Teach the Earth > Introductory Courses > Course Descriptions > Environmental Geology

Environmental Geology

Carrie Davis Todd
, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown


This non-laboratory course is designed to cover key concepts in environmental geology, from natural hazards to resource extraction to environmental degradation to map interpretation. The course has no laboratory component but includes a variety of in-class activities to provide applications of course content, as well as a final group project focusing on a single aspect of the course.

Course Type:
Entry Level:Environmental Geology Entry Level

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is a lecture-based introductory course in environmental geology intended for students of all majors and abilities. The course is usually taken by non-majors to meet the Natural Science distribution requirement, although hopefully some students will be "recruited" from this course to become geology majors.

In your department, do majors and non-majors take separate introductory courses? no

If students take a "non-majors" course, and then decide to become a major, do they have to go back and take an additional introductory course? no

Course Content:

The focus of this course is on environmental topics in geology that have an impact on humans, such as natural hazards (earthquakes, volcanoes, floods), resource extraction (mining, fossil fuels, groundwater pumping), and pollution (climate change, water quality). There will be an emphasis on local environmental problems and data analysis.

Course Goals:

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:
  • read and interpret topographic maps (identify landscape features and explain the processes responsible for these features, as well as the hazards they may present)
  • explain how a knowledge of geology can help people solve environmental problems
  • understand the concept of recurrence interval as it relates to natural hazards, such as flooding
  • differentiate between natural and human-induced environmental disruptions
  • recognize and analyze current global events related to course topic.

Course Features:

Students will achieve the course goals primarily through in-class activities, homework assignments and a final group project of their choosing.

Course Philosophy:

This course was designed to bring hands-on and practical applications of environmental geology to a lecture-based (no laboratory component) course while raising students' awareness of the role of humans as environmental agents. An emphasis will be placed on local environmental issues.


Student assessment is conducted through a final project, quizzes, in-class activities, homework and exams.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 334kB Jul11 08)

References and Notes:

Geology and the Environment, 5th Edition; Pipkin, Trent, Hazlett, and Bierman
Since this is a new course for me, I reviewed several texts and sought opinions from other instructors. Ultimately, a strong recommendation from a student who had used this text helped me make the final decision.