EPS 50: Planet Earth

Syllabus, Fall 2015

Join our exploration of Planet Earth with modern scientific tools to answer questions such as these:

Earth and Planetary Science 50 is a comprehensive and rigorous introduction to the Planet Earth and its geologic processes. Two broad themes will be stressed in the course: The theory of plate tectonics and its ramifications, and the interaction of geologic processes and society. Following an overview of basic geologic principles and plate tectonics, we will develop the basic ideas and skills necessary to understand geology, with emphasis on understanding the nature and origin of important minerals, rocks and geologic structures. We will then develop the unifying theory of plate tectonics and learn about the dynamics of the Earth's interior, including earthquakes, and the tectonic processes which have formed the continents. The remainder of the course will be devoted to understanding interactions among the solid-Earth, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere; for example, surface processes, such as weathering and erosion, river and groundwater systems, glaciation, environmental and resource geology and climate change.

This is an introductory level physical science course and we draw on basic, high school physics and chemistry from time to time to explain geologic processes. For example, an elementary description of chemical bonding is necessary to understand the genesis of rocks and mineral resources, and the study of earthquakes and seismic hazards relies on basic notions of wave motion and optics. If you are concerned about your background, please talk to the instructor.

Throughout the course we will emphasize the geologic splendor of our own backyard. California is truly a showplace for geologic processes. In addition to the lecture material, the two field trips offer an opportunity to see these rocks in the wild in such exotic places as the Marin Headlands, Point Reyes Peninsula, the Hayward and San Andreas fault systems, and along the Pacific coast. It is often in the field where the key points studied in lecture and laboratory come home. There is no substitute for field observations and therefore the field trips are a requirement for the successful completion of the course; besides they are great fun and an opportunity to get outside and experience geology first hand.

The laboratories form a crucial component of this course, providing the student with the observational and analytical skills necessary to identify common rocks and minerals, understand and visualize geologic structures, read and interpret topographic and geologic maps, locate earthquakes, reconstruct past plate motions, and piece together geologic histories. Whatever your background and interests, we hope you will find the course challenging, intellectually stimulating, and above all, fun.

Class meeting times:

Lectures are held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:00-3:30 pm in 20 Barrows.


Course evaluation:

Lab schedule

Important general information on labs

Things to bring to lab


We will use Understanding Earth by Grotzinger and Jordan. Publisher release new editions every few years. Any of the recent editions is fine, but the most recent one is the best. The chapter numbers below may differ between editions. A copy of the book is on reserve in the Earth Science library.


Lectures notes will be posted as pdf files on bcourses

Week 1 (August 27)

Week 2 (September 1 and 3)

Week 3 (September 8 and 10)

Week 4 (September 16 and 18)

Week 5 (September 22 and 24)

Week 6 (September 29 and 30)

Weekend field trips, October 3 and 4

Week 7 (October 6 and 8)

Week 8 (October 13 and 15)

Week 9 (October 21 and 23)

Week 10 (October 27 and 29)

Week 11 (November 3 and 5)

Week 12 (November 10 and 12)

Week 13 (November 17 and 19)

Week 14 (November 24)

Week 15 (December 1 and 3)

The final exam is Tuesday December 15, 8-11 am. Please do not be late.

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