Environmental Geology Lecture 1 - Introductory comments & foundational material

Geology - the study of the earth from the soil down. As you will see it is a lot more than identifying minerals and rocks.

In-class writing exercise: What do you want to learn about in this class, and what is the background you bring to this class?

The photo to the right from the USGS (United States Geological Survey) is of Mount Pinatubo erupting in the Philippines. Such eruptions have obvious local consequences, but can also have regional and global effects. This eruption caused measurable global cooling for a year or so. Understanding volcanism and how it influences human endeavors is one part of environmental geology that will be examined in this course.

Recent environmental geology in the news.

Course goals - what can be gained from this course? Possibilities.

Some important guiding concepts for the course:

In environment geology ethics and morality intertwine with science. Basic questions confronting people?

A major challenge in geology and earth science - how do we understand complex natural systems such as a river system, or a sandy coast line? First - think of all the factors that determine how a river looks and behaves. This should help you understand what we mean by complex natural system. Then consider how we might pedict future river behavior. Possibilities.

This is a computer generated image of the topography west of Omaha and is an example of scientific visulization. The type of visualization is known as a shaded relief map where the darker the lower the elevation. The dark, curved band to the east is a flood plain associated with the Platte River. One element this image clearly shows is the drainage in the area, the small streams that feed larger streams that feed into the Platte River. What additional history can you infer from this image? What are the factors that influence this history? Often in scientific works the images, the maps and graphs and photographs, carry a good bit of the information, are a point of focus my the reader. Scientific visualization is a very important tool, and a lot of information and good questions can be drawn from an image. The National Science Foundation has a scientific visualization competition (https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/scivis/), demonstrating the value placed in this endeavor.

Some cycles/systems:

View along Trans-Canada Highway north of Banff. Five of the various spheres are represented in this picture. Can you describe what element in the photo represents what sphere? Can you also think of links between the various components? By the end of this course you will see and understand these types of relationships even better.

One organizational approach to the various environmental geology topics we will cover is as follows:

How to "read" scientific literature? The basic idea is that you read different types of literature differently and one most effectively reads science very different from fiction.

How to use your time in this course in an efficient manner?

Course mechanics.


Suggested reading (if you like to read): John McPhee, 1989, The Control of Nature; Farrar, Straus, Giroux Press, N. Y., 272 p.

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