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Introduction to Earth System Science

Randal L. N. Mandock

Clark Atlanta University - University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


Course provides a scientific understanding of the physical earth system - lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, solar system - by describing how its component parts and their interactions have evolved, how they function, and how they may be expected to continue to evolve on all time scales. Students are required to attend a two-hour laboratory each week. This course can be used to satisfy the core physical science requirement for all non-science majors.

Course Type:
Entry Level:Earth System Science

Course Size:

Course Context:

Introduction to the components of the earth system. Emphasis placed on introductory mineralogy, petrology, hydrology, geomorphology, geodynamics, geochronology, oceanography, atmospheric science, and astronomy. Includes a required 2-hour laboratory and 3 optional half-day field trips. Students take the course to satisfy a general education requirement.

Course Goals:

Overarching goal of course: Student will learn to frame proper questions about the natural environment and find defensible answers through the use of reason, calculation, experimentation, visualization, illustration, and counsel. These are the tools of the natural scientist.

Student will develop the following skills:
1. To distinguish internal from external earth processes on the basis of energy source.
2. To analyze earth system problems and solve them through the use of lower mathematics.
3. To synthesize information from maps, graphs, images, and tables to answer earth system questions, verify text explanations, and draw conclusions.

Specific learning outcomes:
1. Ability to classify earth system processes as either solar driven or geothermal driven.
2. Ability to use common logarithms, exponentials, elementary dimensional analysis, proportions/ratios, linear relationships, power law relationships, algebra, stress/strain relationships, and elements of trigonometry to determine earth system metrics such as earthquake magnitude and location, composition of the global water resource, conversion of river discharge units, river and seafloor gradients, calculations involving river competence, difference between brittle and ductile behavior, calculation of stellar distance from parallax, stellar brightness.
3. Ability to read and construct contour maps and profiles for earth and ocean floor topography; the stratigraphic column, atmospheric pressure surfaces; atmospheric temperature structure; seawater density, temperature, and salinity; seismic wave speed; and temperature structure of the solid earth.
4. Ability to read maps of temperature, wind, and ocean circulation; pie charts; graphs; satellite and aerial imagery.
5. Development of spatial thinking by unfolding stratigraphic sequences; tracking continental and polar drift; measuring distances in degrees, hours, and kilometers across the spherical surface of the earth; and visualizing the one-dimensional structure of the earth as a series of concentric rings beginning at the core and extending to the thermosphere.
6. Demonstration of knowledge of plate tectonics by illustrating plate dynamics and calculating the isostatic balance of continental and oceanic crust.
7. Ability to use the principle of "gradient flow" to predict directions of wind, oceanic, and plate motions; the direction of heat transfer; and the direction of transport of scalars such as water vapor, atmospheric trace gases, and saline solutions.8. Proficiency in the use of simple laboratory and field techniques to identify common minerals, rocks, geomorphologic structures, weathering, soils; proficiency to calculate relative humidity, dew point temperature, temperature of a rising air parcel; and skill to estimate energy balance components at the land surface.

Skills goals:
Student writing, quantitative ability, critical analysis of web sites, working in groups, use of scientific calculator.

Attitudinal goals:
1. Building students' confidence in course- or discipline-related abilities.
2. Improving students' sense of healthy skepticism.
3. Developing students' appreciation and understanding of natural hazards.
4. Increasing student excitement/personal wonder about learning about the Earth.
5. Changing student attitudes toward science.
6. Developing students' sense of stewardship of the Earth.
7. Use of field trips to build cameraderie, tie theory to practice, and offer students strenuous physical workouts in natural environments.


Graded tests, projects, field trip reports, laboratory assignments, preliminary and exit examinations and attitude surveys. Students meet the goals by achieving a final course score of 70% or higher.


Syllabus (Microsoft Word 76kB Jun25 06)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

1. Earth Science, 2006, 11th ed., Prentice Hall, by Edward J. Tarbuck and Frederick K. Lutgens, 726 pp.
2. Applications and Investigations in Earth Science, 2003, 4th ed., Prentice Hall, Tarbuck, Lutgens, and Pinzke, 347 pp.
3. Clark Atlanta University Energy Balance Module
4. www.usgs.gov
5. www.noaa.gov
6. www.wikipedia.org
7. Physics of the Earth, 1992, 3rd ed., Brookfield Press, by Frank D. Stacey.
8. www.prenhall.com/tarbuck
9. http://fsc.fernbank.edu
10. www.mapquest.com
11. http://gpc.edu/~pgore/stonemtn/text.htm
12. http://www.griffin.peachnet.edu/bae/
13. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/maps/georgia_map.html
14. http://weather.unisys.com/