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GEOL-110: The Physical Earth/GEOL-111: The Physical Earth Lab

Goosenecks State Park

Image: incised meanders in the San Juan River at Goosenecks State Park, Utah. Photograph: Eric Miller

Welcome to The Physical Earth!

Nick Bader, Fall 2018

Nick's office: Hall of Science 150 (or try Science 176)
Office hours: Tuesdays 2 - 3:30 pm,
Wednesdays 10 am - noon
Thursdays 11:30 am - 12:30 pm
Geol-110 (Lecture): Hall of Science 116;
Mon/Wed/Fri 9 - 9:50 am
Geol-111 (Lab): Hall of Science 140;
Mondays 1 - 3:50 pm

Course description

The study of geology is the study of the Earth. Geology 110: The Physical Earth will introduce you to the materials and processes that make the Earth such an interesting place to live. Geology 111: The Physical Earth Lab will give you hands-on experience in geologic study.  We will explore violent events like volcanoes, earthquakes and landslides, and also slow but steady processes such as the erosion of mountains, the opening of the Atlantic Ocean, and the formation of oil and gas.

One of the best things about geology is that it can take you anywhere in the world. We will discuss the wind-dominated landscapes of the Sahara, the continental glaciers of Antarctica and Greenland, the mountain ranges that criss-cross the ocean floor, and even the geology of other planets. We will study events that occurred millions of years ago and events that are still occurring today.  We are lucky to study geology in southeastern Washington, where 

What will this class do for you?

I hope that after this class:

  • You will look at the world differently:
    • You will have a sense of the immense scope of Earth's long history.
    • You will look at rocks in a new way - instead of indistinguishable static objects, you will see solidified iron-rich magmas, remnants of coral reefs, or old sediments recrystallized by heat and pressure.
    • When you sit in a window seat on an airplane, you will see geologic processes at work, not just trees, mountains, and rocks.
  • You will learn to "talk the talk" by articulating your theories using the geological lexicon.
  • You will understand how geologists use observations of the natural world to reconstruct the past.

Course structure: Geology 110 and 111

Each week, there will be three one-hour periods (Geology 110) and one three-hour laboratory period (Geology 111).  In Geology 110 we will cover the topics you need to understand in order to learn about geology.  Readings in the textbook will supplement the lecture material.  Geology 111 will allow you to learn hands-on techniques for "doing" geology; in lab you will learn to identify rocks and minerals, how to read topographic and geologic maps, and more.

Course materials

  • Required textbook: Marshak, Earth: Portrait of a Planet 5e. Norton.
  • Required lab book: Introductory Geology Laboratory Manual (I will provide this)
  • Optional: Field notebook for field trips (you will need some kind of field notebook, but the "official" orange or yellow field books are nice to have)
  • Optional: 10x hand lens, Hastings Triplet or similar type (useful for labs, and fun!)
  • Optional: Colored pencils and a calculator will be useful for some of the labs.  I will provide some but you may want your own.

Field Trips

We will go on several field trips for this class, held during your regular lab times; see the schedule for the dates.  It is your responsibility to wear appropriate clothing.  I'll leave the definition of "appropriate" up to you, but be sure that you are prepared for bad weather and that your shoes will let you scramble around in the dirt with the rest of us.  Bring sunscreen, drinking water, a notebook and pencil.  You will do well on field trips if you take detailed notes and draw sketches while in the field.

Finding me

I have official office hours when you are most likely to find me in my office in Hall of Science 150. (Note: if you can't find me in 150, you should check the GIS lab, 176.  Sometimes I end up helping students in that room.) You are welcome to bring questions to my office whenever the door is open. You may want to check my schedule for the best times to find me. If you can't find me, please send me an email and we can set something up.

How I will grade Geology 110

Exams (88% of the class grade)

There will be four exams, each worth 22% of the course grade.  Exams will cover material from lecture, although the text will be useful for understand the material we discuss.  The exams are not cumulative, except insofar as understanding material from earlier in the class may be necessary to understand later material.  The first three exams will be held during the lecture periods indicated on the course schedule; the fourth exam will be held during the final exam slot (also on the course schedule).  This time is set by the registrar and is not negotiable.  If circumstances beyond your control force you to miss an exam, please contact me ahead of time by phone, email, or in person to discuss it.

Hometown geology (12% of the class grade)

You will use the geologic skills we develop in this class to learn about the geologic history of your hometown (or some other place that interests you) and write about it in a 2 page, single-spaced report.  I will provide more details later on in this course.


I do not enforce your attendance in lecture.  However, there is no question that you will do better in this class if you come to the lectures.  Exams will primarily draw on material that we discuss in lectures.  

How I will grade Geology 111

Lab exercises and field trips (100% of the class grade)

Each lab, you will follow a self-contained program designed to introduce you to a particular aspect of geology.  Depending on the lab, you may use the lab period learning to identify rocks and minerals, analyzing stream processes on our stream table, or reading geologic and topographic maps.  Labs are evaluated based on questions or other materials you turn in, and sometimes on lab quizzes testing your understanding of the material.  Unless stated otherwise, lab exercises are due at the end of the lab period in which they were assigned.


Attendance in lab is required in order to get credit for your lab work; if you cannot attend a scheduled lab for any reason, please talk to me beforehand and if possible I will provide you with the materials you will need to complete the lab on your own time.

Point system and late work

I use a standard system for grading based on your percentage of total possible points:

Percentage Grade
97 - 100% A+
93 - 96% A
90 - 92% A-
87 - 89% B+
83 - 86% B
80 - 82% B-
77 - 79% C+
73 - 76% C
70 - 72% C-
67 - 69% D+
63 - 66% D
60 - 62% D-
< 60% F

Late work

Assignments can be handed in late, but you will lose five points for each day the assignment is late.  For example, if you turn in an assignment less than 24 hours late, your maximum score will be 95%; if you turn it in between one and two days late, your maximum score will be 90%, etc. Note that assignments turned in three weeks late cannot get credit. Obviously, I can no longer accept late work after I turn in grades following final exams. I understand that sometimes unexpected obstacles arise, so everyone gets one “pass” for a two-day extension — just let me know when you need to use it.

Hometown geology project

From the syllabus:

Hometown geology (12% of the class grade) You will use the geologic skills we develop in this class to learn about the geologic history of your hometown (or some other place that interests you) and write about it in a 2 page, single-spaced report. I will provide more details later on in this course.

The purpose of this project is to give you the opportunity to apply your knowledge of geology to a place on Earth that interests you. Perhaps you are interested in your hometown; perhaps you would prefer to learn about another place, such as a national park or a place that you hope to visit.

Two single spaced pages of text (about 1000 words) doesn’t sound too hard, right? However, that means that I have high expectations for the quality of those two pages. Furthermore, this project is worth 12% of your course grade, so it is important to do a careful job and make sure you understand what I am looking for. This document is designed to help you do that.

The grade on this project will be based on your performance on two different assignments: a proposal and a final paper.

Project proposal, due by class time on Wednesday 28 November

The paper proposal is a one-page document discussing the topic you plan to develop for your research paper. Your paper proposal should include the following things:

  1. A working title representing your best guess of your final title, e.g. “Geologic events that shaped Lost Island.”

  2. A paragraph discussing the topic you plan to pursue. This paragraph should summarize the parts of the geologic story that you have decided it is most important to focus on. For example: “I will begin by describing the Paleozoic sedimentation that produced the bedrock, then I will describe the Late Paleozoic to Mesozoic mountain-building that deformed these rocks, and finally the Cenozoic rifting that moved the islands away from the mainland.” This paragraph should be written with good grammar and spelling, but need not be formal at this stage.

  3. A preliminary list of references (three or more) that you think will be useful in researching your paper. References should be formatted according in the style of the American Geophysical Union journals. See the AGU guidelines document I am providing for more information about this style. Please note that in geology, a map is a perfectly valid reference to cite.

How will you find references? The details will vary depending on your project topic, but I have some advice to get you started.

  • A simple web search can work wonders, and this is a great way to get started. Just remember that pages like Wikipedia are great for getting an overview and as a source for cited resources, but they are not a substitute for more respected resources.

  • To locate more web resoures, you can try Google Scholar to find journal articles. You should probably do this search on the Whitman network so that you will have Whitman’s access to all of the journal articles.

  • Don’t forget about the library! Penrose has all sorts of books on the geology of different places. Even older books are generally fine - the rocks have probably not changed much. Very old books (pre 1960s) may predate the acceptance of plate tectonics. Watch out!

  • There is now a marvelous platform available to look at geologic maps from the 48 coterminous U.S. states. It is called Mapview. Find it at or simply do a web search to find it.

Technical details: The document should be written in a Google Doc using 12-point Times or Times New Roman font, single spaced. Use one-inch margins. You will submit this assignment to me electronically by sharing it with me.

Final paper, due by class time on Friday 7 December

Your final paper will have four parts: a title page, the two-page manuscript, the references cited, and figures.

Title page

The title page should be a simple page containing only the title of your manuscript, your name, the date, and the name of this course.

The two-page manuscript

The body of the manuscript should be at least two single-spaced pages, not including the title page, references, or figures. I cannot give you a formula for success here, because everyone’s paper is going to be different. However, I can offer a few guidelines.

  • Use active tense wherever possible. (E.g. “the volcano erupted” is better than “there was a volcanic eruption.”)

  • Avoid getting sidetracked; make sure each sentence is pertinent to the topic of your paragraph.

  • Your paper should draw on original primary literature as necessary to defend your statements. Avoid web resources like Wikipedia - these can be excellent sources of information and may lead you to other sources, but are not themselves suitable resources to cite.

  • Never use quotations in your paper unless the way something is phrased is of particular importance. This is almost never true in a scientific paper.

  • Resist the temptation to make grand sweeping generalizations in your conclusion that are not warranted from the rest of your paper.

Check out my grading rubric for more information about this.

References cited

The references cited section should be on a separate page, and is not included in the two pages of text. It is simply a list of resources cited in the paper, in AGU format. The list should be in alphabetical order by the last name of the first author of each publication. See the AGU style guide for details.

Please note that there should be one and only one reference listed for each in-text citation in the paper. In other words, if you cite something in the text, it MUST be in the references cited list. (Note that AGU makes an exception for web resources.) If you do not cite something in the text, it should not be in the reference list.


Your paper should contain at least one figure that I would like you to make yourself. This will be a full-page map at an appropriate scale, including the location of your study area. The figure must include an indicator of scale (a scale bar), and orientation (a north arrow). There are many ways to make this map. The simplest way is to use the tools in a program like Google Earth to draw points, lines and polygons as necessary and then use the print function to save a pdf. If you have studied GIS in another course you could even use ArcGIS, available in several computer labs on campus, to make your map. Whatever the case, please label the important geographic features (mountain ranges, rivers, etc.) that you reference in your paper.

Whether you include one figure or many, the figures should all be in their own section at the end of the paper, after the references section.

Please note:

  1. Figures should have figure captions, generally below the figure, that describe what the figure shows. Unless you made the figure yourself, you should also cite the source of the figure. For example, “Fig. 1: Paleogeography of the Lost Island region during the Proterozoic [from Smythe et al., 2005]. The Lost Island Fault is marked in blue.” Figures taken from other sources must always be cited appropriately.

  2. Any figures you include should be referred to in the text, e.g. “By the Proterozoic, the Lost Island continent was near the Equator (Fig. 1).”

How I will grade this project

I will use the following rubric to grade your project.

  • Proposal (15% of the project grade)

    • Is there a working title that clearly describes the topic of the paper (not, e.g. “Final paper”)?

    • Does the proposal text correctly summarize pertinent geologic events?

    • Are there at least three plausible sources listed?

    • Are the references correctly formatted?

  • Paper (85% of the project grade)

    • Title page (5% of the paper grade)

      • Is there a title page?

      • Does the title accurately reflect the content of the paper?

    • Paper text (70% of the paper grade)

      • Content

        • Does the paper accurately describe the geology of the area?

        • Based on the title, are there any major omissions from the paper?

        • Does the author demonstrate sufficient understanding of the topic by writing in their own voice and not relying on quotations from other sources?

      • Format

        • Is the text of the paper at least two single-spaced pages?

        • Is the paper in 12-point Times font with appropriate margins?

      • Writing

        • Is the text free of grammatical and spelling errors?

        • Is the writing clear and understandable?

        • Does each paragraph discuss a single topic?

        • Is there a logical progression from one topic to the next?

        • Is the writing concise?

      • In-text citations

        • Are citations included in the text where appropriate?

        • Are the citations in correct (Name, year) format?

    • References section (10% of the paper grade)

      • Are the sources listed in a correct and consistent format?

      • Is there one and only one source listed in the references for each source cited in the text?

      • Are the references appropriately authoritative (i.e. not Wikipedia, blog posts, etc.)?

    • Figures (15% of the paper grade)

      • Does each figure have a figure caption?

      • Does the map showing the study area have an indicator of scale (a scale bar) and orientation (a north arrow)?