Course Catalog

To see the official Union College Catalog please go here.

GEO-103. Great Moments in The History of Life. This course examines major events in the development of life on Earth including the origin of the chemical elements that make up our solar system, coalescence of the solar system, pre-biotic synthesis of organic chemicals, origin and consequences of photosynthesis, the explosion of multicellular life, colonization of land, and the cause and effects of major extinctions (Ordovician, Permian, Cretaceous and Holocene). Geologic evidence related to these events will be central to the course. No prerequisites, CC: SET.

GEO-106. Introduction to OceanographyThe oceans cover 71% of the planet and hold 97% of the earth’s available water and 50% of the planet’s species, but more than 95% of the ocean remains unexplored. This course covers physical, chemical, and biological oceanography. The course involves an examination of plate tectonics, ocean currents and the forces driving them, the role of the oceans in climate change, coastal processes and sea level change, biological productivity, and the ocean fishing industries. May require a weekend field trip.  No prerequisites, CC: SCLB Course website: GEO-106. Introduction to Oceanography

GEO-108. Earth Resources. The goal of this course is to provide students an appreciation of the importance of mineral and fuel resources for modern society, and insight into the geology of economically valuable deposits. Issues concerning the discovery, development, environmental impacts, and estimates of amounts of resources available will be discussed in a geological, economic, and technological context. No prerequisites, CC: SCLB.

GEO-109. Geologic Perspectives on Global Warming.  Global climate change is one of the defining issues of our time.  This course covers the basics of the climate system; topics include: the radiation balance of Earth, the role of greenhouse gases on Earth’s surface temperature, atmospheric and oceanic circulation, and natural oscillators in the climate system.  A significant portion of the course is dedicated to understanding natural climatic variability on Ice Age and postglacial timescales, and the perspective that this understanding gives us when predicting future temperature trends on Earth and the likely impact that these trends will have on human society.  No prerequisites, CC: SET

GEO-110 (100). Physical Geology. Examination of how our dynamic planet works including plate tectonics, geologic age determination, the processes that form the variety of rocks we see at the Earth’s surface, the development of the stunning variety of landscapes we see, and many topics of contemporary interest including floods, the nature of underground water resources, coastal erosion, earthquakes, interpreting topographic maps for land use purposes, and climate change. No prerequisites, CC: SCLB; preference given to first and second year students. Course website: GEO-110 (100). Physical Geology

GEO-112 (102). Environmental Geology. Basic geologic concepts are used for understanding a variety of natural and human-induced geologic hazards that directly affect people. This course examines the nature of various natural hazards including earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, floods, and coastal erosion. Also examines the interplay between human activities and the environment, such as soil and groundwater contamination, solid-waste disposal, resource development; the geologic record of global change, and the debate over global warming. No prerequisites, CC: SCLB; preference given to first and second year students. Course website:GEO-112 (102). Environmental Geology

GEO-117 (107). Natural Disasters. An introduction to the geologic processes causing floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, and other natural hazards and how hazards affect people and society. The course will include discussion of major events in the geologic and historical record as well as future hazard potential. We will assess the risks humans face in different regions, including local hazards, our contribution to geologic hazards, and how we can minimize and cope with future events. No prerequisites, CC: SCLB; preference given to first and second year students. Course website: GEO-117 (107). Natural Disasters

GEO-120 (101). The Earth and Life Through Time. An investigation of Earth’s dynamic history and evolutionary changes over the past 4.5 billion years. Topics include the geologic evidence for the evolution of life, for major changes in the nature of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, and for major mountain building events that have affected the continents as well as the evolutionary development of plant and animal life as recorded in the geologic record. Specific topics include the origin of life, mass extinctions of dinosaurs and other organisms, paleoclimate, and the geologic history of New York State. The link between geology, chemical cycles and life is highlighted, as is the relation of past biogeochemical changes to current global environmental change. May require a weekend field trip. No prerequisites, CC: SCLB; preference given to first and second year students. Course website: GEO-120 (101). The Earth and Life Through Time.

GEO-201. Stratigraphy and Depositional Environments of New York. Tectonic events revealed through the stratigraphy and inferred depositional environments of the lower Paleozoic sedimentary rock sequences in eastern New York. Stratigraphic and sedimentologic concepts are explored through weekly field studies and comparison with modern depositional systems. Prerequisites: Any Geology course numbered 110 or higher; weekly lab.

GEO-202. Geomorphology.  Processes operating on and near the Earth’s surface are responsible for the development of landforms, and the evolution of these landforms through time. This course covers erosional and depositional processes of glaciers, rivers, hillslopes, and wind, and the geochemical reactions responsible for the formation of soils and caves.  These topics are covered within the context of the geologic evolution of the Mohawk Valley since the end of the last Ice Age. Prerequisites: Any Geology course numbered 110 or higher; weekly lab.

GEO-203 (301). Lakes and Environmental Change.  Modern limnology and the record of environmental change as recorded in the physical and chemical properties of lake water and lake sediments.  Includes a term-long research project on two local lakes, and the interpretation of the proxy paleoenvironmental indicators contained in sediment cores from these lakes. Prerequisites: Any Geology or Biology course numbered 110 or higher; weekly lab.

GEO-205. Tectonics. This course explores the dynamics of active plate boundaries and plate motions as revealed in plate margin deformation, earthquakes, volcanic activity, and metamorphism. Includes an introduction to stress and strain, deformation mechanisms, faults and folds, geochronology, and petrology of distinct rocks in convergent settings, with an emphasis on the North American Cordillera and the Appalachians. This course is recommended for Geology majors and serves as a complement to Structural Geology, which is offered in the Spring. Prerequisite(s): Any Geology course numbered 110 or higher.

GEO-206 (255). Volcanology. Overview of the geological, chemical, and physical processes that generate volcanoes and the implications of volcanism and what they tell us about Earth’s internal processes; properties, generation, and evolution of magmas and magma chambers; eruptive mechanisms; classification of volcanic deposits; climate effects; and volcanic hazards, including their prediction and mitigation. Labs include case studies of classic volcanic eruptions. Prerequisite: Any Geology course numbered 110 or higher; weekly lab.

GEO-207 (315). Stable Isotopes in Environmental Science. 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. Prerequisite: Any Geology or Biology courses numbered 110 or higher, or CHM 101, or ENS 100, or permission of the instructor; weekly lab.

GEO-208. Paleontology, Paleobiology, and Paleoecology. (same as BIO-208). 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. Prerequisite: Any Geology or Biology course numbered 110 or higher; weekly lab.

. Climate is fundamentally relevant to modern and ancient societies. Global warming is occurring today, and whether it is driven by human activities (e.g., CO2, CH4 emissions) or by natural climate cycles can only be determined by understanding natural climatic variability. Fortunately, there are many tools, and natural climatic records, which can provide us with information on past climate (e.g. tree rings, ice cores from glaciers, and sediment cores from lakes and oceans). Obtaining, documenting and interpreting these records is the field of paleoclimatology, and it is the focus of this course. Past climate variability is used to highlight possible scenarios of future climate change. Prerequisite: Any Geology course numbered 110 or higher, or permission of the instructor; weekly lab.

GEO-220 (200). Mineral Science. Study of the diverse solid materials that make up most of our planet, many of our industrial resources and materials, and most of our precious gems. We will examine the nature of the external and internal symmetry of crystals, chemical bonding and substitution in crystal lattices, mineral properties, crystal optics, and the identification of minerals by physical, chemical, optical, and X-ray diffraction techniques. Prerequisite: CHM-101 and any Geology course numbered 110 or higher; weekly lab.  Course website: GEO-220. Mineral Science

GEO-300. Glacial and Quaternary Geology. The transformation of snow to ice, the mass balance of glaciers, types of glaciers, and the processes that control glacier sliding, erosion, and deposition. Includes techniques commonly employed to date Quaternary deposits and an examination of the geologic record of the Ice Ages as recorded in glaciers, glacial deposits, and marine and lake sediments of the Quaternary period. Weekly labs document the geologic record of the last glaciation in exposures in the southern Adirondacks, central Hudson Valley, eastern Mohawk Valley, and northern Schoharie Valley.  Prerequisite: Any geology course numbered 200 or higher, or permission of the instructor; weekly lab.

GEO-302. Geochemical Systems and Modeling. This course investigates the Earth as a chemical system and the use of chemical tools to understand geologic processes. Topics include origin of the elements, formation and differentiation of the earth, igneous processes, stable and radioactive isotopes, and geochemistry of near-surface waters and the oceans. Work includes theory, sample collection, sample preparation, chemical analysis using in-house equipment, and computer modeling of the analyzed geochemical system using the acquired data. Clear scientific writing is an important component of this course. Prerequisites: CHM-101; weekly lab.  Course website: GEO-302. Geochemical Systems and Modeling

GEO-303. Geophysics. Gravity and magnetic fields of the earth, gravity and magnetic anomalies, magnetic properties of rocks and paleomagnetism, earthquakes and seismology, precession of the Earth’s spin axis, density distribution and models for the Earth’s interior; wave propagation in rocks, seismic reflection and refraction, geophysical field methods, data processing and interpretation, electrical methods, radioactivity, heat flow, thermal history of the Earth, global dynamics and plate tectonics, comparative planetology. Labs emphasize hands-on use of modern geophysical equipment. Prerequisite: PHY-100 or PHY-120; weekly lab.

GEO-304. Carbonate Sedimentology. Examination of carbonate rocks, carbonate environments, animal-sediment interactions, and the oceanographic and climatic factors that affect deposition including sea level change, catastrophic storms, and groundwater. Field studies include examples of modern and ancient coral reefs, lagoons, tidal inlets, beaches, hypersaline lakes, and tidal flats. Course includes a required week field trip to the Bahamian Field station on San Salvador Island. Prerequisites: Option 1: i) Any Geology course numbered 110 or higher; and ii) Geology 201 or 202 (may be concurrent), or permission of instructor. Option 2: i) Any Geology numbered 110 or higher; and ii) declared major in biology (esp. helpful is Ecology), and permission of the instructor. For either option, students must meet basic term abroad requirements and must submit an application.

GEO-305. Biogeochemistry . (same as BIO-305) Biology, geology and chemistry are intricately linked to form the world around us. John Muir was aware of this in 1911 when he wrote his famous quote “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Biogeochemical cycles set the stage for life on Earth. This course explores the nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, water, and carbon cycles at the surface of the Earth. We investigate how biological (e.g., primary production, respiration), anthropogenic (e.g., urbanization, pollution) and geological processes (e.g., tectonics, rock weathering) influence these chemical cycles. Field studies focus on tropical marine biogeochemistry of coral reefs, mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, lagoons, estuaries, hypersaline lakes, and tidal flats. Course includes a required week-long field trip to San Salvador Island, Bahamas. There are additional costs associated with field trip expenses. All students must meet basic term abroad requirements and submit an application. This course is open to all students, but preference will be given to those with a declared major in geology, environmental science or biology.

GEO-307 (253). Structural Geology . The geometry and dynamics of deformed rocks involving detailed description and kinematic analysis of field sites. Topics include stress and strain, folding, faulting, cleavage formation, map interpretation, and the relationships between plate tectonic settings and crustal structure. Course focuses on the structural evolution of eastern New York as seen in field projects. Prerequisite: Any geology course numbered 200 or higher, or permission of the instructor; weekly lab.

GEO-320. Origin of Igneous and Metamorphic Rocks . How the processes of melting, crystallization, heat, pressure, and strain create some of the most abundant minerals and rocks in the Earth’s crust and upper mantle. Emphasis will be on the examination of rock thin sections using polarizing microscopes, interpretation of rock mineralogy and textures, and use of rock and mineral chemistry to understand igneous and metamorphic processes. Prerequisite: GEO-220 (200); weekly lab and three all-day trips.  Course website: GEO-320. Origin of Igneous and Metamorphic Rocks

GEO-355T. Living on the Edge . The field study of earthquakes, volcanoes, glaciers, and other hazards where tectonic plates collide and mountains form. Field studies focus on understanding the science behind geologic hazards that lead to catastrophic events and subsequent loss of life. Fieldwork is aimed at recognizing hazards, understanding the processes behind the hazards, and to see the role that society plays in mitigating these hazards. The study area alternates around the Pacific Rim between locations that include Peru (June), Alaska (June), and New Zealand (December). Fieldwork is preceded by organizational sessions on campus to prepare for field projects. Prerequisites: Any introductory geology course. Mini-term abroad

GEO-356T. Volcanoes and Society. A close look at powerful volcanic eruptions and how those eruptions affect society and culture. This field course focuses on sites that have an excellent archeological record of volcanism or where modern society faces a serious volcanic threat. Course will include study of dating methods and the effects of major volcanic eruptions on global climate. This research-oriented course is conducted largely in the field and projects include mapping and interpreting volcanic deposits. Prerequisites: Any introductory level geology course and permission of the instructor. Mini-term abroad

GEO-405. Geology Senior Seminar. Senior capstone course required of all majors. Course covers current developments in the geosciences as reported in the primary literature. Course will include some combination of discussion and review of recently-published articles, review of guest lectures, and oral presentations by students.  Prerequisite(s): Geology major and senior standing. Note: Course carries senior writing (WS) credit.

GEO-490-494. Independent Study in Geology. A program of independent study in a particular area of geology, not available through regular courses, under the supervision of a faculty member. Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor.

GEO-495-497. Research in Geology. Geological research under the direction of a faculty member. Two terms are required for honors. Only one term can be counted toward the two geology electives. Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor.

GEO 498 – Geology Research and Writing. One term of geological research under the direction of a faculty member. Prerequisite(s): Permission of the instructor. CC: WS  Note: Course carries senior writing (WS) credit.

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