Last updated 8/11
Geology - Course Offerings
All credit-bearing laboratories carry 0.25 course credits unless noted otherwise.
101/101L Environmental Geology
A. Leventer, W. Peck, B. Selleck, M. Wong
How do geologic processes and events directly influence human societies? How have humans changed the Earth?
Fundamental geologic concepts such as plate tectonics, geologic time, and surficial processes are used as a
basis for understanding a variety of natural geologic hazards including earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides,
floods, and coastal erosion. Real-world examples of the interplay between human activities and the environment
include soil and groundwater contamination, mineral and energy resource development, and threats to the Earth's
biodiversity. Also, the course takes a closer look at the geologic record of global change and the debate over
global warming. This course is an interdisciplinary approach to environmental geosciences. Three lectures and
one laboratory session per week. The required credit-bearing laboratory session GEOL 101L must be taken and
passed concurrently with GEOL 101.
K. Harpp, W. Peck, M. Wong
A course tracing the history of the Earth from the origin of the solar system to the present.
Also considered are the origin and evolution of the Earth’s crust and interior; plate tectonics,
continental drift and mountain building; absolute age dating; the origin of the hydrosphere and
atmosphere; earthquakes and volcanism. The results of recent planetary exploration are
incorporated into an examination of the origin of the solar system.
110/110L Geology Outdoors
W. Peck, M. Wong
Geology is the study of how the Earth works and what processes have shaped it
through time. The area around Colgate reveals that central New York has
undergone dramatic changes, as huge mountain ranges, vast seas, and continental
glaciers all once existed near Hamilton, NY. This field-based course uses
Colgate's backyard as a natural laboratory to investigate how the region has
evolved over geologic time. The course emphasizes how careful observations
and logical reasoning can be applied to understand how the world around us
works. The course is centered on weekly field-based investigative projects
to local areas to study a variety of geologic processes. Fieldtrips are
followed by classroom discussions, additional data collection, and analysis.
Students synthesize and interpret their observations in semi-weekly writing
assignments and presentations. The required credit-bearing laboratory session
GEOL 110L must be taken and passed concurrently with GEOL 110.
115 Evolution: Dinosaurs to Darwin
The origin, evolution, and ecology of dinosaurs are examined from a geologic
perspective that recognizes continuity and change in the intriguing assortment
of animals that once inhabited planet Earth. Controversies concerning dinosaur
social behavior, physiology, extinction, and future cloning are considered in
light of recent evidence. Development of evolutionary thought from pre-Darwinian
ideas to the present and interactive exercises are emphasized. Discussions
about the habits and habitats of pre-modern mammals, including humans, enhance
appreciation for the common fate of dinosaurs and many mammal species that
suffered extinction on our planet. Open to all students. Two meetings per week.
120 The Geology of American Parks
This 0.5-credit course is designed to introduce first-year and sophomore students
to geological processes, materials, and basic field techniques using sites at
National Parks in the United States and Canada. Major goals of the course include
developing facility with basic field methods used in geology and other natural
sciences, promoting understanding of how regional geological history and active
modern processes shape landscapes, and exploring the impacts of human interactions
with the natural world. Prerequisite: at least one course in geology or other
introductory field-oriented science course.
A. Leventer, P. Pinet
A study of the major contemporary concepts of biological, chemical, geological,
and physical oceanography. The nature and origin of ocean basins by global plate
tectonics, sedimentation, sea water composition, water masses, oceanic
circulation, waves, tides, life in the sea, biological productivity, and human
impact are all discussed. The importance of the ocean as a dynamic ecosystem is
stressed throughout the course.
190/190L Evolution of Planet Earth
This course explores our planet's 4.5-billion-year history and how
geologists unearth the past through examination of minerals, rocks,
and fossils. Earth’s evolution is a natural experiment that cannot be
reproduced, and this course makes use of primary observational and
interpretative tools that geologists use to understand the past.
Age-dating techniques, plate tectonics and origin of continental
crust, mountain building events, and evolution of Earth’s landscape,
atmosphere, oceans, and biosphere are examined in the context of
the geological evolution of North America. Laboratory sessions focus
on analysis of rocks, minerals, and fossils, and geology in the field,
with an emphasis on field data collected during trips to local geological
localities. The required credit-bearing laboratory GEOL 190L must be
taken and passed concurrently with GEOL 190. GEOL 190 is recommended
for students interested in majoring in geology or environmental geology.
A previous earth science or geology course is recommended.
Minerals are the stuff of which planets are composed, the material from
which civilizations are built, and the coveted jewels and precious metals
of humankind. The study of these naturally occurring crystalline substances
is the science of mineralogy. This course deals with the principles and
concepts fundamental to understanding the physical, chemical, and
crystallographic properties of minerals. The laboratory introduces
techniques, including microscopy and x-ray analysis, that aid in defining
these characteristic properties. Familiarization with minerals of common
occurrence, and hence of greatest importance in understanding Earth's processes,
is emphasized in the laboratories. Lectures and one laboratory per week.
The required credit-bearing laboratory session GEOL 201L must be taken and passed
concurrently with GEOL 201. Prerequisite: one term of geology or permission of
This course deals with the origin and evolution of igneous and metamorphic
rocks and their plate tectonic setting. The origin of magmas is examined as
well as the processes involved in their differentiation. Metamorphic facies,
mineral assemblages, and thermobarometry are studied. Petrology and melting of
the upper mantle is discussed. These topics are unified by concepts of plate
tectonics. Laboratories involve the study of rock suites from classic areas
around the world. Three meetings and one laboratory per week, plus a weekend
field trip. The required credit-bearing laboratory session GEOL 202L must be
taken and passed concurrently with GEOL 202. Prerequisite: GEOL 201 or equivalent.
203/203L Environmental Geochemistry and Analysis
R. April, K. Harpp
The focus of this interdisciplinary laboratory and field-based course is the development
of practical skills essential to the study of natural systems. Through a series of local
projects, students learn how to address environmental questions, including experimental
design, collection and analysis of samples, interpretation of data, and presentation of
conclusions. Specific skills include techniques for the chemical analysis of natural
materials including rock, soil, and water, statistical analysis, sample collection,
and methods of data presentation. Laboratory and lecture are fully integrated and meet
once or twice a week. Occasional day-long sampling and field trips. The required
credit-bearing laboratory session GEOL 203L must be taken and passed concurrently
with GEOL 203. Prerequisite: CHEM 101 or permission of instructor.
210/210L Hydrology and Surficial Geology
The geologic materials nearest the Earth's surface are those that interact with the
biosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere. This course explores the nature of surficial
geologic materials and processes by using geographic information system (GIS) tools
and hydrological modeling software. Major topics are landform development, chemical
weathering, soil development and quality, and surface and groundwater hydrology.
Three meetings and one laboratory per week. The required credit-bearing laboratory
session GEOL 210L must be taken and passed concurrently with GEOL 210. A previous
earth science or geology course is recommended.
215/215L Paleontology of Marine Life
This course considers the fossil record of marine life from its origin to the present,
emphasizing the evolution of invertebrate animals through time. During classroom
discussions, labs, a field trip, and museum visit, students explore the anatomy, ecology,
fascinating behaviors, life-sustaining ecosystem services, and evolutionary history of
an amazing array of shelly animals and associated marine organisms that co-existed in
reefs and adjacent habitats. Evolutionary events, including the Cambrian "explosion"
and mass extinctions, are linked to dramatic physical (tectonic) and climatic changes
that occurred in Earth's past. The required credit-bearing laboratory session GEOL 215L
must be taken and passed concurrently with GEOL 215. An optional spring-break field
trip to the tropics may be offered in alternate years to students who have already taken
or are currently enrolled in this course. Prerequisite: one course in geology or biology.
217/217L Coastal Geology
A study of coastal geomorphology, sediments, and wave-related processes active
in the present and geologic past. Major topics to be considered include beach,
nearshore, and estuarine processes, barrier-island and salt-marsh development,
Pleistocene sea-level fluctuations, human modifications and impacts, and
erosional-depositional patterns induced by the interaction of physical and
biological factors of the coastal environment. The required credit-bearing
laboratory session GEOL 217L must be taken and passed concurrently with
GEOL 217. Prerequisite: GEOL 135 or equivalent.
Our fascination with volcanoes stems primarily from their awesome powers of
destruction; yet their constructive role in shaping our landscape, atmosphere,
and oceans has been crucial in Earth's history. This course explores the
fundamental concepts of volcanology, from the geological, chemical, and physical
processes that generate volcanoes to the implications of volcanic activity on
humankind. Through a series of case studies, this course examines the tectonic
environments that generate volcanoes and what they tell us about Earth's
internal processes; eruptive styles and volcanic forms; volcanic rocks,
minerals, and volatiles; properties and generation of magmas; features of
lava and pyroclastic flows; volcanic hazards, including their prediction and
mitigation; and what extraterrestrial volcanism can reveal about the history
of the solar system. Two lectures and one laboratory session per week. The
required credit-bearing laboratory session GEOL 220L must be taken and passed
concurrently with GEOL 220. Prerequisite: one geology course.
Scientific problems in the geosciences require integrating a number of different
perspectives, data types, and models in order to understand the causes and
effects of change in dynamic systems. Global climate change, volcanic hazards,
and natural resource management are examples of complex systems that benefit
from the use and interpretation of large-scale, multidimensional dataset analysis.
This course covers the steps of the scientific process in light of new technology
and advanced computing tools to solve problems that are really about rocks, soil,
water, and air. Beginning with remote and hands-on field data collection, students
investigate the best approaches to manipulating digital scientific data, and
incorporate these into computer models of geologic processes and environmental
systems. The required credit-bearing laboratory session GEOL 230L must be taken
and passed concurrently with GEOL 230. Prerequisite: one course in geology,
geography, or environmental science.
302/302L Stratigraphy and Sedimentation
A detailed study of modern sedimentary environments and their use in interpreting
ancient sedimentary rocks. The chemical and physical processes leading to weathering,
erosion, transport, deposition, and lithification of sediments are considered.
Field interpretation of local Paleozoic, Pleistocene, and Holocene sediments is
carried out through field study projects. Economic aspects of sedimentary rocks,
such as the occurrence of oil, natural gas, and coal, are discussed. Three lectures
and one laboratory period per week. The required credit-bearing laboratory session
GEOL 302L must be taken and passed concurrently with GEOL 302. Prerequisite: one
geology course or permission of instructor.
305/305L Structural Geology
Mountain ranges, rifting continents and earthquakes show that the Earth's crust
is constantly deforming. Structural geology is the study of how and why deformation
occurs. Students discuss deformational structures such as faults, folds, and ductile
flow and why the Earth deforms in different ways. Students examine deformation at
all scales, from the microscopic to mountain belts and examine the stresses that
ultimately cause the Earth to deform. Labs emphasize using 3D geometric analysis
and geologic maps as tools for unraveling deformational histories. Lectures and
one laboratory per week, plus a required weekend field trip. GEOL 305L must be
taken and passed concurrently with GEOL 305. Prerequisites: one 100-level and
one 200-level geology class or permission of instructor.
310 Environmental Economic Geology
This course examines the global distribution of mineral resources, the economic and
engineering factors that govern their availability, and the environmental effects of
their production and use. Mineral resources to be considered include ferrous and
non-ferrous metals, precious metals, and energy fuels. Topics to be explored,
in addition to the origin, nature, and geological settings of the world’s great
mineral deposits, include mineral law, mineral exploration and production, strategic
mineral reserves, minerals and human health, and environmental impact of mining
and use, and remediation. Prerequisite: GEOL 201.
315 Topics in Paleontology
This course entails a semester-long investigation of topics of special interest
in paleontology, including the origin of life, Cambrian "explosion," Ordovician
radiation, mass extinctions, Mesozoic Marine Revolution, or conservation
paleobiology. Emphasis will be placed on critical reading and written critiques
of the primary literature, seminar presentations, and data used to prepare a
final paper. Prerequisites: GEOL 215 or two biology courses or permission of instructor.
317/317L X-Ray and Clay Mineralogy
An integrated study of the nature of clay minerals and the methods of x-ray analysis.
Through projects, lectures, and readings, students gain a thorough knowledge of x-ray
diffraction and x-ray fluorescence analytical techniques, and the mineralogy of clays
and related minerals. Topics include x-ray diffraction and x-ray fluorescence theory
and applications; computer modeling of x-ray patterns; the structure and chemistry of
clay minerals, their origin and occurrence; clays and the origin of life; and the role
of clays in weathering. Students complete an original research project making extensive
use of the department's x-ray facilities. Prerequisite: GEOL 201.
320 Techniques of Field Geology
A five-week summer field program introduces the basic field techniques used
in geologic mapping. Students prepare geologic maps and stratigraphic sections
in assigned map areas and develop geological histories, focusing on igneous,
sedimentary, and metamorphic processes. The course consists of field work in
such locations as Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho. Prerequisites: GEOL 120 or
three geology courses or completion of six semesters.
321 Analytical Methods in Geology
Working in industry, government, and academia, geologists rely on modern
instruments for rapid, accurate analysis of geologic materials and processes.
This course examines the theory, practice, and application of analytical instruments
in the geosciences. Emphasis is on equipment housed in the Department of Geology
(atomic absorption spectrometer, scanning electron microscope-energy dispersive
spectrometer, x-ray fluorescence spectrometer, x-ray diffraction spectrometer,
inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometer) but other analytical methods are
discussed. Current geologic literature illustrating applications of the techniques
is also discussed. During laboratories, students learn sample preparation and
practical use of instruments while conducting short research projects.
330 Hydrogeology and Groundwater Pollution
Because the interdisciplinary area of Earth and environmental sciences has emerged
as a critical focal point for studies of natural waters, this course is designed
to examine the physical and chemical nature of water, its role in the global hydrologic
cycle, and the impact of humankind on water resources. Topics covered include water
resources and quality, surface- and ground-water hydrology and hydrodynamics, water-soil
interactions, hydrogeochemistry, and ground-water contamination. The environmental
consequences of human activity and development on water resources are considered through
case studies of regional surface-water and ground-water problems. Lectures and discussion
are supplemented with problem sets and exercises. Prerequisites: GEOL 210 and 302,
or permission of instructor.
Earth's climate has fluctuated widely in the past, between droughts, warm periods, and ice ages.
In fact, climate change is a certainty. The planet is currently faced with potential abrupt
climate change resulting from human-induced environmental modification. Paleoclimatology,
the study of past climates and environments of the Earth, provides a long-term perspective on
the nature of global climate variability that is critical for evaluating the sensitivity of the
Earth system to past, present, and future changes. This course provides students with an overview
of paleoclimatology by examining the use of proxy records such as marine and lake sediment sequences,
ice cores, tree rings, corals, and historical data to reconstruct past climatic conditions. Dating
methods are introduced, and seminal publications in paleoclimatology are reviewed in tandem with
current research papers addressing outstanding questions in paleoclimatology. Throughout, students
critically analyze their current understanding of past climates and environments, and identify
promising directions for future research. Topics include abrupt climate change, human evolution
and climate, biosphere-climate interactions, and paleoclimate modeling. Prerequisites: GEOL 215
or 302 or permission of instructor.
The major geochemical processes and events that produced transformative change to
the Earth's surface environment, from the origin of the planet 4.5 billion years
ago to the present-day, are the focus of this course. Topics of study include the
origin and evolution of Earth's atmosphere and oceans; geochemical evidence and
conditions for the emergence of life; the chemical behavior of ocean water, rivers,
and lakes; the global distribution and cycles of the major elements; weathering and
erosion of the continents; and the nature and biogeochemistry of the Critical Zone
— the fragile skin of the planet in which complex and interactive biogeochemical
and physical processes operate together to sustain life. Lectures and weekly readings
in the scientific literature guide class discussions. Prerequisites: CHEM 101
and GEOL 201, or permission of instructor.
411 Isotopes in the Earth Sciences
K. Harpp, W. Peck
The age of the Earth, genesis and growth of continents, global climate change, and
the formation of the solar system are all understood primarily through isotope and
trace element geochemistry. This course explores how geochemical tracers are used
to understand processes in the Earth and solar system that are not possible to
observe directly. Methods to be investigated include geochronology, radiogenic
isotopes in magmatic systems, stable isotopes as applied to understanding fluids
in low- and high-temperature environments, stable isotopes and the paleoclimate
record, and the radiogenic and stable isotope cosmochemistry of meteorites and
lunar samples. Current research in these fields (and readings in the primary
scientific literature) will be a focus of this course. Prerequisites: four
geology courses, including GEOL 202 (may be concurrent) or permission of instructor.
415 Seminar on Reefs
Reefs are "organic fantasias," some of one of the most visually stunning and
biologically diverse ecosystems on our planet. This course focuses on their
biology and geology, evolutionary history, and conservation. Complex ecologic
partnerships that have contributed to the evolutionary success of reefs in the
past two billion years are examined to predict their survival in a modern
environmental context. Students research why reefs are sensitive environmental
indicators, how ancient reefs yield clues about past climate change, and the
ways in which modern reefs monitor the health of world oceans. Seminar
discussions are based on multidisciplinary research; on oral and poster
presentations, debates, review panels, and symposia; and on interactions
with invited speakers. These are enhanced by an investigation of modern
and Pleistocene (fossil) reefs during an optional field trip to the tropics
over spring break (or in January). Prerequisites: GEOL 215, GEOL 302
(may be concurrent), or permission of instructor.
415L Tropical Field Course on Modern and Pleistocene Reefs
Intensive investigation of fossil and modern reefs is the focus of this 0.25-credit,
field-based "outdoor laboratory" course. Student participants complete a project
based on collection of data in the field to learn first-hand about coral reefs, one
of the most important and most threatened ecosystems on Earth. During a nine-day
trip to the tropics over spring break (or January), students engage in practical
exercises to study reef communities past and present. Research projects involve
snorkeling to make observations of modern reefs and their inhabitants, including
aquatic surveys to assess biodiversity. Projects also include comparison of modern
reefs with fossil (Pleistocene) reefs exposed on land. Final reports rely on these
and other data to assess the changes reef species have experienced in abundance,
diversity, and health through time; and to consider debates about the past,
present, and future status of coral reefs. Students complete a short final
paper and present research results after they return to campus. Prerequisites:
GEOL 215, GEOL 302 (may be taken concurrently), or permission
of instructor. This course is graded as satisfactory/unsatisfactory (S/U).
416/416L Marine Geology
A. Leventer, P. Pinet
The course is designed to provide a realistic understanding of rapidly evolving
concepts in the field of geological oceanography. Sedimentary and geophysical
data are discussed in the context of global plate tectonics. These data are used
to examine the processes responsible for the origin and evolution of continental
margins and ocean basins and to reconstruct global climate history. The required
credit-bearing laboratory session GEOL 416L must be taken and passed
concurrently with GEOL 416. Prerequisites: four geology courses or permission
This course analyzes large-scale structures of the Earth’s crust and interior.
There is particular emphasis on the interpretation of modern and ancient
orogenic belts in terms of actualistic plate tectonics models. The course
includes discussion of the details of plate boundary structures and plate
interactions, evolution of the Earth’s lithosphere through geologic time,
and the use of isotopes in geological investigations. Student presentations
are required. Prerequisite: GEOL 305 or permission of instructor.
420 Solid Earth Processes
K. Harpp, W. Peck
This course focuses on how the Earth's processes such as volcanism,
plate motion, and mantle dynamics are studied by geologists. Through
a seminar-style approach, the course considers the techniques used to
understand the solid Earth, with emphasis on volcanic and plate tectonic
systems. Methods studied include (a) volcanic systems: gas, plume, and
thermal monitoring for prediction of eruptions, lava chemistry, heat
flow, geochronology, field observations, and lava flow dynamics; (b)
plate tectonics: earthquake observations, ground deformation, and gravity;
(c) planetary geology: remote sensing, spectroscopy, and plume sampling.
Each technique is examined in the context of a specific case study
(e.g., Mount Pinatubo, Hawaii, Yellowstone, Los Angeles fault zones,
Venus, and the moons of Jupiter) through readings and discussions of
current geological literature. Experts currently working in the field
are consulted as resources. Prerequisites: GEOL 202 and GEOL 220.
426 Marine Environments
This course examines modern and ancient marine environmental systems
via intensive study of current scientific literature. The course emphasizes
the interplay between organisms, physical and chemical environmental
parameters, and the sedimentary record of environmental change. Long-term
changes in global ecosystem characteristics are thoroughly considered,
and the impact of human activity on modern marine systems is addressed.
Students will prepare weekly seminar presentations and contribute to a
course website. The course may include an optional trip to the Florida
Keys or Bahamas. Prerequisites: GEOL 315 and GEOL 302 (either or both may be
concurrent), or permission of instructor.
430 Seminar on Acid Rain
Acid rain — more properly termed acid deposition — is a worldwide
environmental problem that adversely affects lakes and streams,
forest ecosystems, plants and animals, and human health. The course
examines this environmental issue from the beginning of the industrial
revolution to the present. The science of acid rain — from why and how
it forms to what we know about its effects on ecosystems, earth materials,
and people — is explored and discussed in detail. Because New York State
receives some of the most acidic deposition in the United States, a portion
of course time is spent examining the effects of acid deposition on forests,
lakes, and streams in central New York and the Adirondack Mountains. Finally,
links between science and policy are explored through examination of the Clean
Air Act and events leading up to this and subsequent landmark environmental
enactments by Congress. Prerequisites: GEOL 201 and at least three
additional geology courses.
440 Research Seminar
This course is taken by students who are completing senior research
projects or preparing for honors work. Weekly seminars address both the
research problems under investigation and the writing of scientific research
papers. Students make regular oral reports plus a major, professional-style
presentation at the end of the course. A major research paper is also required.
441 Senior Research Seminar
Students engaged in senior or honors research are required to register for
this course designed to guide them in the proper preparation of a research
paper or honors thesis. Students are instructed in research techniques,
including library research, statistical analysis, and other approaches
commonly used in the geosciences. Other matters addressed in this seminar
include the format of the research paper or honors thesis, techniques of
scientific writing, and how to prepare an oral presentation. Students are
expected to give regular progress reports on their research.
291, 391, 491 Independent Study
Sophomores, juniors, and seniors by permission of instructor, with department chair approval.
SEA Semester Courses
The following courses are given in the SEA Semester of the Sea Education Association
program, with which Colgate is affiliated. For more information, follow this link to the
Sea Semester website.
SEA 201 Oceanography
This course introduces students to the scientific study of the ocean.
Students acquire a basic understanding of global ocean processes and a
more in-depth understanding of waters through which they will sail during
their subsequent sea component. The course focuses on modern understanding
of oceanography and includes an introduction to oceanographic research
techniques students will use at sea. The development of proposals of
independent student research projects to be carried out at sea is a key
component of this shore-based course. The course covers the four
interrelated disciplines of oceanography — physics, chemistry, biology,
SEA 202 Maritime Studies
This course provides a multidisciplinary study of the sea and sea voyage in
the Western tradition and the role of the sea in the historical development of
the modern world system of labor, trade, and scientific resource management.
SEA 203 Nautical Science
This course provides the theoretical background necessary for operating
vessels at sea. In lectures, lab sessions, field trips, and student projects,
SEA captains introduce the principles fundamental to sailing-vessel
operations. Students learn and apply essential concepts in general physics,
astronomy, and meteorology.
SEA 204 Practical Oceanography I (basic)
This course, completed during the first three weeks of the sea component, allows
students to acquire the skills and knowledge of the practicing oceanographer by
observing and applying the concepts and sampling techniques introduced on shore.
As students become familiar with the operation of a research vessel under sail,
they learn to carry out routine lab procedures and safely deploy and recover
oceanographic equipment. The extraction of physical data and processing of
chemical and biological samples is carried out by the lab watch once the
equipment is recovered and secured.
SEA 205 Practical Oceanography II (advanced)
During the second three weeks at sea, scientific sampling continues and students are
given increasing responsibility for routine lab work, the sampling program, and
operation of the vessel. Science watch officers begin to take a back seat on lab
operation, allowing students to make decisions and keep things running, while they
focus on helping with data processing and paper writing. By the end of the cruise,
students will be overseeing the lab watch, directing their peers, and planning and
carrying out station work with minimal staff supervision. The major focus of this
course is the completion of student research projects.
SEA 206 Practical Oceanographic Research (summer only)
This course provides practical experience in conducting oceanographic research on board
a sailing research vessel. During four weeks at sea, the scientific staff guides students
from an introductory learning phase to increasing responsibility in station planning,
equipment deployment, and data interpretation. Each day, students participate in lectures,
discussions, or hands-on study of specific topics in oceanography, nautical science, or
maritime studies. Students also receive individual and small-group instruction by the
scientific and nautical staff during regular watches in the lab and on deck.