EARTH 284: Introduction to Environmental Geology
Winter Semester, 4.0 Credit Hours
Course description: This course covers interactions between people and Earth beginning with an introduction to geologic materials and processes followed by specific topics such as soil, surface and groundwater, and case studies in natural hazards (volcanism, landslides, earthquakes, floods, coastal processes), geomedicine, and waste disposal.
EARTH 478: Introduction to Aquatic Geochemistry
Fall Semester, 4.0 Credit Hours
Course description: The objective of this course is to develop an understanding of the chemical compositions of natural waters, emphasizing both chemical and biogeochemical processes operating near Earth's surface; equilibrium vs. kinetic controls on chemical weathering; solute sources and mass balances in natural waters. Hands-on field and lab experience provides training in methods of applied geochemistry.
From the syllabus: Water- H2O- is a unique molecule: it dissolves just about anything, it is sticky, and in solid form, it floats. These and other unique traits of water make life as we know it possible. But to solve age-old geologic mysteries and current environmental problems, we have to develop a much richer understanding of water on Earth. The reason is that water on Earth is not pure H2O; as water flows through Earth's surface it dissolves many thousands of chemicals that make natural waters (e.g. streams, lakes, oceans, glaciers or ice cores) very different from pure H2O. And you know from everyday experiences that not all water is the same: some streams are crystal clear, while others are turquoise blue or golden brown. Some groundwater is classified as hard or doesn't taste or smell good. Some lakes are very susceptible to contamination while others buffer against change. Water on Earth is so diverse because of the many thousands of chemicals dissolved in natural waters in tiny amounts, from gases like CO2 or CH4 or salts of carbonates or sulfides to trace metals like iron, lead or mercury to organic compounds like acetate or domonic acid. The diversity in the chemical composition of natural waters is what makes different streams, rivers, groundwaters, lakes or oceans distinct from each other. And it is the interactions among all the chemicals in water that largely control what happens in water. Sorting out these interactions is what geochemists to do unravel the secrets of past climates trapped in frozen water, or to predict what water is safe to drink, for example. To understand what happens in water, we have to first start by learning what controls the amounts and forms of all the major chemicals present in natural waters. Luckily, the chemical composition of natural waters on Earth is not random; concentrations and forms of chemicals are governed by the laws of thermodynamics and kinetics. In this class we focus on the thermodynamic controls (i.e. equilibrium) on concentration and speciation of acids and bases, major and minor metals, and organic compounds in natural waters.
A major component of this course is the weekly lab during which students conduct hands-on activities and exercises to help master the course content and gain experience in the methods of applied aquatic geochemistry, such as collecting water samples in the field and analyzing water samples for dissolved constituents. In both lecture and lab, there will be strong emphasis on participation and hands-on activities because the data show that active learning significantly increases student learning. Problem sets and exams provide opportunities for students to assess how well they have learned the concepts and skills central to this course.