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Environmental Geology

Concentration Adviser:  Holly Ewing

Overview and Learning Process

Global environmental change has occurred since the beginning of geologic time and now, due to human activity, is even more acute. These changes occur from local to global scales and involve interactions among physical, chemical, and biological systems that may be instantaneous or span eons.  Students in the Environmental Geology concentration learn about the mineral and energy resources on which human society has come to depend as well as the geologic processes behind environmental changes—plate tectonics, mountain building, climate change, and geochemical cycling. The interactions of these processes in the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere characterize the Earth’s environment as a dynamic, interactive system.

The courses in this concentration are designed to give students a grounding in courses essential to understanding the structure and function of geological systems and to help students develop skills in scientific reading, analysis, inference, and communication.  Introductory chemistry courses teach the structure and reactivity of basic substances and the ways in which these properties influence the fate and impact of environmental pollutants.  The 100-level geology courses introduce students the basic structure of earth systems and skills in mapping and inference across broad spatial scales and long time periods.  Intermediate-level courses continue the education in the structure of geological materials or systems and provide an introduction to some of the major fields of investigation within the geological sciences.  Students must take at least one advanced (i.e., 300-level) course, preferably with a lab, as these courses require a significant independent investigation on the part of individuals or groups of students and emphasize skills in reading primary scientific literature.  Many courses in this concentration are designed to facilitate student learning on the process of collaborative scientific investigation.  All courses emphasize scientific investigation and the kinds of evidence that can be brought to bear on geological questions, and most courses do this through field experiences and creation or use of maps.  Skills in reading and interpreting primary scientific literature are developed in stages through gradually increasing expectations about comprehension and synthesis as course levels increase.  Likewise, writing assignments in formal scientific style are made throughout the curriculum preparing the student to write a senior thesis that relies heavily on review and discussion of relevant primary and secondary scientific studies.  The thesis is a significant piece of independent scholarship that draws together detailed knowledge of the structure and function of a portion of the earth system with perspectives on the methodological approaches and results that are relevant from other scholarly works.  The broader field of geological literature provides the scientific framework into which the student places the thesis even while recognizing the intersection of the scientific perspective with the cultural and social perspectives learned in the core environmental studies courses.

Courses that count for the fourth course (200- or 300-level) in the core

Concentration Requirements

1.  CH/ES 107B Chemical Structure and Its Importance in the Environment

2.  CH/ES 108B Chemical Reactivity in Environmental Systems

3.  One of the following 100-level courses:

4 and 5. Two of the following six courses:

6. One of the following 300-level courses:

  • GEO 310 Quaternary Geology
  • GEO 315 Glacial Geology
  • GEO 325 Electron Microscopy and Energy Dispersive Spectrometry
  • GEO 340 Stable Isotope Geochemistry
  • GEO 364 Plate Tectonics, Climate Change, and Landscape
  • GEO 367 Biomolecular Paleoclimatology
  • ENVR 310 Soils

7. One Field Science Short Term with a significant Earth Science Component (must be one that counts as a L, S, or Q within the new general education requirements).  Current offerings include those listed below.  Note that some are offered infrequently.

  • GEO s30 Field Geology in the Appalachians
  • GEO s31 Limnology and Paleolimnology of Maine Lakes
  • ES/GE s32 Environmental Change in the Australian Outback
  • GEO s34 Field Geology in the Southern Rocky Mountains
  • ES/GE s37 Introduction to Hydrogeology
  • BI/GE s38 Geologic and Biologic Field Studies of the Canadian Arctic
  • ENVR s38 Field Methods in Environmental Science
  • GEO s39 Geology of the Maine Coast by Sea Kayak

Details about thesis and course sequencing (plus some advice with respect to graduate school)

Students in this concentration may pursue either a one- or two-semester thesis, though those working with a member of the Geology Department as an advisor will likely be expected to undertake a two-semester thesis.  Participation in senior thesis activities in both Geology and ES may be required.  Participation in ES is mandatory for the semester(s) in which a student is taking thesis credits, regardless of whether the registration is through ES or Geology.  Students doing a two-semester thesis advised by a member of the Geology Department are also required to enroll and participate in GEO 458.

Both a 100-level geology course and CHEM 107 (or Math 105 or Physics 107) are required prerequisites for the 200- and 300-level Geology courses listed above.  Some courses may recommend both CHEM 107 and 108.  Students wishing to pursue graduate work in environmental science are further encouraged to take physics, calculus, and a course in statistics.  Students interested in graduate work specifically within geology should consider taking additional courses in geology.

NOTE: Students majoring in the Environmental Geology concentration may not minor in Geology.


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