Physical Geology
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Physical Geology Course Outline

Introduction To Geology

Concepts Covered:

  • What is Geology?
  • Why Should We Study Earth?
  • What Do Geologists Do?
  • What are Minerals and Rocks?
  • How Should We Conceptualize Plate Tectonics?
  • What is Geological Time?


Concepts Covered:

  • Why Are Electrons, Protons, Neutrons, And Atoms Important?
  • What Are Bonding And Lattices?
  • How Can We Describe Mineral Groups?
  • What Are Silicate Materials?
  • How Do Minerals Form?
  • What Are The Properties of Minerals?

Intrusive Igneous Rocks

Concepts Covered:

  • How Can We Describe The Rock Cycle?
  • What Is Magma And How Is It Formed?
  • What Happens When Magma Crystallizes?
  • How Are Igneous Rocks Classified?
  • What Are Intrusive Igneous Bodies?


Concepts Covered:

  • What are Plate Tectonics and Volcanism?
  • How Can We Describe the Composition of Magma And Eruption Style?
  • What Makes Different Volcanoes Unique?
  • How Can Volcanoes Be Hazardous?
  • How Do Scientists Monitor Volcanoes and Predict Eruptions?
  • What Are The Volcanoes Like In British Columbia?

Weathering and Soil

Concepts Covered:

  •  What Is Mechanical Weathering?
  • What Is Chemical Weathering?
  • What Do Erosion And Weathering Produce?
  • How Is The Formation Of Soil Affected By Weathering?
  • What Is Different About The Soil In Canada?
  • How Does Weathering Affect Climate Change?

Sediments and Sedimentary Rocks

Concepts Covered:

  • What Are Some Examples Of Clastic Sedimentary Rocks?
  • What Are Chemical Sedimentary Rocks?
  • What Are Depositional Environments And Sedimentary Basins?
  • How Are Sedimentary Structures And Fossils Related?
  • How Can We Connect Groups, Formations, And Members?

Metamorphism and Metamorphic Rocks

Concepts Covered:

  • Are There Controls Over Metamorphic Processes?
  • How Do Scientists Classify Metamorphic Rocks?
  • How Are Plate Tectonics And Metamorphism Connected?
  • What Is Regional Metamorphism?
  • How Can We Relate Contact Metamorphism And Hydrothermal Processes?

Measuring Geological Time

Concepts Covered:

  • How Do Scientists Use The Geological Time Scale?
  • What Methods Exist For Relative Dating?
  • What Rocks Are Used To Date Fossils?
  • What Are Isotopic Dating Methods?
  • Do Other Dating Methods Exist?
  • How Can We Understand Geological Time?

The Earth's Interior

Concepts Covered:

  • How Can We Understand The Earth Through Seismology?
  • Just How Hot Is The Earth’s Interior?
  • What Are The Physical Properties Of Earth’s Magnetic Field?
  • What Is Isostasy?

Plate Tectonics

Concepts Covered:

  • Why Is Alfred Wegner Called “The Father Of Plate Tectonics?”
  • In The Early 20th Century, What Global Geological Models Were Used?
  • What Happened During The Geological Renaissance Of The Mid-20th Century?
  • What Are Some Mechanisms For Plate Motion?


Concepts Covered:

  • What Is An Earthquake?
  • How Are Earthquakes and Tectonic Plates Related?
  • How Do We Measure Earthquakes?
  • What Are The Impacts Of Earthquakes?
  • How Does Forecasting Earthquakes Allow Scientists To Minimize Casualties And Damage?

Geological Structures

Concepts Covered:

  • What Is The Difference Between Stress And Strain?
  • What Is Folding?
  • What Are The Results Of Fracturing And Faulting?
  • How Can Scientists Measure Geological Structures?

Streams and Floods

Concepts Covered:

  • What Is The Hydrological Cycle?
  • Why Are Drainage Basins Important?
  • How Are Stream Erosion And Deposition Related?
  • What Are The Different Types Of Streams?
  • How Does Flooding Impact An Ecosystem?

Ground Water

Concepts Covered:

  • How Are Ground Water and Aquifers Connected?
  • How Does Groundwater Flow?
  • What Is Groundwater Extraction?
  • How Do Scientists Test For Groundwater Quality?

Mass Wasting

Concepts Covered:

  • What Are Some Factors That Control Slope Stability?
  • How Do We Classify Mass Wasting?
  • What Are Ways In Which We Can Prevent, Delay, Monitor, and Mitigate Mass Wasting?


Concepts Covered:

  • When Were The Glacial Periods In Earth’s History?
  • How Do Glaciers Work?
  • What Is Glacial Erosion?
  • What Is Glacial Deposition?


Concepts Covered:

  • What Are Waves?
  • How Does Coastal Erosion Affect Landforms?
  • What Is The Impact Of Coastal Deposition On Landforms?
  • Why Is Sea-Level Change Important?
  • How Do Humans Interfere With Shorelines?

The Geology of the Oceans

Concepts Covered:

  • How Can We Understand The Topography Of The Ocean Floor?
  • What Is The Geology Of The Ocean’s Crust?
  • What Are Sea-Floor Sediments?
  • What Is Ocean Water Comprised Of?

Climate Change

Concepts Covered:

  • What Makes The Climate Change?
  • What Is Meant By “Anthropogenic” Climate Change?
  • What Are The Implications Of Climate Change?

Geological Resources

Concepts Covered:

  • What Are Metal Deposits?
  • Why Are Some Metals Called “Industrial”?
  • What Are Fossil Fuels?
  • What Makes Diamonds A Special Case?

The Geological History of Western Canada

Concepts Covered:

  • How Can We Begin To Look At The Geological History Of Canada?
  • When Canada Was Undergoing The Precambrian Period, What Was It Like?
  • How Did Canada Look As It Underwent The Paleozoic Period?
  • What Was Western Canada Like During The Mesozoic Period?
  • What Was The Impact Of the Cenozoic Period On Western Canada?

The Origin of Earth and the Solar System

Concepts Covered:

  • What Was The Big Bang?
  • How Did Planets Form From The Remnants Of Exploding Stars?
  • How Is A Solar System Built?
  • What Were Earth’s First Two Billion Years Like?
  • Are There Other Planets Like Earth?

About the book

Physical Geology

This book was born out of a 2014 meeting of earth science educators representing most of the universities and colleges in British Columbia, and nurtured by a widely shared frustration that many students are not thriving in our courses because textbooks have become too expensive for them to buy.

About the authors:

Senior Contributing Author, Steven Earle

Steven Earle was born in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. He earned a BSc in geology from the University of British Columbia in 1975 and a PhD in geochemistry from Imperial College (London University) in 1982. He worked as a geologist and geochemist in the mineral exploration industry in western Canada from 1978 to 2000. For 20 years he developed and taught a wide range of earth science courses at Vancouver Island University. He currently designs and teaches distance courses for Thompson Rivers University (Open Learning), and also helps to grow food and drive the Community Bus on Gabriola Island. He maintains that the best way to see rocks is from a kayak.

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