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GEOS 102 – Historical Geology


Course Syllabus (link to pdf)

Course Description: This course is an introduction to the history of the Earth and its life over the last 4.6 billion years. The Earth is surprisingly dynamic, especially when considered over timescales that are longer than our everyday experience. Large mountain ranges have been uplifted and been worn way, and ocean basins have formed and disappeared. Entire ecosystems of extraordinary plants and animals have evolved and gone extinct. Ice sheets and shallow seaways have covered Earth’s surface and then withdrawn. The story of these changes is written in the rocks that make up the Earth and the fossils of past life forms found in those rocks. To read this fascinating story, we will first learn some of the basic language, tools, and principles used by geoscientists to understand how the processes we observe happening on Earth today can be used to interpret Earth’s history.  Key concepts will include plate tectonics, Earth materials and processes, geologic time, Earth systems, and evolutionary theory.  In the rest of the course, we will use these basic principles to examine the tectonic, biological, and climatic evolution of the Earth.  Key concepts will include the origins of life, the Cambrian explosion, the origin of ecosystems on land, life in the time of the dinosaurs, the evolution of mammals (including humans), and rapid climate change in Earth’s history.  The laboratory will provide additional information and exercises to reinforce understanding of the basic principles, processes, and historical patterns discussed in lecture.

Course Learning Outcomes: Through the material presented in this course, students will:

  • Understand the scientific evidence that has led to current geological theories
  • Explore modern Earth processes as a context for understanding how such processes have operated throughout Earth’s past
  • Reconstruct geologic history based on rock types, structures, fossils, and other geologic evidence
  • Demonstrate understanding of the significance of important events in Earth’s history, including causes, consequences, implications, and unresolved questions about the events
  • Understand how climatic changes that have occurred in Earth’s past provide a context for understanding changes we see happening today

Data collected by students in a GEOS 102 lab activity on reconstructing dinosaur velocity (click here for more info).