Teach the Earth > Geodesy > Course Descriptions > Introduction to Applied Geophysics

Introduction to Applied Geophysics

Remke van Dam

Michigan State University
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


This is a three-credit course with no lab. The course has two parts, an initial Planetary Geophysics component, and a subsequent Exploration Geophysics component. In the Planetary section, the earth's situation in space introduces a presentation on the composition and structure of the planet. Phenomena such as seismology, density distribution, heat flow and magnetism are studied. The Planetary section ends with a review of plate tectonics and crustal evolution as viewed from first principles. The Exploration section reviews the basic tools of exploration geophysics, including seismic analysis, gravity techniques, magnetic methods, electrical survey, radioactive study, and borehole approaches. Practical applications, legal considerations, and environmental policies are also presented.

Subject: Geoscience:Lunar and Planetary Science, Geology:Geophysics
Resource Type: Course Information:Goals/Syllabi, Course Information
Grade Level: College Upper (15-16)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Planetary Science, Geophysics
Course Size:

Course Context:

This is an upper level undergraduate course in the Department of Geological Sciences. The course is required for students following the Geophysics concentration or Physics and Geophysics major (Physics department). Enrollment consists of juniors, seniors, and grad students and has varied between 5 and 21 over the last 5 years.

Course Goals:

After this course students should be able to:
  1. explain theory behind different geophysical methods,
  2. use Excel and simple forward modeling programs to predict equipment performance and expected results,
  3. make informed choices of which method to use for specific problems, and
  4. have experience operating geophysical equipment and interpreting data.

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

The course is dived in two more or less equal parts.
  1. The first 8 weeks are composed of lectures and computer labs. Computer exercises are done on a personal basis in a lab setting, but discussions and working in small groups is encouraged. After each lab a report has to be turned in. The material covered in the book readings, lectures, and labs is tested in a mid-term exam.
  2. During the project-oriented second 8 weeks student groups of three to four will work with geophysical equipment. The projects involve survey design, data collection, data interpretation. Students' performance will be rated based on presentations and a report.

Skills Goals

  • Quantitative abilities
  • Working in groups

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

  • Many of the students in this class have little experience with analysis of quantitative data. The computer lab is set up for them to improve their skills in this area. Students work with simple modeling programs and with Excel. Assessment is done through lab reports.
  • Group work is a significant component of the second half of the semester. Students work on an independent project with their group, where they are responsible for distributing the tasks, organizing field work, and making presentations to the class. They also work across groups in 'equipment teams' and 'modeling teams.'


  • In-class questions
  • Lab-reports
  • Mid-term exam


Course syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 111kB Mar7 10)