Initial Publication Date: May 29, 2015

Course profile: Environmental Geology

University of North Carolina Wilmington

Entry level environmental geology course, 31-70 students

Information for this profile was provided by John Huntsman in 2007.

Jump down to Overview and Context * Course Content * Connecting to the Future of Science * Goals and Assessment * References and Resources

Overview and Context

An examination of the complex interrelationships between human society and geoscience processes including natural hazards, resources, environmental concerns, and global change. This is an introductory course in geology with no prerequisites and an optional one credit-hour laboratory. The course fulfills the basic studies requirements for all UNCW students as either a three-hour (without the lab section) or a four-hour natural science class. The course also serves as an acceptable prerequisite for historical geology, one of two required introductory courses for all geology majors. In addition, the course is co-listed as an environmental studies class where it is part of the choices for the required core curriculum in this major. One section of environmental geology is offered at least once per year for honors students only. Upwards of 20% of all students taking this course eventually choose to major in geology.

Course Content

The lecture part of the course begins with a brief overview of the earth's systems and processes. The succeeding discussion of natural hazards includes earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, and coastal zones allows for more focused discussions on processes, observations, and interpretations, which, as a whole, demonstrate the procedure of collecting, reducing, and interpreting data and applying models to better understand the interrelationships. The remaining areas of content (environmental concerns, resources, and global change) permit students to evaluate the value of science to human endeavors and needs through analysis and planning. The final components of the course generate opinions concerning the validity of that which is understood from science and that which is portrayed as "fact" in the media.

The optional lab not only presents an overview of minerals, rocks, structures, and maps, but also provides in-depth exercises emphasizing hands-on collection of data (both in-field and in-lab), data reduction, and interpretation in solving problems. For example, some labs include preparation of hazard maps from real data related to earthquake shaking, epicenters, streamflow records, precipitation data, and soil maps.

Connecting to the Future of Science

The lecture part of this course provides students with a strong background in the basic concepts related to applied geology and effects on society. Essentially, students are prepared for more advanced study in multi-disciplinary areas by already having been introduced to the eclectic nature of applied geology related to environmental concepts.

Goals and Assessment

Content Goals

  • Students should be able to predict potential hazards for any given area by knowing basic inherent geologic materials and characteristics of a given area.
  • Students should be able to both predict and analyze the impacts of the occurrence of a natural hazard in a given area.
  • Students should be able to evaluate the compatibility of a given area to proposed uses of the land given the necessary geologic data.
  • Students should be able to synthesize multiple data sets into a viable analysis of environmental impacts of both human-induced and naturally-occurring events.
  • Students should be able to evaluate the validity of various reports and models concerning global changes, including global climate.

Skills Goals

  • Students should find improvement in the following skills as a result of taking this course: writing, critical thinking, critical analysis, and critical reading.

Attitudinal Goals

  • Students should become more confident in their ability to understand science and data as important tools for today and in the future.
  • Students should become more aware of the concept and value of being good stewards of earth's resources.
  • Students should become more skeptical of concepts related to environmental and geoscience as presented in non-refereed popular media including films, television, and internet sources.
  • Students should become more excited about geosciences and the earth.
  • Students should better understand the importance of ethics in dealing with the immediate reactions to geohazards as well as planning for their predicted occurrences and resulting accommodations.


  • Scheduled formal lecture exams including both objective and subjective questions and format
  • (Lecture only) Take-home projects that focus of questions requiring analysis, synthesis, and interpretation of data
  • (Lab) Weekly projects incorporating observations, recordings, analysis, reduction, and synthesis of data to solve a particular problem

References and Resources

  • Standard lecture texts on environmental geology including those by Keller, Pipkin and others, Montgomery, Koch, and others
  • Lab exercises are in-house