Earth Science

Requirements for Concentration: 11 units including Earth Science 151, 161, and 201, 2 units of graded work at the 300-level, and not more than 1 additional unit at the 100-level. With consent of the student’s adviser, students may substitute one 200- or 300-level course in biology, chemistry, mathematics, or physics for 200-level work in earth science. Students may not count toward the major more than 2 courses originating in geography and cross-listed with earth science (even numbered courses at the 200 and 300-level). No more than 1 unit of field work may count toward the major. After declaration of the major, no required courses may be elected NRO.

Senior-Year Requirement: One graded 300-level course.

Independent Research: The earth science program encourages students to engage in ungraded independent research with faculty mentors and offers ungraded courses Earth Science 198, 298, and 399. The department also offers Earth Science 300-301, an ungraded research experience for senior majors. Students who complete 300-301 are eligible for departmental honors upon graduation. Students should consult the chair or individual faculty members for guidance in initiating independent research.

Field Work: Many graduate programs in earth science expect that earth science majors will have attended a geology summer field camp for which students can receive field work credit in the department. Students should consult with the chair of earth science about summer field camps. Additional fieldwork options include working with local environmental consulting companies and non-profit agencies. Students should consult an earth science faculty adviser for details.

Teaching Certification: Students who wish to obtain secondary school teaching certification in earth science should consult both the earth science and education departments for appropriate course requirements.

Early Advising: Knowledge of earth science is useful in a variety of careers. Therefore, we urge potential majors to consult with a faculty member in earth science as soon as possible to determine a course of study that reflects the interests and aspirations of the student. The earth science program also offers courses at the 100-level designed for students who may not intend to pursue earth science at more advanced levels. These courses are appropriate for students curious about the earth and its life, especially those with concerns about environmental degradation and its impact on people living in both urban and rural settings.

Postgraduate Work: Students interested in graduate study in earth or environmental science should be aware that graduate and professional schools usually require courses beyond the earth science concentration requirements. In general, students should have a year of biology, chemistry, physics and/or calculus, depending on the field of interest. Appropriate courses include Biology 105 and 106; Chemistry 108/109 or 125; Physics 113 and 114; and Mathematics 101 and 102 or 121/122. We urge students to begin coursework in other sciences as soon as possible, since this assists them in successful completion of the earth science major.

Advisers: Mr. McAdoo, Ms. Menking, Ms. Schneiderman, Mr. Walker.

Correlate Sequence in Earth Science: The Department of Earth Science and Geography offers a correlate sequence in earth science. The correlate sequence complements the curricula of students majoring in other departmental, interdepartmental, and multidisciplinary programs. Students interested in a correlate sequence in earth science should consult with one of the earth science faculty members. The requirements for the correlate sequence in earth science are five courses in the department including Earth Science 151, 161, and at least one 300-level course. Students should note the prerequisites required for enrollment in some of the courses within the correlate sequence.

I. Introductory

100b. Earth Resource Challenges (1)

(Same as Earth Science and Society 100b, Environmental Studies 100b, and Geography 100b)

101b. Geohazards (1/2)

Geohazards explores the geological and societal causes of death and destruction by earthquakes, landslides, floods, volcanoes, storms, and avalanches around the world. Students explore basic earth processes and learn how the Earth and its inhabitants interact in dangerous ways because people repeatedly fail to appreciate Earth's power. Ms. Schneiderman.

Two 75-minute periods during the first six weeks of the semester.

103a. The Earth Around Us (1/2)

A series of lectures on topics such as water quality, soil erosion, global climate change, coastal development and environmental justice. A broad introduction to environmental problems and their impact on all living things. Ms. Schneiderman.

Two 75-minute periods during the first six weeks of the semester.

107a. Field Geology of Hudson Valley (1/2)

Experience 1.5 billion years of Hudson Valley geologic history from some of the classic vantage points in the region. Field trips to high points such as Breakneck Ridge, Brace Mountain, Bonticou Crag, and Overlook Mountain are supplemented by lectures and readings on the geologic history and the history of geologic studies in the valley. Mr. Walker.

Six-week course.

One 75-minute period and one 4-hr laboratory.

111a and b. Earth Science and Environmental Justice (1)

(Same as Geography 111) Exploration of the roles that race, gender, and class play in contemporary environmental issues and the geology that underlies them. Examination of the power of governments, corporations and science to influence the physical and human environment. We critique the traditional environmental movement, study cases of environmental racism, and appreciate how basic geological knowledge can assist communities in creating healthful surroundings. Examples come from urban and rural settings in the United States and abroad and are informed by feminist analysis. Ms. Schneiderman.

Open to freshmen only; satisfies college requirement for a Freshman Writing Seminar.

Two 75-minute periods; a one-day weekend field trip may be required. A week-long class field trip potentially to the desert southwest, if offered, is highly recommended.

121b. Oceanography (1)

The world's oceans make life on Earth possible. By studying the interactions among atmosphere, water, sediment, and the deep inner-workings of the earth, we gain an understanding of where the earth has been, where it is now, and where it is likely to go. Topics include: historical perspectives on the revolutionary discoveries in marine exploration; seafloor and ocean physiochemical structure; air-sea interactions from daily and seasonal weather patterns to climate change and El Niño cycles; earthquakes and tsunamis; waves and coastal processes; and critical biologic communities unique to the marine environment. Mr. McAdoo.

Three 50-minute periods; a one-day weekend field trip is required.

131. Landscape and History of the Hudson Valley (1)

Geology controls the landscape, and landscape has a profound influence on history. Through readings drawn from history, literature, science, and contemporary observers, supplemented by writing, discussion, and field trips, this course explores the relationship between geology, landscape, and cultural history in the mid-Hudson Valley region.

151a. Earth, Environment, and Humanity (1)

(Same as Geography 151b) An introductory level course covering basic physical processes of the earth including plate tectonics, atmospheric and oceanic circulation, and biogeochemical cycles, geologic hazards such as earthquakes, floods, and volcanic eruptions, and human impacts on the environment including ozone depletion and acid rain. The department.

Two 75-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory/field session.

161b. The Evolution of Earth and its Life (1)

An examination of the origin of the earth and the evolution of life on this planet particularly in relation to global environmental change today. Topics include systematic paleontology, evolution, the profound depth of geologic time and its ramifications for life on earth, and mass extinctions of dinosaurs and other organisms. The department.

Two 75-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory/field session.

181a. Field Geology of the Hudson Valley (1)

Experience 1.5 billion years of Hudson Valley geologic history from some of the classic vantage points in the region. Field trips to high points such as Breakneck Ridge, Brace Mountain, Bonticou Crag, and Overlook Mountain are supplemented by lectures and readings on the geologic history and the history of geologic studies in the valley. Mr. Walker.

One 75-minute period; one 4-hour field session.

Offered during the first six weeks of the semester.

198a or b. Special Projects in Earth Science (1/2 or 1)

Execution and analysis of field, laboratory, or library study. Project to be arranged with individual instructor. The department.

Open to first-year students and sophomores only.

II. Intermediate

201b. Earth Materials: Minerals and Rocks (1)

The earth is made up of many different materials, including minerals, rocks, soils, and ions in solution, which represent the same atoms recycled continually by geological and biogeochemical cycles. This course takes a holistic view of the earth in terms of the processes leading to the formation of different materials. The class involves study in the field as well as in the laboratory using hand specimen identification along with the optical microscope and X-ray diffractometer. Mr. Walker.

Prerequisites: Earth Science 151 or 161.

Two 75-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory/field session.

211b. Sediments, Strata, and the Environment (1)

The stratigraphic record provides the most comprehensive record of Earth history available. This course explores fundamental concepts of stratigraphy, sedimentation, and paleontology with a focus on reconstructing paleoenvironments and paleoecology. The chemical and physical processes leading to weathering, erosion, transport, deposition, and lithification of sediments are considered, as is fossil identification. The course revolves around detailed field interpretation of local Paleozoic and Holocene sediments to reconstruct Hudson Valley paleoenvironments. The department.

Prerequisites: Earth Science 151 or 161.

Two 75-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory/field session. An overnight weekend field trip may be required.

220a. Cartography: Making Maps with GIS (1)

(Same as Geography 220)

221a. Soils and Sustainable Agriculture (1)

(Same as Geography 221) Soils form an important interface between the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere. As such, they are critical to understanding agricultural ecosystems. This course studies soil formation, and the physical and chemical properties of soils especially as related to the sustainability of agricultural systems. Field trips and laboratory work focus on the description and interpretation of local agricultural soils. Mr. Walker.

Prerequisite: one introductory course in geology, biology, or chemistry.

Two 75-minute periods; one 2-hour discussion session.

224b. GIS: Spatial Analysis (1)

(Same as Geography 224)

226a. Remote Sensing (1/2)

(Same as Geography 226)

231. Geomorphology: Surface Processes and Evolution of Landforms (1)

(Same as Geography 231) Quantitative study of the geological processes and factors which influence the origin and development of Earth's many landforms. Topics include hillslope and channel processes, sediment transport, physical and chemical weathering and erosion, role of regional and local tectonics in the construction of marine terraces, mountain ranges and basins, and the role of climate in landscape modification. Ms. Menking.

Prerequisites: Earth Science 151 or 161.

Two 75-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory/field session. An overnight weekend field trip may be required.

235b. Water (1)

(Same as Geography 235) Sixty to 70% of Dutchess County residents depend on groundwater supplies to meet their daily needs. Over the past 15 years, industrial pollution and road salt have contaminated many of these supplies, spawning several legal actions and requiring costly filtration systems and/or in situ treatment of contaminated groundwater. Ensuring adequate and safe supplies for humans and ecosystems requires extensive knowledge of the hydrologic cycle and of how contaminants may be introduced into water resources. We begin by studying precipitation and evaporation, making use of Vassar's meteorological station housed at the farm field station. We also explore how rainfall and snowmelt infiltrate into soils and bedrock to become part of the groundwater system and discuss the concept of well-head protection, which seeks to protect groundwater recharge areas from development. Using Vassar's groundwater teaching well at the field station we perform a number of experiments to assess aquifer properties such as hydraulic conductivity, water chemistry, and presence of microbial contaminants. Comfort with basic algebra and trigonometry is expected. Ms. Menking.

Two 75-minute periods and one 4-hour laboratory.

Prerequisite: ESCI 151.

251b. Global Geophysics and Tectonics (1)

What can physics and simple math tell us about the earth? By utilizing an array of techniques, geophysicists gain an understanding of the processes that shape our planet. Reflection and earthquake seismology give us insight into deep earth structure, plate tectonic mechanisms, mountain building, basin formation, and hazard mitigation. Variations in the earth's gravitational field yield information on density contrasts beneath the surface, from the scale of mountain ranges to buried artifacts. Heat flow variations are useful in determining regional subsurface thermal structure, fluid advection, and climate variation. Laboratories are designed to use the skills required in most geology related fields. They involve the use of Geographic Information System (GIS) software, and construction of simple computer models. Mr. McAdoo.

Prerequisites: Earth Science 151 or 161.

Two 75-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory.

254b. Environmental Sciences in the Field (1)

(Same as Environmental Studies 254b)

260a. Conservation of Natural Resources (1)

(Same as Geography 260a)

261a. Race and Class in the Hudson Valley: Geophysical Investigations (1)

This course integrates earth science, physics, geography, and social history to give students hands-on experience in original research, data analysis, and public presentation. The history of the Hudson Valley is one of immigrants, some voluntary and celebrated like the Dutch, others such as the African slaves, forced and forgotten. Working with local community groups, this project-based field course examines the history of the region's dispossessed populations by uncovering forgotten graveyards. During the course of the semester, the class uses both field geophysics and historical archives to map lost grave sites and to understand the historical and social context. Students gain experience using such tools as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), an electrical resistivity meter, a Cesium vapor magnetometer, and a ground penetrating radar. By the end of the semester, we synthesize the stories for a public presentation and final report. A new site is chosen for each class—field locations may include pre-Columbian or historical archaeological sites such as forgotten slave-era burial grounds and potters fields. Students from across the curriculum are welcome. Mr. McAdoo.

Prerequisites: Earth Science 151 or 161.

One 5-hour field session and one 75-minute classroom session.

271a. Structural Geology: Deformation of the Earth (1)

The study of the processes and products of crustal deformation and of the plate tectonic paradigm. Topics include the mechanics of deformation, earthquakes, mountain-building, geophysical principles, and neotectonics. The department.

Prerequisites: Earth Science 151 or 161.

Two 75-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory/field session. An overnight weekend field trip may be required.

275b. Paleontology, Paleobiology, Paleoecology (1)

Nearly all species that have existed on Earth are now extinct and are only known through the fossil record. This course examines the evolution and history of life on Earth as interpreted from the fossil record. Topics include fossil preservation, taphonomy, ontogeny, diversity trajectories through geologic time, evolutionary mechanisms, extinction, paleobiology, paleoecology and paleoclimate. Special emphasis will be placed on using fossils to interpret ancient environments as well as deciphering past climates. The course focuses on the fossil record of marine invertebrates, but major groups of vertebrates and plants are also covered.

277a. Biogeochemistry (1)

Global change is intricately linked to the global carbon cycle, which in turn is linked to other nutrient cycles such as nitrogen, phosphorous and sulfur. A deep understanding of biogeochemical cycling at both large and small scales is essential to understanding global climate change. This course utilizes biogeochemical cycling in small water bodies, such as Lake Minnewaska, Sunset Lake and the Casperkill to exemplify these cycles. We investigate how biological (e.g., primary production, respiration), anthropogenic (e.g., urbanization, pollution) and geological processes (e.g., rock weathering) influence these chemical cycles. We attempt to determine if these systems are a sink or source of atmospheric CO2 and whether the cycles change through time (diurnally & throughout the semester) or longitudinally along the stream. We also determine if these lakes are a sink for anthropogenic pollutants. The course consists of seminar sessions based on the textbook as well as primary literature, and field and laboratory work. Mr. Gillikin.

285a. Volcanology (1)

Volcanoes are an important window into the workings of the earth's interior. They are also spectacular landscape features: serene in repose, and often violent in eruption. This course addresses the physical aspects of volcanoes, including such topics as the generation of magmas, styles of eruptions, products of eruptions, tectonic controls on the formation of volcanoes, and methods for predicting eruptions and mitigating the hazards associated with volcanic activity.

An optional field trip to an active volcano is possible. Mr. Walker.

Two 2- hour periods.

Prerequisites: Earth Science 151 or 161.

290a or b. Field Work (1/2 or 1)

297a. Readings in Earth Science (1/2)

297. Contemplating Time

Deep time, the concept of geologic time recognized by Persian polymath Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Chinese naturalist Shen Kuo in the 11th century and developed further by James Hutton during the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment, has been called the single greatest contribution of geology to science. The concept provides a critical link between earth science and environmental change. Using reading and reflection, the aim of this course is to help students develop a feeling for the enormity of Earth???s duration in relation to human life spans. Students contemplate the nature of time from geoscientific, religious, and literary perspectives. Reading works by Loren C. Eiseley, Mircea Eliade, Malcolm Gladwell, Stephen Jay Gould, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Shunryu Suzuki, and Elie Wiesel, among others, we consider subjects such as the two great metaphors of time, arrows and cycles, in relation to natural and anthropogenic environmental change. The class meets weekly for contemplative practice and is suitable for students at any level. Ms. Schneiderman.

Prerequisite: permission of the instructor.

298a or b. Independent Work (1/2 or 1)

Execution and analysis of a field, laboratory or library study. The project, to be arranged with an individual instructor, is expected to have a substantial paper as its final product. The department.

Permission of instructor is required.

III. Advanced

300a. Senior Research and Thesis (1/2)

Critical analysis, usually through observation or experimentation, of a specific research problem in earth science. A student electing this course must first gain, by submission of a written research proposal, the support of a member of the earth science faculty with whom to work out details of a research protocol. The formal research proposal and a final paper and presentation of results are required parts of the course. A second faculty member participates in the final evaluation. The department.

Year-long course, 300-301.

Permission of instructor is required.

301b. Senior Research and Thesis (1/2)

Critical analysis, usually through observation or experimentation, of a specific research problem in earth science. A student electing this course must first gain, by submission of a written research proposal, the support of a member of the earth science faculty with whom to work out details of a research protocol. The formal research proposal and a final paper and presentation of results are required parts of the course. A second faculty member participates in the final evaluation. The department.

Year-long course, 300-301.

Permission of instructor is required.

311b. Continental Margins (1)

From oil to fisheries to mining operations, the continental shelf and slope environment house most of our offshore resources. Additionally the margins of the continents are hazardous, where earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, turbidity currents, and storm waves challenge those who work and live there. This class investigates these processes and how they are preserved in the geologic record. Mr. McAdoo.

Prerequisite: Earth Science 251 or 211 or 271 or permission of the instructor.

One 4-hour classroom/laboratory/field session.

321a. Environmental Geology (1)

This course explores the fundamental geochemical processes that affect the fate and transport of inorganic and organic pollutants in the terrestrial environment. We link the effects of these processes on pollutant bioavailability, remediation, and ecotoxicology. Mr. Walker.

Prerequisite: Earth Science 201, or Chemistry 108/109, or Chemistry 110/111.

One 4-hour classroom/laboratory/field session.

335a. Paleoclimatology: Earth's History of Climate Change (1)

(Same as Environmental Studies 335) This course discusses how Earth's climate system operates and what natural processes have led to climate change in the past. We examine the structure and properties of the oceans and atmosphere and how the general circulation of these systems redistributes heat throughout the globe. In addition, we study how cycles in Earth's orbital parameters, plate tectonics, and the evolution of plants have affected climate. Weekly laboratory projects introduce students to paleoclimatic methods and to real records of climate change. Ms. Menking.

Prerequisite: Earth Science 201, 211, and 231 or permission of instructor.

One 4-hour classroom/laboratory/field session.

337b. Stable Isotopes in Environmental Science (1)

(Same as Environmnetal Studies 337b.) Stable isotopes have become a fundamental tool in many biogeoscientific studies, from reconstructing past climates to tracking animal migration or unraveling foodwebs and even to study the origin of life on Earth and possibly other planets. This course highlights the applications of stable isotopes in biological, ecological, environmental, archeological and geological studies. Students learn the fundamentals of stable isotope biogeochemistry in order to understand the uses and limitations of this tool. This course starts with an introduction to the fundamentals of stable isotope geochemistry and then moves on to applied topics such as paleoceanography and paleoclimatology proxies, hydrology, sediments and sedimentary rocks, biogeochemical cycling, the global carbon cycle, photosynthesis, metabolism, ecology, organic matter degradation, pollution, and more. The course content is directly related to Earth Science, Geography, Biology, Environmental Studies, and Chemistry. Mr. Gillikin.

340b. Arctic Environmental Change (1)

(Same as Geography and Environmental Studies 340b)

341b. Oil (1)

(Same as Geography 341b and Environmental Studies 341b) For the hydraulic civilizations of Mesopotamia, it was water. For the Native Americans of the Great Plains, it was buffalo. As we enter the twenty-first century, our society is firmly rooted both culturally and economically in oil. This class looks into almost every aspect of oil. Starting at the source with kerogen generation, we follow the hydrocarbons along migration pathways to a reservoir with a suitable trap. We look at the techniques geologists and geophysicists use to find a field, and how engineers and economists get the product from the field to refineries, paying particular attention to environmental concerns. What is involved in the negotiations between multinational corporations and developing countries over production issues? What are the stages in refining oil from the crude that comes from the ground to the myriad uses seen today, including plastics, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizers, not to mention gasoline? We also discuss the future of this rapidly dwindling, non-renewable resource, and options for an oil-less future. Mr. McAdoo.

Prerequisite: One 200-level Earth Science course or permission of instructor.

One 4-hour classroom/laboratory/field session.

By special permission.

356. Environment and Land Use Planning (1)

(Same as Geography 356 and Environmental Studies 356)

361a. Modeling the Earth (1)

(Same as Environmental Studies 361) Computer models have become powerful tools in helping us to understand complex natural systems. They are in wide use in the Earth and Environmental Sciences with applications in climate change research, prediction of groundwater and contaminant flow paths in sediments, and understanding the role of disturbance in biogeochemical cycling, among other applications. This course introduces students to conceptual modeling with the use of the Stella box-modeling software package. Taking readings from the scientific literature, we create and then perform experiments with simple computer models. Students also learn how to code their conceptual models in the programming language Fortran, one of the most widely used languages in the Earth and Environmental Sciences. Ms. Menking.

Prerequisite: 2 units of 200-level earth science.

One 4-hour classroom/laboratory session.

383. Topics/Vertebrate Paleontology (1)

387a.Risk and Geohazards (1)

(Same as Environmental Studies and Geography 387) The world is becoming an increasingly risky place. Every year, natural hazards affect more and more people, and these people are incurring increasingly expensive losses. This course explores the nature of risk associated with geophysical phenomena. Are there more hazardous events now than there have been in the past? Are these events somehow more energetic? Or is it that increasing populations with increasingly disparate incomes are being exposed to these hazards? What physical, economic, political and social tools can be employed to reduce this geophysical risk? We draw on examples from recent disasters, both rapid onset (earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones), and slow onset (climate change, famine) to examine the complex and interlinked vulnerabilities of the coupled human-environment system. Mr. McAdoo.

One 4-hour meeting.

Prerequisites: Earth Science 121, 151, or 161.

Not offered in 2011/12

389b. Advanced Oceanography (1)

Oceans and estuaries have a major impact on the earth and its life. Through combined biological and chemical processes they produce much of the oxygen we breathe, are a major food source, and control climate by being a major sink for atmospheric CO2 amongst other reasons. This course covers aspects of chemical, biological, physical and geological oceanography. Specific topics include ocean acidification and its impact on life, the biological pump, ocean circulation and tracers of ocean mixing, estuarine and coastal processes, elemental and isotopic proxies of past ocean temperatures, and past ocean geochemistry. The course centers on student-led discussions and hands-on field and laboratory work during two major sampling trips. Sampling trips on one weekend day and one full weekend are required. Mr. Gillikin.

One 4-hr meeting plus laboratory/field sessions.

Prerequisites: ESCI 151 or 161 and/or permission of the instructor.

399a or b. Senior Independent Work (1/2 or 1)

Execution and analysis of a field, laboratory, or library study. The project, to be arranged with an individual instructor, is expected to have a substantial paper as its final product. The department.

Permission of instructor is required.