Geology of National Parks

Kurtis Burmeister

University of the Pacific
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


Overview of topics in physical geology within the context of North American National Parks. Semester-long course with weekly lectures (3) and lab periods for 20-25 students. Significant field component includes 3 multiple day field trips.

Subject: Geoscience:Geology
Resource Type: Course Information, Goals/Syllabi
Grade Level: College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level, College Lower (13-14)
Ready for Use: Course Goals Only
Course Type: Intro Level:Physical Geology
Earth System Topics: Solid Earth
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience
Course Size:

Course Context:

This will be an introductory course with no pre-requisites that satisfies both general education requirements and satisfies the pre-requisite for all intermediate level course for intermediate-level courses for our geology and environmental science majors. The course is field-intensive (3 multiple day field trips), has a significant writing component (several 1-2 page writing assignments), and a required weekly three-hour lab.

Course Goals:

1. Students should be able to interpret the geologic history, tectonic setting, and geologic processes in a region
2. Students should be able to identify potential impacts of human activities on parks (e.g., physiographic regions)
3. Students should be able to analyze information on geosciences-related topics in the popular media and effectively communicate results to others

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

The goals outlined above will be addressed within a course plan structured around a series of topics, including:
(1) Introduction: tools for forensic time travel and predicting the future;
(2) Assembling North America: Voyageurs NP;
(3) Supercontinent cycles: Acadia, Adirondacks, Great Smoky Mountains NPs;
(4) Evolution of the Sierra Nevada: Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Mt St Helens NPs;
(5) Marine environments: Florida/Gulf coast coral reef environments:
(6) Passive margin coastlines: Virgin Islands, Everglades, Cape Cod;
(7) Emerging coastlines: Point Reyes, Channel Islands, Olympic Peninsula NPs;
(8) Stretching the crust: Death Valley NP, Grand Tetons NP;
(9) Dissecting a great plateau: Grand Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Zion NPs;
(10) Folding and thrusting: Glacier NP, Rocky Mountains NP;
(11) Natural resources: Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge; and
(12) Hot spots—the fire from below: Hawaii volcanoes, Yellowstone NP.

Within this course structure, a series of activities will help students achieve specific discipline-related goals. Examples of these activities and assignments include:
Goal 1—concept maps of rock, hydrologic, and carbon cycles; rock cycle game; defining plate boundaries jigsaw; concept sketches of plate boundaries; gallery walks on topographic and geologic map interpretation
Goal 2—concept mapping causes, effects & feedbacks in biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere of the Yellowstone fires; gallery walk on the ethics of rock & fossil collecting
Goal 3—written (abstract) reviews of "Scientific American" style articles; weekly PowerPoint journal of one geoscience-related topics in the news

Rubrics will be used to assess whether students have met the specific content- and skill-related goals of each activity or assignment

Skills Goals

Critically reading and writing skills, Data analysis and interpretation

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Critically reading and writing skills: students will be asked to read two Scientific American articles on geoscience-related topics and write abstracts that summarize those articles
Data analysis and interpretation: students will analyze and interpret data on air quality trends from two National Parks and summarize their results in a short writing assignment that compares and contrasts the causes, effects, and remediation efforts of air quality issues at their two parks


Rubrics will be used to evaluate student learning

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