Lecture Notes

The below is a summary of the topics covered in lecture.

Population Growth

What are the causes and effects of population change in natural and anthropogenic systems?

  • The Environmental Impacts of Human Population Growth
  • The Principle of Carrying Capacity as Applicable to Humans

Textbook Readings

Merritts, D., A. de Wet, and K. Menking. Environmental Geology: an Earth System Science Approach. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1998, chapter 1. ISBN: 9780716728344.

Problem Sets

Problem Set 1

Geologic Time

Understanding the time scales of natural events provides a framework for studying human impacts.

  • Relative Time vs. Absolute Time
  • Steno’s Laws
    • Principle of Superposition
    • Principle of Original Horizontality
    • Principle of Original Lateral Continuity
  • Geochronology
    • Principles Radioactive Decay
    • Dating Rock/Mineral Systems - Assumptions and Caveats
    • Geochronologic Systems (e.g. Rb-Sr, Sm-Nd, U-Pb, K-Ar)
    • Applications

Age of the Earth (ca. 4.567 Ga)

  • Early Estimates of Earth Chronology (e.g. Bishop Ussher, Lord Kelvin)
  • Pb Isotopes in Meteorites as a Method of indirectly Dating Earth Formation

Textbook Readings

Merritts, D., A. de Wet, and K. Menking. Environmental Geology: an Earth System Science Approach. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1998, chapter 3. ISBN: 9780716728344.

Problem Sets

Problem Set 2

Earth Structure

What are the building blocks of Earth? How do they interact and how are they exploited by humans?

  • Composition and Structure of the Earth
    • Chemical Makeup of Earth
      • Major Elements, Minor Elements
      • Chemical Stratigraphy of Earth’s Interior
    • The Three Rock Types in the Earth
      • Igneous Rocks
      • Metamorphic Rocks
      • Sedimentary Rocks
  • The Rock Cycle
    • The Processes that Transform one Rock Type to another
  • Sedimentary Environments
  • Minerals
    • Silicates
  • Non-silicates
    • Native Elements
  • Mineral Resources
  • Mineral Resources (Asbestos, Bauxite, Zeolites)
  • Hazards associated with Minerals (e.g. Asbestos, Airborne Aerosols, Radon)
    • Methods of Mineral Extraction and their Environmental Impacts

Textbook Readings

Merritts, D., A. de Wet, and K. Menking. Environmental Geology: an Earth System Science Approach. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1998, chapter 4. ISBN: 9780716728344.

Problem Sets

Rocks and Minerals Lab

Problem Set 2.5

Additional Readings

Alam, et al. “Application of a Zeolite Hemostatic Agent Achieves 100% Survival in a Lethal Model of Complex Groin Injury in Swine.” The Journal of Trauma 56, no. 5 (May 2004).

Environmental Tracers

How can methods of geochemistry and isotope geochronology be used to track natural and anthropogenic environmental change?

  • Review of Principles of Stable and Radiogenic Isotope Systematics
    • Radioactive Decay
    • Chemical Differentiation through Geologic Processes
  • Pb Isotopes in Water and Soil as a Tracer for Place and Time of Gasoline Contamination
  • Sr Isotopes in Seawater and Carbonate Rocks as a Dating Tool and Deciphering Locations of Erosional Inputs
  • Measuring Depleted U as Means of Tracking Anthropogenic U Contamination

The Hydrosphere

The effects of our most important natural resource and how it will change our future.

  • How the Physical Properties of Water (Heat Capacity, Surface Tension, Density, UV and Absorption) are important in the Climate, Geomorphology and Biosphere of our Planet and Solar System?
  • The Water Cycle - What are the Sources and Sinks of Water on Earth? How are these changing?
  • The importance of Rivers
    • Sediment Transport Mechanisms
    • Factors Controlling Erosion Rates
    • Human Impacts on River Systems
  • Groundwater Systems
    • Porosity v. Permeability
    • Types of Aquifers
    • Darcy’s Law
  • Freshwater as a Natural Resource
    • Case Studies: The SW U.S.A., Israel, Aral Sea
  • Human (over?)consumption of Water

Textbook Readings

Merritts, D., A. de Wet, and K. Menking. Environmental Geology: an Earth System Science Approach. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1998, chapters 6, 7. ISBN: 9780716728344.

Problem Sets

Problem Sets 3 and 4

Additional Readings

McPhee, John. The Control of Nature. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Publishing, 1990, chapter 1. ISBN: 9780374522599.

Surface Weathering and Erosion

  • Weathering of Material at the Earth’s Surface
    • Physical vs. Chemical vs. Biogeochemical Weathering
    • Weathering vs. Erosion
  • The Pedosphere
    • Geochemical Reactions of Soil Formation
    • The Dependence of Soil Formation on Climate
    • Soil Erosion - Is Soil a Nonrenewable Resource?
  • Primary vs. Secondary Minerals

Textbook Readings

Merritts, D., A. de Wet, and K. Menking. Environmental Geology: an Earth System Science Approach. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1998, chapter 5. ISBN: 9780716728344.

Natural Hazards

What are the different types of natural hazards facing humans, and can we predict or prevent them?

  • Plate Tectonics - The Driving Force of Natural Hazards
    • Different Types of Plate Boundaries
      • Convergent Boundaries (Subduction Zones)
      • Divergent Boundaries (Mid-ocean Ridges, Mid-continental Rifts)
      • Strike-Slip/Transcurrent Boundaries (e.g. San Andreas Fault)
  • Volcanoes
    • Different Types of Volcanoes in association with different Plate Boundaries
      • Strato Volcanoes
      • Shield Volcanoes
      • Caldera Eruptions
    • Factors Controlling Eruption Styles
      • Magma Geochemistry
      • Volatile Content
    • Rock Types Generated in Volcanic Eruptions
      • Silicic vs. Mafic Volcanism
      • Associated Hazards
    • Associated Hazards
      • Tephra
      • Ash Flows
      • Lahars
  • Earthquakes
    • Seismic Waves
      • P, S, and Surface Wave Propagation Mechanisms
    • Fault Mechanics
      • Reverse, Normal and Strike-slip Faults
      • Associated Hazards and Case Studies
    • Fault Recurrence Intervals
      • Ways of Measuring Fault Offsets and Slip Rates
      • Case Studies (e.g. INSAR, Neotectonics)
  • Tsunamis - Causes and Effects
    • Case Study: Sumatra Earthquake and Tsunami 12/26/2004
  • Floods
    • Flood Control and Prevention
      • Levee Systems
      • Dam Construction and Management
    • The Mississippi River System
      • Human Impact - For Better or For Worse?
  • Mass Wasting
    • Mass Movements (Debris Flow, Rock Avalanches, Creep, Slumps, etc.)
      • Mechanics of Mass Wasting
    • Effects on Humans

Textbook Readings

Merritts, D., A. de Wet, and K. Menking. Environmental Geology: an Earth System Science Approach. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1998, chapters 4, 5. ISBN: 9780716728344.

Problem Sets

Problem Set 5

Additional Readings

McPhee, John. The Control of Nature. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Publishing, 1990. ISBN: 9780374522599.

Fossil Fuels

Our most important source of energy.

  • Geologic Environments and Methods of Coal Formation
  • Storage and Extraction of Fossil Fuels in Geologic Environments
  • Advantages and Disadvantages to Extracting and Burning each of the following Fuels:
    • Coal
    • Natural Gas/Methane Hydrates
    • Oil

Textbook Readings

Merritts, D., A. de Wet, and K. Menking. Environmental Geology: an Earth System Science Approach. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1998, chapter 10. ISBN: 9780716728344.

Problem Sets

Problem Set 6

The Atmosphere

A long-time test case for the interaction of the earth sciences, the global media, and environmental policy, the atmosphere continues to be one of our most important, yet least understood aspects of Earth history and future.

  • Acid Rain
    • Where and How does Acid Rain Occur?
    • Chemical Reactions associated with Acid Rain
    • Effects of Acid Rain
    • Prevention and Mitigation of Acid Rain
  • Ozone Depletion
    • CFCs and NOxs
    • Atmospheric Chemistry associated with Ozone Formation and Depletion
  • Global Warming and Climate Change
    • Natural Causes of Climate Change
    • Anthropogenic Causes of Climate Change
    • Methods of Monitoring Paleoclimate
    • Predicting Climate in the Future
    • The Importance of Fossil Fuels and Energy

Textbook Readings

Merritts, D., A. de Wet, and K. Menking. Environmental Geology: an Earth System Science Approach. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1998, chapters 8, 11, and 12. ISBN: 9780716728344.

Problem Sets

Problem Set 6

Course Info

Learning Resource Types

assignment Problem Sets