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Earth and Planetary Science

Division of Natural Sciences, Interdisciplinary Minor

 

Karl Kehm, Director

 

The Earth and Planetary Science minor gives students a broad understanding of processes that formed and modify the Earth and other planets in the solar system. The curriculum introduces a wide range of topics, from surface phenomena such as weather and climate, to the Earth’s internal composition and dynamics. Transcending the boundaries of traditional geological studies, the Earth and Planetary Science program focuses on the way large Earth systems such as the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere interact and evolve. Further emphasis is placed on the fundamental physical and chemical laws that govern the cycling of matter and energy on the Earth. Together, these complementary approaches help to provide students with a comprehensive view of the planet’s origin and evolution, as well as an enlightened appreciation for the forces at work in our natural environment.

 

The core program offers both introductory (ENV 140 and ENV 141) and advanced (PHY 340) Earth Science courses. The introductory courses can be applied toward distribution. The advanced course requires completion of ENV 140 and ENV 141. As a whole, the curriculum provides excellent supplementary training for science and environmental studies majors. The Earth and Planetary Science minor combined with a major in physics, chemistry, biology, or environmental studies can form an ideal launch point for Earth Science careers in industry, academia, or research.

 

This minor can be combined with any major at Washington College. It comprises six courses, to be chosen as follows:

ENV 140. Exploring the Solid Earth (with lab)

ENV 141. Atmosphere, Ocean and Environment (with lab)

PHY 340. Earth and Planetary Systems Studies (with lab)

MAT 201. Differential Calculus

 

And two courses from the following:

CHE 111. General Chemistry I

CHE 112. General Chemistry II

CSI 201. Introduction to Computer Programming

ANT 109. Introduction to Geographical Information Systems

PHY 111. General Physics I

PHY 112. General Physics II

 

Course Descriptions

ENV 140. Exploring the Solid Earth

This course investigates the composition, structure, and dynamics of the solid Earth. The course reviews prominent theories for the origin of matter, the accretion and differentiation of the planets, and the structure of the Earth’s interior. The role of plate tectonics in driving the exchange of matter and energy between Earth systems is a central theme of the course, providing the theoretical context for understanding geological phenomena such as seismic activity, volcanism and mountain building. The course is designed to provide the necessary scientific and intellectual background for understanding a wide range of Earth phenomena, and to give students a greater appreciation for the origin and evolution of their planet. Includes three lecture-hours per week plus lab.

 

ENV 141. Atmosphere, Ocean and Environment

This course examines processes and features that characterize the Earth’s surface. The course focuses on the major Earth systems of land (lithosphere), air (atmosphere), and water (hydrosphere) and explores how these systems evolve and interact through geologic time. Examples include studying global air circulation and its effect on weather, examining links between ocean currents and global climate, and exploring how stream processes help to shape landscape. The role of plate tectonics in driving the exchange of matter and energy between Earth systems is also a central theme. The course is designed to provide the necessary scientific and intellectual background for understanding a wide range of Earth phenomena, and to give students a greater appreciation for their natural environment. Includes three lecture hours per week plus lab. Prerequisite: ENV 140.

 

PHY 340. Earth and Planetary Systems Studies

This course features a detailed examination of the unique interaction between the Earth’s geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, and how these systems contrast with those of the other planets in the solar system. The course includes a lecture and an integrated lab component. The lecture discussion and reading emphasizes the history of Earth systems, from the birth of the solar system and differentiation of the Earth, to the emergence of biological life, chemical evolution of the modern atmosphere, and the changes to the Earth’s climate, ocean and lithosphere throughout geologic history. The lab will introduce students to important tools in Earth Science research, including radiometric dating, chemical studies of natural materials, remote sensing and data base analysis. The course provides advanced students with the necessary scientific and intellectual background for pursuing further studies in Earth and planetary science, geography, and environmental studies. Includes three lecture-hours per week plus lab. Prerequisite: ENV 140 and 141.