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Environmental Geology

Maureen Muldoon, Geology, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh


This is a general geology course for non-majors. I introduce the course using a picture of the book "How Things Work in Your House (and what to do when they don't)". The course covers all the basic geology concepts but emphasizes the interactions between geology processes and people.

Course Size:
greater than 150

Course Format:

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

Environmental Geology is an introductory geology course that fulfills a general education requirement for Laboratory Natural Science. The vast majority of the students (90+%) are taking this course to fulfill a requirement – general education, for one the education majors, or for the Environmental Studies program. Typically 1 to 2% of the students choose to pursue a geology major after taking this course. This is a demanding 4-credit course.

Course Content:

The Environmental Geology course can be divided into four major topics:

1) fundamentals,
2) Earth processes and natural hazards,
3) Earth resources, and
4) health of the environment.

Sustainability is a recurring theme throughout the course. Lecture meets for 3 hours each week and I use class exercises and clicker questions to make the lectures a bit more interactive. Lab exercises cover the traditional concepts of mineral and rock identification, topographic maps, streams and aquifers, soils, and basic water quality. The lab includes an on-campus field trip to the Fox River and a half-day off-campus field trip.

Course Goals:

These are the goals of the course as stated in the syllabus.
At the end of this course you should:
  • have an appreciation of the unique features of our planet and an understanding of Earth's place in space and time,
  • understand how earth processes constantly reshape the face of our planet,
  • know how geologic processes create natural hazards for humans and the means by which we can minimize those hazards,
  • appreciate that life (including human life) relies on Earth resources for survival and understand how our resource use impacts the planet.

Course Features:

As this is primarily a lecture course, the integration of sustainability is that the topic is revisited many times throughout the semester. It is introduced as a "fundamental concept" in chapter 1 and reappears as we discuss water resources, soil resources, mineral resources and energy resources.

Course Philosophy:

Environmental Geology is a natural for introducing sustainability concepts since we discuss many non-renewable earth resources. I designed the course as general geology course and about five or six years ago I revised it to incorporate sustainability as a recurring theme throughout the semester. I have incorporated many examples of the sustainability initiatives on campus (i.e. water conservation, renewable energy).


Assessment for the lecture portion of the course consists of four multiple-choice exams (necessitated by large class size). In the lab portion of the course, students self-grade each week's lab exercise and assessment consists of four lab exams that consist primarily of short-answer and fill-in-the-blank type questions.


Muldoon Environmental Geology Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 80kB Jun28 12)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Environmental Geology, James S. Reichard