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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.