Geology

Students who discover in themselves a sense of excitement about the environment, mountains, climate change, volcanoes, fossils, rivers and earthquakes, will find a good home in the Carleton Geology Department. Founded by Dr. Laurence M. Gould, former President of the College and one of the first geologists to explore Antarctica, the geology department retains a spirit of exploration and adventure. Fieldwork in the out of doors is central to our curriculum. The interests and goals of geology students are diverse; more than three-fourths go to graduate school as preparation for careers in academia, environmental sciences, science journalism, industry, and the public sector at the local through federal levels. A degree in Geology has also proved to be a good foundation for graduate study and work in conservation, architecture, engineering, resource economics, environmental education, and resource management. Typical of Carleton, our graduates can also be found in almost any profession.

The geology curriculum is flexible, rigorous, and rooted in the traditions of a liberal arts education. Junior and senior majors in other natural sciences and Environmental Studies are welcome to enroll in geology courses numbered 200 and above without the introductory geology prerequisite with permission of the instructor. Students may receive credit for only one 100-level geology course.

Requirements for the Geology Major

  • Any introductory geology (100 level) course that includes a laboratory section (the requirement for introductory geology may be waived for juniors who come to geology from another science major).
  • 36 credits from the 200- and 300-level Geology course offerings. (42 credits if the introductory geology requirement was not completed).  Six credits toward the major can be counted from any single off-campus program where appropriate, with a maximum of twelve credits toward the major from all off-campus programs. Geology students should take three or four 200-level courses before taking 300-level courses.
  • Six credits of Geology 400, Integrative Exercise and attend seminars associated with comps fall, winter and spring terms senior year (students planning to spend a term off-campus during senior year should attend the appropriate seminars during junior year).
  • Six credits of Physics from courses numbered 131 and above;
  • Six credits of Chemistry from courses numbered 123 and above;
  • Twelve credits of Mathematics from courses numbered 111 (101) and above; Computer Science courses numbered 111 and above may count for six credits of the mathematics requirement.


Geology majors are encouraged to participate in a recognized field camp and take part in summer research opportunities.

These requirements for the geology major are considered to be minimal; students planning a career in geosciences should take several additional courses in mathematics and other sciences as well as geology.

Students interested in earth science education should discuss their plans with the Educational Studies department because a number of specific courses must be taken for teacher certification.

Note: Students may receive credit for only one 100-level geology course.

Geology Courses

GEOL 110 Introduction to Geology and Lab An introduction to the study of earth systems, physical processes operating on the earth, and the history of the earth.  Weekly laboratories included. Prerequisite: Not open to students who have taken another 100-level Geology course. 6 credits; LS; Fall, Spring; Bereket Haileab, Sarah J Titus
GEOL 115 Climate Change in Geology and Lab This course is designed to introduce the study of paleoclimatology broadly, and is based on investigating local deposits that span a broad range of geologic time. We will perform research projects on topics of local interest, which may include: analyzing fossils in 450 million year old rock, scrutinizing reported Cretaceous dinosaur gizzard-stones, researching post-Ice Age climate change using cave or lake deposits, and using dendrochronology (tree rings) and seismic surveys to study disruption of the prairie-big woods landscape by European settlers. Participants should be prepared for outdoor laboratories and one Saturday field trip. Prerequisite: Not open to students who have taken another Geology 100-level course. 6 credits; LS, QRE; Not offered 2021-22
GEOL 120 Introduction to Environmental Geology & Lab An introduction to geology emphasizing the physical basis of systems of interest to environmentalists, ecologists, and policy makers. Field trips and laboratories included. Prerequisite: Not open to students who have taken another Geology 100-level course. 6 credits; LS, QRE, WR2; Spring; Chloé Fandel
GEOL 125 Introduction to Field Geology and Lab This course introduces fundamental principles of geology and geological reasoning using the geology of southern Minnesota as a guide. Weather permitting, much of the classroom and lab time will be spent outdoors at nearby sites of geological interest. Using field observations, descriptions, data-gathering and interpretation, supplemented by lab work and critical reading, students will piece together the most important elements of the long and complex geologic history of southern Minnesota. Field trips, including one or two all-day weekend trips, and laboratories included. Prerequisite: Not open to students who have taken another 100-level Geology course. 6 credits; LS, QRE; Fall; Cameron Davidson
GEOL 130 Geology of National Parks This course introduces fundamental principles of geology and geologic reasoning with natural examples from the National Park system. Topics may range from volcanic hazards of Yellowstone to the geologic history recorded in the walls of the Grand Canyon to the effects of climate change on the Everglades. A multiday field trip over mid-term break is required; no camping experience or equipment is required but students should be prepared to spend time outdoors. The field trip may include some strenuous hiking. Prerequisite: Not open to students who have taken another 100-level Geology course. 6 credits; LS; Winter; Sarah J Titus
GEOL 135 Introduction to Climate Science This course aims to provide a survey of topics relevant to understanding Earth’s climate past, present, and future. Topics of interest will include the Earth’s climate system, rates and magnitude of change, methods for reconstructing and understanding Earth’s climate history, and researching local climate archives including cave deposits, tree rings, lake sediments, and soils. Outdoor laboratories included. 6 credits; LS, QRE; Fall; Dan P Maxbauer
GEOL 200 Selected Field Topics in Geology This seminar course will investigate a variety of topics relevant to a specific field site. Participants will conduct fieldwork, which may involve recording observations, documenting field relationships, collecting samples, analyzing and taking in situ measurements, and collecting material for laboratory analysis. Coursework will also include group and independent study into the underlying geology of the region, as well as use of the primary literature to research topics of specific interest. Prerequisite: Instructor's Permission required. Students should waitlist. 2 credits; S/CR/NC; Winter; Cameron Davidson
GEOL 205 Selected Topics in Geology This seminar course will focus on a specific topic in the Earth Sciences. Coursework will include group and independent study, as well as use of the primary literature to research topics of specific interest. Some sections of this course may involve laboratory or field work.  Prerequisite: Instructor Consent. 3 credits; NE; Not offered 2021-22
GEOL 210 Geomorphology and Lab A lab and field-focused introduction to water resources – the processes driving the water cycle, the methods used to quantify and understand the flow of water, and the relationship between humans and water. Weekly field trips to nearby locations such as streams, wellfields, caves, and water infrastructure to develop skills including streamflow measurements, water quality monitoring, pump tests, and measuring soil properties. No previous outdoor experience required. Prerequisite: 100 level Geology course or instructor permission. 6 credits; LS, QRE; Fall; Chloé Fandel
GEOL 220 Tectonics and Lab This course focuses on understanding the plate tectonics paradigm and its application to all types of plate boundaries. We will explore the historical development of the paradigm, geophysical tools used for imaging the structure of the Earth and determining plate motions, and possible driving mechanisms of this global system. Students will independently explore a particular tectonic plate in detail throughout the term. Laboratories included. Prerequisite: One introductory (100-level) Geology course. 6 credits; LS, WR2; Fall; Sarah J Titus
GEOL 230 Paleobiology and Lab Fossils: their anatomy and classification, evolution, and ecology. Special emphasis on the paleobiology of marine invertebrates. Field trips and laboratories included. Prerequisite: 100-level Geology course or an introductory Biology course, or instructor permission. 6 credits; LS, WR2; Spring; Clint A Cowan
GEOL 240 Geophysics and Lab This applied geophysics course focuses on understanding the near-surface structure of the Earth using a hand-on approach. Students will collect, process, model, and interpret geophysical data using gravitational, magnetic, and seismic methods. Weekly laboratories and one weekend field trip will be required. Prerequisite: One introductory 100-level Geology course and one Physics introductory course or instructor consent. 6 credits; LS, QRE; Not offered 2021-22
GEOL 245 “When the Earth Shook…” Earthquakes in Human History and Lab Earthquakes (and associated tsunamis) are complex, fascinating geological events, and they often have profound and devastating effects on human societies. In this course, we will explore the changing human understandings of earthquakes and their geological mechanisms from antiquity to the present; the development of techniques for understanding them; and the ways in which societies prepare for and respond to life in seismically active zones of the world. Case studies will form an important element of the course and students will pursue research using scientific and humanistic sources to understand earthquakes in all their dimensions. There is a required lab. Prerequisite: 100 level Geology course or prior History course. 6 credits; LS, QRE, IS, WR2; Not offered 2021-22
GEOL 250 Mineralogy and Lab The study of the chemical and physical properties of minerals, their geologic occurrence and associations. Topics include crystallography, crystal chemistry, x-ray analysis, phase equilibria, classification, optical mineralogy, and environments of formation. Laboratories are included. Prerequisite: One introductory (100-level) Geology course, or Chemistry 123 or 128. 6 credits; LS; Winter; Bereket Haileab
GEOL 255 Petrology and Lab An introduction to the fundamental physical, chemical and tectonic principles that are relevant to the formation of igneous and metamorphic rocks. Labs emphasize description and interpretation of the origin of rocks based on hand specimen and thin section study. Field trips and laboratories are included. Prerequisite: Geology 250. 6 credits; LS; Spring; Cameron Davidson
GEOL 258 Geology of Soils and Lab The study of soil formation, and physical and chemical properties of soils especially as related to geomorphology and land use. Laboratories and field trips will emphasize how to describe and interpret soils. Prerequisite: One introductory (100-level) geology course. 6 credits; LS, WR2; Not offered 2021-22
GEOL 260 Coastal Marine Ecology Modern (and ancient) coastal marine benthic communities and their ecology. Topics include: structure of coastal communities, organisms' interactions with each other and their environment, inshore physical oceanography, intertidal rocky shorelines, kelp forests, mangrove and coral reefs. Readings focus on landmark papers in nearshore marine ecology. Students explore research topics related to modern or ancient crises in marine ecosystems. Some years, an optional, multiday field trip over mid-term break may be provided; no experience or equipment is required, but participants must be prepared to spend time in the water and be competent swimmers. Prerequisite: One 200-level course from either Geology or Biology or permission of the instructor. 6 credits; LS, WR2; Not offered 2021-22
GEOL 270 Topics: Tasmania Geology and Natural History Reading and discussion of sources about Tasmanian natural history, human history and geology, including the geologic and biologic inheritance from Gondwana, the influence of aboriginal culture on the landscape, and current conservation issues. Students will plan field research and excursions for winter break and develop formal proposals for projects. This course is part of the OCS winter break program, involving two linked courses in fall and winter terms. This course is the first in the sequence. 3 credits; NE, IS; Not offered 2021-22
GEOL 271 Tasmania: Geology, Natural History and Conservation Research This course is the second part of a two-term course sequence beginning with GEOL 270. Following the winter break trip to Tasmania, students will complete and present research projects. In this course, we will also consider comparative examples of natural history and conservation policy drawn from the American Midwest. Prerequisite: Geology 270 prior term. 6 credits; NE, IS; Not offered 2021-22
GEOL 285 Geology in New Zealand: North Island In this course, participants will study modern and ancient geologic systems in the North Island with a view to understanding the tectonic, volcanic, and sedimentary history of New Zealand. The course will include projects in a wide range of geological settings. Prerequisite: Enrollment in OCS Program. 6 credits; NE; Not offered 2021-22
GEOL 286 Geology in New Zealand: Topics in North Island Geology This course is tied to the North Island half of the program. Readings and discussions will cover a broad range of topics appropriate to North Island geology. Prerequisite: Enrollment in OCS program. 2 credits; NE; Not offered 2021-22
GEOL 287 Geology in New Zealand: South Island In this course, students will study the tectonic evolution of the South Island. Participants will work in small teams to hone their field observation skills, make structural measurements, and develop their mapping skills in several field sites across the South Island. Visits to additional field sites such as glaciers, fjords, and the Alpine fault are possible. Prerequisite: Enrollment in OCS program. 6 credits; NE; Not offered 2021-22
GEOL 288 Geology in New Zealand: Topics in South Island Geology This course is tied to the South Island half of the program. Readings and discussions will cover a broad range of topics appropriate to South Island geology. Prerequisite: Enrollment in OCS program. 2 credits; NE; Not offered 2021-22
GEOL 289 Geology in New Zealand: Basic Field Drawing Formal and informal instruction and opportunity to improve field drawing skills. This course will include an independent field drawing assignment during midterm break in New Zealand. Prerequisite: Enrollment in OCS program. 2 credits; NE; Not offered 2021-22
GEOL 315 Paleoclimate The main objective of paleoclimatology is to reconstruct past climates in order to improve our understanding of the processes involved in controlling Earth’s climate at various timescales. This course will focus on climate reconstructions from local climate archives. Lab and some class time will be dedicated to group research projects. Reading and discussing primary literature is expected along with presentations and writing assignments related to research topics. Laboratories and one weekend field trip included. Prerequisite: Two 200 level geology courses, or instructor consent. 6 credits; LS, QRE; Not offered 2021-22
GEOL 340 Hydrogeology: Groundwater The principles of groundwater flow through the subsurface, and the functioning of aquifers. Topics include the properties of porous media, hydraulic head gradients, contaminant transport, and fractured and karstified aquifers. Labs will include working with physical sandbox models and soil columns, as well as an outdoor pumping well test (weather permitting). We will simulate groundwater flow using simple numerical modeling, beginning with an introduction to Python coding, and develop an increasingly complex groundwater model over the course of the term. No previous programming experience required. Prerequisite: Geology 210 recommended. 6 credits; LS, QRE; Winter; Chloé Fandel
GEOL 360 Sedimentology and Stratigraphy and Lab This course is based on field examination of outcrops of Lower Paleozoic sedimentary rock. We will interpret the processes involved in the creation, movement, and deposition of these ancient sediments, and try to determine their paleoenvironments. Also of interest are the transformation of these sediments into rock and the analysis and correlation of strata. Weekly laboratories, one overnight trip, and one Saturday trip are required. Please note the late laboratory times. Both paleobiology and geomorphology prepare students for work in sedimentology. This course is intended for upperclass Geology majors, and much of the work is done in teams. Prerequisite: Three 200-level Geology courses. 6 credits; LS, WR2; Fall; Clint A Cowan
GEOL 365 Structural Geology and Lab This course focuses on rock deformation at scales ranging from the collision of continents to the movement of individual atoms within crystals. We will examine structures that develop within different layers of the Earth's lithosphere and discuss how and why these structures form. Reading, discussion, and presentation of scientific literature is expected throughout the term as we focus on deformation and tectonics in a single region. Laboratories and one weekend field trip are included. Prerequisite: Two 200-level Geology courses or instructor consent. 6 credits; LS; Not offered 2021-22
GEOL 370 Geochemistry of Natural Waters The main goal of this course is to introduce and tie together the several diverse disciplines that must be brought to bear on hydrogeochemical problems today. This course will explore: principles of geochemistry, applications of chemical thermodynamics to geologic problems, mineral solubility, stability diagrams, chemical aspects of sedimentary rocks, geochemical tracers, radiogenic isotopes and principles of stable isotope fractionation. Laboratories included. Prerequisite: Chemistry 123 or permission of the instructor. 6 credits; LS, WR2, QRE; Spring; Bereket Haileab
GEOL 400 Integrative Exercise Each senior geology major must take a total of six credits of Geology 400. One of the credits will be awarded in the spring term for the preparation and delivery of a formal talk and attendance at the talks or other seniors. The other five credits must be taken in the fall and/or winter terms. Credits can be divided between those two terms or all five credits may be taken in the same term. All seniors must attend the Geology 400 seminars which will meet weekly fall and winter term. Geology 400 is a continuing course, and the grade will not be awarded until the end of spring term. 1-6 credit; S/NC; Fall, Winter, Spring