-captured images and sparse chemical and spectral data. We will consider the origin of the solar system, the formation and evolution of planetary bodies, and the role of impacts, volcanism, tectonics and geomorphology in shaping them. We will summarize basic geological concepts of stratigraphy, structure and chronology and show how they can be applied off-world. We will review solar system exploration, and will include planetary data in lab exercises. This course is in the Solid Earth group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 220 TUT Evolution of and on Volcanic Islands

Last offered Fall 2020

Plate tectonic theory accounts for the vast majority of volcanic islands in ocean basins. They form above mantle plume hot spots (Hawaiian and Galapagos Islands), subduction zones (Aleutian and Indonesian arcs), and mid-ocean ridges (Azores and Ascension Island). Iceland is unusual because it is located above a hot spot and the mid-Atlantic ridge. Each plate tectonic setting produces chemically distinctive magmas, and the lifespan of volcanic islands varies widely. Islands above hot spots may be geographically remote and emergent for only several million years, but be part of a long-lived sequence of islands that persists for over a hundred million years. In contrast, island arc volcanoes belong to long geographically continuous chains of volcanoes, commonly in close proximity to continents. This tutorial explores the geologic evolution and lifespan of volcanic islands from formation to submergence, and searches for correlations between these characteristics and plate tectonic setting. We will also consider how geographic isolation, areal extent, lifespan, and climate affect biological evolution on volcanic islands.There will be weekly tutorial meetings with pairs of students, and students will alternate writing papers on assigned topics. This course is in the Solid Earth group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 221 TUT Examining Inconvenient Truths: Climate Science meets U.S. Senate Politics

Last offered Fall 2020

Former President Barack Obama once said: "There's one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent threat of a changing climate." While consensus regarding the causes and impacts of climate change has been growing steadily among scientists and researchers (and to some extent, the general public) over the past two decades, the U.S. has yet to confront this issue in a manner consistent with its urgency. This lack of action in the U.S. is at least partly due to the fact that science provides necessary but insufficient information towards crafting effective climate change legislation and the unfortunate fact that climate change has become a highly partisan issue. The primary objective of this tutorial will be to help students develop a greater understanding of the difficulties associated with crafting climate change legislation, with an emphasis on the role of science and politics within the legislative process. To this end, the tutorial will address how the underlying scientific complexities embedded in most climate policies (e.g., offsets, carbon capture and sequestration, uncertainty and complexity of the climate system, leakage) must be balanced by and blended with the different operational value systems (e.g., economic, social, cultural, religious) that underlie U.S. politics. Over the course of this tutorial, students will develop a nuanced sense of how and when science can support the development of comprehensive national climate change legislation within the current partisan climate. This course will take a practical approach, where students will craft weekly policy oriented documents (e.g., policy memos, action memos, research briefs) targeted to selected members of the current U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the committee that has historically held jurisdiction over a majority of the major climate change bills that have moved through the legislative process. This course is in the Oceans and Climate group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 227(S) TUT Climate Data Analysis

In this tutorial, students will learn how to access and work with the datasets that show how our climate is changing. The course introduces a series of analytical methods used in climate science, and students then apply those 'recipes' to data of their choosing to research parts of the climate system. Over the course of the term, a student might investigate the seasonality of global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, maps of sea level anomalies, and the impact El Niño patterns have on Western US rainfall. Students will present their findings, and their insights into the particular aspect of the climate system, at weekly tutorial meetings. Analytical approaches covered in the class include climatologies, time series analysis (trends, periodicity, and autocorrelation), anomaly maps, composites, and zonal/meridional averaging. As for regions and climate systems students can explore: the sky is the limit. This course is in the Oceans and Climates group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 234 LEC Introduction to Materials Science

Last offered Spring 2020

Materials Science is the study of how the microscopic structure of materials--whether steel, carbon fiber, glass, wood, plastic, or mayonnaise--determines their macroscopic mechanical, thermal, electric, and other properties. Topics of this course include classifying materials; material structure; thermodynamics and phase transformations; material properties and testing; how solids bend, flow, and ultimately break; and how to choose the right material for design applications. Materials Science is a highly interdisciplinary field and as a result the course prerequisites are broad but also flexible. Interested students who are unsure about their preparation are strongly encouraged to contact the instructor. [ more ]

GEOS 250 TUT Climate,Tectonics, and Erosion

Last offered Spring 2021

Traditionally tectonics investigated processes operating deep in the crust and mantle, whereas geomorphology focused on surficial processes that shape the landscape. This course explores the complex interactions between tectonic and surficial processes. It has long been recognized that crustal uplift during mountain building creates new landscapes, but we now suspect that variations in erosion rate can fundamentally influence the development of mountains. Climate plays a central role in this feedback loop; the rise of mountains can change climate, and such changes can alter regional erosion rates. This course will examine how geologists use characteristic markers to estimate the amount of surface uplift, methods for determining uplift rate, surface response to faulting and folding, measuring displacement of the crust with GPS and interferometry methods, how mountain building affects erosion and exhumation rates, the limits to relief in mountains, and the interaction between mountains and climate. This course is in the Solid Earth group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 255(F) LEC Environmental Observation

To study the environment, we need to observe and measure it. We collect data--numbers that represent system states--and analyze them to create understanding of the world we live in. Advances in technology create more opportunities to discover how the planet works. Through a survey of observational approaches (including weather stations, direct sampling, remote sensing, community-based monitoring, and other techniques), this course will investigate the process of turning a physical property in the environment into a number on a computer and then into meaningful information. We will explore both direct field measurements and remote sensing techniques, diving into how to choose the appropriate sensor for a scientific question, how sensors work, analysis approaches and statistical methods, and how to interpret the resulting data. We will also learn how to mitigate measurement bias through a combination of lab experiments and field work and how to make interpretations of measurements that accurately reflect what is being measured. The course will focus on the near-surface environment, including the atmosphere, water, and biosphere. Students will carry out a research project using observation techniques covered in class to explore a scientific question of interest. This course is in the Oceans and Climate group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 301(F) LEC Geomorphology

Geomorphology is the study of landforms, the processes that shape them, and the rates at which these processes change the landscape in which we live. The course is designed for Geosciences majors and for environmental studies students interested in the evolution of Earth's surface and the ways our activities are changing the planet. We will examine the ways in which climatic, tectonic, and volcanic forces drive landscape evolution over relatively short periods of geologic time, generally thousands to a few millions of years. More recently, the impacts of human activity in reshaping landscapes, determining the movement of water, and changing climate could not be clearer. We will also examine how these impacts are affecting communities, including causes and possible solutions to environmental injustice. We will learn a range of practical skills for describing physical environments and for predicting how they change, including field surveys, GIS analysis, and numerical modelling. This course is in the Sediments and Life group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 302(S) SEM Sedimentology

Sediments and sedimentary rocks are the book in which Earth's history is recorded, where we read the stories of ancient oceans and continents, and how life evolved. Sand and dirt preserve information about the rocks that were eroded to form them, the fluids and forces that transported them, the ways in which they were deposited, and the ecosystems that they supported. Understanding sediments is also fundamental to society, for many kinds of civil engineering as well as pollution and environmental remediation. We will investigate sediment composition, fluid mechanics, bedforms, and depositional environments, building to an integrated understanding of erosion, deposition, and changes over time. We will also acknowledge and examine the roles that racism and colonialism have played in sedimentologic research. This course is in the Sediments and Life group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 303 LEC Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology

Last offered Spring 2021

Using plate tectonics and the geologic assembly of New England as a template, this course explores the origin of crystalline rocks--volcanic, plutonic, and metamorphic--that comprise 94% of the Earth's crust. Field and lab studies are the crux of the course, supported by experimental work and thermodynamic principles. Chemical and mineralogical compositions and rock fabrics provide evidence for crystallization environments and tectonic settings, past and present. This course is in the Solid Earth group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

Taught by: Bud Wobus

Catalog details

GEOS 309 LEC Modern Climate

Last offered Fall 2020

What will happen to the Earth's climate in the next century? What is contributing to sea level rise? Is Arctic sea ice doomed? In this course we will study the components of the climate system (atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere, biosphere and land surface) and the processes through which they interact. Greenhouse gas emission scenarios will form the basis for investigating how these systems might respond to human activity. This course will explore how heat and mass are moved around the atmosphere and ocean to demonstrate how the geographic patterns of climate change arise. We will also focus on climate feedback effects--like the albedo feedback associated with sea ice and glacier loss--and how these processes can accelerate climate change. In labs we will learn MATLAB to use process and full-scale climate models to investigate the behavior of these systems in response to increasing greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. This course is in the Oceans and Climate group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 312 TUT Mass Extinctions: Patterns and Processes

Last offered Spring 2018

Over the last 542 million years of Earth history, five major mass extinctions have occurred, each dramatically changing the makeup and course of life on our planet. During some of these events, over 75% of all marine animal species went extinct and groups like the dinosaurs vanished from the planet after over 100 million years of ecological dominance. This tutorial course will explore the idea of extinction from the evolution of the concept in human thought to current research on the mechanisms and patterns of extinctions through time. We will examine what makes an extinction "mass", delve into the causes and consequences of the major mass extinction events of the phanerozoic, and discuss the potential human-induced "6th extinction" event occurring in the present day. This course is in the Sediments and Life group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 314 SEM Analytical Historical Geology

Last offered Spring 2020

In this course you will learn to collect, interpret, and analyze deep time paleontological, stratigraphic, and sedimentological records through readings, labs, and projects all coordinated around a week long spring break trip to explore the House Range of Utah. The Cambrian and Ordovician successions of Utah's West Desert offers an outstanding record of one of the most important periods in Earth history, tracking the rise of animal ecosystems and major increases in diversity. The first 6 weeks of class will be spent learning the fundamentals of quantitative methods in paleontology and stratigraphy. Labs will focus on skill building including learning basic coding in R, and learning how to interpret paleontological, sedimentological, and stratigraphic data. We will also read widely on the field locality and on the Cambrian and Ordovician Periods. During the field trip, we will explore the House Range. Students will learn skills including geological mapping, measuring stratigraphic section, finding and identifying fossils, and correlating rock units across basins. We will collect samples and data on the field trip and bring them back to Williams. The second 6 weeks of the course will be spent processing and analyzing the samples and data collected during the field trip, culminating in final projects to be done in small groups. Students will determine what data we will collect in the field. Examples might be trilobite taxonomy and phylogenetic analyses, quantitative biostratigraphic correlation using conodont fossils, reconstructing paleoenvironment based on sedimentological analyses of thin sections, or building a sequence stratigraphic framework for a subset of the field locality. This course is in the Sediments and Life group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 317 SEM Current topics in Planetary Geology

Last offered Spring 2021

We will look in detail at geological processes on rocky and icy bodies of the Solar System. Each week will have a specific theme, and students will read a series of scientific articles on that topic. The readings will form the basis for writing and discussion. Areas to be investigated may include ice ages on Mars, the origin of Earth's moon, tectonics on Venus, chaos terrain on Europa, geysers on Enceladus, cryovolcanism on Triton, methane lakes on Titan, the viability of mining in the Asteroid Belt, and the prospects for life on other worlds. This course is in the Solid Earth group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

GEOS 324 LEC Corals and Sea Level

Last offered Spring 2019

In coastal communities, increasing flood damage from storm surges and chronic inundation by seawater are already happening as a result of sea level rise. How do we know what contributes to the observed change in sea level in the last century? What does the geological record teach us about what controls the natural variation in sea level on short and long timescales? How can we use this information to separate anthropogenic effects from natural change in modern systems? And how does this inform us on what to expect through the 21st century and beyond? In this course, we will examine how sea level is reconstructed using geological archives and how coral-based sea level data led to breakthroughs in our understanding of the long-term evolution of the ocean and climate, the controls in the timing of ice age cycles, the singularity of modern climate change, and how high the future seas will rise. During Spring Break, the class will travel to Barbados, a renowned locality for Quaternary sea level reconstruction, to observe modern and ancient reefs, and collect samples that will be the basis of individual or group projects in the second half of the semester. Participation in the Spring Break trip is not required for successful completion of the course, but course enrollment is necessary to attend the trip. This course is in the Oceans and Climate group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

GEOS 401 TUT Global Tectonics and the Rise of Mountains

Last offered Fall 2020

Fifty years after the sea-floor spreading hypothesis was first verified using magnetic anomalies, we have spectacular data sets from paleomagnetism, seismology, volcanism, the Global Positioning System, and digital elevation models that provide rich details into the kinematics and mechanisms of present and past plate motions. We will read journal articles to explore how plate tectonics can help explain the evolution of mountain belts with special emphasis on the Appalachians. [ more ]

GEOS 404(F) LEC Coastal Processes and Geomorphology

Can people live safely along the coast? Recent events like SuperStorm Sandy and the Tohoku Tsunami have shown us how the ocean can rise up suddenly and wreak havoc on our lives and coastal infrastructure. Only educated geoscientists can evaluate the risks and define informed strategies to prevent future coastal catastrophes. Currently almost half the global population lives within 100 km of the coast, with a large percent of those living in densely populated cities (e.g., New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Cape Town, Sydney, Mumbai). Despite the growing risks and challenges associated with climate change and rising sea levels, the coastal population continues to grow rapidly. To help ensure these growing populations can live safely along the coast requires a detailed understanding of the processes that shape the coastal zone. These processes act across a variety of scales, from deep-time geologic processes that dictate coastal shape and structure, to decadal-scale processes that determine shoreline position and evolution, to weekly and daily processes such as storms and tides. This course will provide an in-depth look at the forces--wind, waves, storms, and people--that shape the coastal zone, as well as the geologic formations--sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, barrier islands, deltas, and coral reefs--that are acted upon and resist these forces. Coastal dynamics are strongly affected by human interventions, such as seawalls, dredged channels, and sand dune removal, as well as by sea level rise and changes in storm frequency and magnitude associated with climate change. Finally, the course will provide students with a perspective on how the U.S. seeks to manage its coastal zone, focusing on sea level rise and coastal development. This class will include a quantitative lab that will use MATLAB software to model and evaluate various coastal processes. Students will gain a basic understanding of MATLAB functionality, and will be asked to independently apply what they have learned to various data sets provided by the instructor. [ more ]

GEOS 405 SEM Geochemistry: Understanding Earth's Environment

Last offered Fall 2017

Rocks, water, air, life: what comprises these interconnected components of the Earth system? How do they interact today, and how did these interactions differ in the past? In this course we will study how chemical elements are distributed in the Earth, cycle through the Earth system, and act together to produce a planet that is habitable. As Earth's landscapes and oceans, and the life they harbor, have evolved through time, they have left an imprint in the geological record that we can read using geochemical tools such as molecular fossils, elemental ratios, and stable and radioactive isotopes. Topics include the synthesis of elements in stars, the formation and differentiation of planet Earth; radiometric dating; the major constituents of the atmosphere, rain, rocks, rivers and the ocean; how they're linked by chemical weathering and biological activity; and reconstruction of past environments. Students will explore these topics through lecture; reading and discussing articles from the scientific literature; and collecting, analyzing and interpreting data from environmental samples. [ more ]

GEOS 410(S) SEM The Cryosphere

The Earth's climate system is often described in terms of its spheres, including the atmosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, oceans, and the cryosphere. The cryosphere is the naturally occurring ice on Earth in all its many forms: snow, glaciers, ice sheets, sea ice, frozen lakes and rivers, and permafrost (frozen soil). These parts of the climate system may seem remote, but have implications for climate and weather around the world. Melting glaciers and ice sheets have already contributed to sea level rise, and are projected to do so even more in the future. This course will explore the cryosphere, including snow, sea ice, permafrost, and glaciers through lectures, hands-on and data analysis labs, reading journal articles, and a final project. A spring break field trip to Alaska offers the opportunity to get boots-on-the-snow experience with glaciers, sea ice, and permafrost. As a 400-level seminar, this capstone course is intended to build on and extend knowledge and skills students have developed during previous courses in the major. [ more ]

GEOS 411 SEM Geobiology

Last offered Fall 2018

Geobiology--the study of interactions between earth and life over geologic timescales--is a new and interdisciplinary field that has grown out of exciting advances in earth and life sciences. During this course we will examine the many ways in which organisms -- from bacteria to trees -- have left their mark on our planet. Topics include the origin of life, the rise of oxygen in the earth's atmosphere, the evolution of biomineralization, the environmental context for animal evolution, the role of microbial communities in the earth system, the emergence of land plants, and the potential for planet-life interactions elsewhere in our solar system. Geobiology incorporates tools and ideas from geochemistry, paleontology, microbiology, and sedimentology. Class time will be divided between lectures and student-led discussions of primary literature. Labs will be varied and involve everything from growing our own microbial ecosystems to querying online databases and analyzing geological, geochemical, genetic, and paleontological data. Our field trip will take us to Upstate New York where we will sample water from a stratified lake and visit ancient microbial fossil reefs. The final project will involve writing a proposal in small groups on a geobiological topic based on the style and format of a National Science Foundation grant, and presenting the idea to the class. [ more ]

GEOS 493(F) HON Senior Thesis: Geosciences

Geosciences senior thesis; this is part of a full-year thesis (493-494). [ more ]

GEOS 494(S) HON Senior Thesis: Geosciences

Geosciences senior thesis; this is part of a full-year thesis (493-494). [ more ]