Environmental Geology

Laura Ruhl,
University of Arkansas at Little Rock


Throughout this environmental geology course, we will use geology to help understand conflicts in land use and potential hazards, to understand the root of and how to minimize environmental degradation, and to maximize the beneficial results of using our natural and modified environments. In addition to lectures, we will evaluate current environmental geology events and controversial topics, through article presentations, field trips, and debates.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is a required course for the environmental geology major at this university, or an elective course for the traditional geology majors. Majority of the students in this class are geology majors, but there are some biology, political science, and anthropology majors as well, taking this course as an elective. A prerequisite of a physical geology course is recommended.

Course Content:

Environmental geology is an applied branch of geology that encompasses the earth's surface and human interactions with it. In this course, we will use geology to help understand conflicts in land use, to minimize environmental degradation, and to maximize the beneficial results of using our natural and modified environments. Fundamental geologic concepts such as plate tectonics, geologic time and surficial processes are used as a basis for understanding a variety of natural processes. The class elaborates on many of the topics of physical geology including natural and anthropogenic geologic hazards: earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, and land subsidence, climate change, environmental issues, as well as the impact of mineral extraction and water resource utilization.
Throughout the course we will cover topics that shed light on our interactions with the earth such as:
1) Earth Materials (minerals, rock, soils, energy resources)
2) Natural Hazards (floods, landslides, earthquakes, etc)
3) Land Evaluation for site selection, land-use planning, and environmental impact analysis
4) Hydrologic processes of ground and surface water to be able to evaluate water resources and water pollution problems
5) Geologic Processes that occur naturally and how humans can change it.

Course Goals:

Students will be able to understand the links between geology and the environment (both anthropogenic and natural).

I want the students to leave my class with an interest in current events (environmentally related) and the knowledge and ability to discuss these in an educated manner.

Students should leave this class an informed citizen prepared to make decisions on a personal, local, national, and global level.

Course Features:

This class requires students to find recent articles on environmental geology topics and to present them in class. This keeps the students actively searching the news for current events, and allows for the application of material learned in class to outside events. I also try to tie the articles presented in class into the lecture material.
Students also will participate in a final project debate at the end of class. This activity allows the students to investigate a topic of interest at great detail and be forced to prepare both sides of the argument. This enables the students to see both sides of the topic and truly understand them by participating in the debate.

Course Philosophy:

Environmental geology is an applied branch of science and one that occurs everyday around us. Forcing the students to look at events that are making news, requires students to leave the "academic bubble" and look at what is going on in the world outside campus. It also allows the students to apply what they have learned in class and understand the world around them. This is particularly relevant in Arkansas, where we have many environmental geology related events taking place. I know the students have paid particular attention to the state events in their article and debate topic choices.


I assess the students and goal achievement through exercises, exams, class discussions, articles presentations, and their final debates.


Environmental Geology Syllabus (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 128kB Apr25 13)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Environmental Geology (9th Ed) by Edward A. Keller; ISBN: 0-321-64375-5.
I selected this book because it was more advanced than an introductory environmental geology textbook. It provides case studies and recent events in the chapters.

I also had the class read the IPCC's most recent report (only the FAQs section).