12.090 | Spring 2007 | Undergraduate
The Environment of the Earth's Surface


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


Permission of instructor


This course covers the following topics: Production and movement of surficial materials; soils and soil erosion; precipitation; streams and lakes; groundwater flow; glaciers and their deposits. The course combines aspects of geology, climatology, hydrology, and soil science to present a coherent introduction to the surface of the Earth, with emphasis on both fundamental concepts and practical applications, as a basis for understanding and intelligent management of the Earth’s physical and chemical environment.


  • Physics and chemistry of the Earth’s surface

    • Heating and cooling
    • The chemistry of the surface zone
    • The nature of water
    • The flow of water
  • The solid materials of the Earth’s surface

    • Minerals
    • Rocks
    • Bedrock
    • Weathering
    • Regolith and sediment
    • Soils
  • Topography

    • Maps, and how to read them
    • Understanding and using contours and contour maps
    • Geologic maps and cross sections
  • Groundwater

    • Infiltration and percolation
    • The physics of groundwater movement
    • Aquifers, aquicludes, and the groundwater table
    • Water wells
    • Groundwater in coastal regions
  • Rivers

    • Hydrology of rivers
    • Flow of water in rivers
    • Sediment transport in rivers
    • Plan form of rivers
    • Classification of rivers
    • Floodplains and floods
  • Lakes

    • The nature of lakes
    • Thermal structure of lakes
  • Glaciers

    • Glaciology
    • Glacial erosion and transport
    • Glacial sediments
    • Glacial landforms
  • Coasts

    • Waves
    • Tides
    • Classification of coasts
    • Beaches
    • Estuaries
    • Deltas
  • Deserts

    • The nature of deserts
    • Eolian sediment transport
    • Wind ripples
    • Eolian dunes
    • Mass wasting
    • Creep
    • Landslides
  • Landscapes

    • Landforms
    • The nature of valleys
    • The nature of mountains
    • Erosion cycles
    • Desert sand seas
    • Small-scale landforms
    • Rates of landscape change
  • Physical and chemical cycles

    • The Earth as a system
    • The hydrologic cycle
    • The carbon cycle


There are mid-term exam and final exam. Both exams are in class close book exams. Mid-term exam is optional.


If a student receives better grade in final exam than in mid-term exam, then final exam counts for 100% of the grade. If a student receives better grade in mid-term exam than in final exam, then mid-term exam counts for 1/3 of the grade and final exam counts for 2/3 of the grade.