Environmental Geology (GEOL 1010)

Instructor: Harmon D. Maher Jr.

Dept. of Geography and Geology, University of Nebraska

Fall 2017

Environmental geology is the use of geologic knowledge for the benefit of human welfare. It focuses on how to live wisely on the earth, a challenge given the complex and dynamic system that makes up the earth.

The image to the right is of part of Longyearbyen, a Norwegian settlement of a few thousand people on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen up in the extreme North Atlantic, a place I have been fortunate enough to visit often. The white patch up the valley is a small glacier. Several things may strike you as different about the construction here. Note how the pipes all run above ground. This is because there is permafrost here, where a deeper layer of the ground stays permanently frozen, but the upper layer thaws out in the summer. This upper layer is quite mobile and moves around a good bit, and that is why the pipes are above ground. Put them in the ground and the shifting ground will break them in no time. Permafrost prevents unique engineering challenges. Note also how the road is on a built up pad of gravel. The houses are built up off the ground to thermally insulate them from the ground so that they do not melt and destabalize the underlying permafrost. This is one small example of where it is necessary to understand how the earth behaves, specifically how permafrost behaves, in order to wisely live in this area. Longyear is a good example of where the knowledge of the environmental geology is needed and used.

This web site is in a state of perpetual reconstruction. It is intended for use by students in Environmental Geology (GEOL 1010) course taught at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Others are welcome to peruse and comment.

Course time commitment minimum: 2.5 hours of class attendance each week, plus on average 3.5 hours per week outside class effort.

Text: There is no text. Instead, your focus should be on the material presented during lecture, on this web site, and occasional readings assigned. This is done for several reasons, one of which is to simply save you money. This approach will also mimic real life where you need to pull information together from multiple sources of different types to create your own understanding.

Grade: Your grade will be based on the following components:
a) three exams, each worth 25%.
b) participation points, including in-class exercises and Blackboard discussion 25%    
The exams will be mixed format – matching, short answer, diagrammatic. Participatioin points will be based on in-class and out-of-class exercises. Cheating in any form is not worth itdon’t do it. The minimum penalty will minimally be failure of the course. If you have questions with regard to what is acceptable please ask beforehand and I will be happy to answer.

Office hours for this course: 8-9:30 AM T, W, Th, or by appointment (I am also in my office a lot so feel free to stop by and I will help you if I can). Phone: 554 2662. Canvas will be used on a regular basis for communication purposes.


Some foundational material:
1) Introduction, course overview.
2) Population dynamics and their significance.
3) Chaos, prediction, and risk. Web reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_theory .
4) Boxes and arrows – system science.

5) Hydrologic cycle.
6) Flooding, and flood control structures.
7) Porosity, permeability and other basics of groundwater.
8) Groundwater contamination and clean-up, landfills.
9) Nebraska’s water resources. Web reading: http://water.unl.edu/hydrology (please explore included links).

Exam 1

Landscape, and surface processes and related geologic hazards:
10) Slip-sliding away – forms of mass wasting.
11) Soils and related environmental concerns.
12) Karst terranes.
13) Arctic landscapes, permafrost and glaciers.
14) Storms and coastal processes and hazards.

Exam 2

Internal earth processes and hazards:
15) Plate tectonics and the distribution of earthquakes and volcanoes..
16) Earthquake hazards.
17) Volcanic hazards.

18) Energy sources/production, fossil fuels, and clean/dirty coal.
19) Nuclear energy.
20) Geothermal, hydropower, wind power and others.
21) Ores, mining, and the legacy.

Global perspective
24) Global Climate change
26) Sustainability and the future.

Exam 3

You are always strongly encouraged to ask questions. Questions are the lifeblood of science.

Glaciated terrane on Spitsbergen Norway. Long island in distance is Prins Karls Foreland.

Return to home page of H. D. Maher Jr. .