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Geology 101: Physical Geology

This physical geology course can introduce you to the Earth's structure, geologic processes and materials. Check out the video lessons and quizzes to learn about plate tectonics, atmospheric science, the rock cycle and more. 

About This Course

Instructors teaching this physical geology course cover topics ranging from Earth's origin and structure right down to the nitty gritty of soil composition and erosion. They also emphasize the interactions between the Earth's four main subsystems and examine the impact of human activity on each of them. Use this physical geology course to learn:

  • Characteristics of rocks, minerals and soil
  • Theories describing the origin of the universe, Earth and moon
  • Tectonic forces shaping the Earth's surface
  • Relationship between the Earth's atmosphere and regional climate
  • Formation of glaciers, stream valleys and river systems
  • Environmental impacts of extracting mineral and groundwater resources
  • Pros and cons of renewable and nonrenewable energy resources
  • Legislative and regulatory approaches used to encourage environmental sustainability

These lessons feature an instructional approach that makes studying physical geology topics fun and engaging. You can access lesson content in the form of short videos or transcripts, both of which include plenty of illustrations and examples to help drive home important concepts. There are also corresponding multiple-choice quizzes you can use to assess your understanding of the main ideas and vocabulary terms.

Course Topics

Course Chapter Objectives
Introduction to Geology Explore the scientific method, Earth's subsystems and the various branches of geological study.
Earth Materials Learn the roles minerals, rocks, soil and water play in sustaining life on Earth. Get a closer look at types of metals and precious rocks.
Minerals Overview Examine the environmental impacts of mining and refining minerals. Investigate such physical properties as luster, crystal shape, density, tenacity and fracture.
Rocks Overview Find out what distinguishes rocks from minerals. Identify the three types of rocks and their life cycles and get an introduction to planetary geology.
Igneous Rocks Discover the origin of magma, as well as the differences between volcanic and plutonic igneous rock. Follow Bowen's reaction series and explore the relationship between tectonic plates and the locations of igneous rocks.
Sedimentary Rocks: A Deeper Look Study the types and features of sediment and the differences between detrital and chemical sedentary rock. Examine the processes leading to lithification and learn how rock features can be used to determine the environment in which they originated.
Metamorphic Rocks: A Deeper Look Look into the conditions influencing rock metamorphism. Find out how metamorphic rocks are classified and identify the differences between contact and regional metamorphism.
Rock Deformation and Mountain Building Investigate the types of stress leading to rock deformation and the causes of various geological folds and faults. Learn the vocabulary used to describe the processes of mountain building.
Weathering and Erosion Survey the processes of mechanical and chemical weathering, along with soil structure and type. Examine the causes and effects of erosion, as well as prevention techniques. Identify triggers for different types of mass wasting.
Running Water Discover the significance of drainage basins in developing a river system. Follow the formation of bedrock channels, alluvial channels and stream valleys. Learn how landform diagrams depict a landscape's geological progression.
Ground Water Survey types of springs and wells. Find out how groundwater forms geological features, like caverns and sinkholes, and explore the environmental affects of groundwater removal.
Glaciers Consider the processes involved in glacier formation, movement, erosion and deposition. Research causes of glaciation and find out how ice age glaciers formed pluvial lakes.
Oceans Examine oceanic ridge systems and basins, as well as active and passive continental margins. Explore properties and characteristics of shorelines, beaches, waves, currents, tides and marine organisms.
Deserts and Wind Identify characteristics of deserts in general and those in the Southwest in particular. Learn about the five types of sand dunes and the role wind plays in shaping desert landforms. Find out what kinds of human activity cause desertification.
Water Balance Investigate steps in the water cycle, including evaporation and condensation. Discover what happens to precipitation after it reaches land and learn the role transpiration plays in the movement of water.
The Universe Discuss evidence used to support the Big Bang theory before studying galaxy formation, the life cycles of stars, dwarf planets and planets in the inner and outer solar system. Research theories explaining the formation of the Earth and moon.
Geologic Time Look into geologic evolutionary theories of catastrophism and uniformitarianism. Discover numerical and relative dating methods, conditions leading to fossil preservation and significant eons, eras and epochs on the geologic time scale.
Earth's Spheres and Internal Structure Identify Earth's four spheres and their interactions. Delve further into the composition of the crust, mantle and core and examine forces shaping the Earth's surface.
Atmospheric Science Explore factors affecting an atmosphere's state and the long-term weather patterns comprising a region's climate. Consider the causes and effects of global warming and the processes by which carbon and nitrogen are cycled through the atmosphere.
Earthquakes Study the components and causes of earthquakes. Find out how geologists use seismic waves and the Richter scale to study earthquakes' mainshocks, as well as their foreshocks and aftershocks.
Plate Tectonics Unearth evidence supporting theories of Pangaea, plate tectonics and continental drift. Investigate the lithosphere's tectonic plate boundaries and causes of plate movement.
Energy Resources Learn the definition of energy and examine the first and second laws of thermodynamics. Research types of renewable and nonrenewable energy resources, including fossil fuels, radiant energy and hydroelectric energy.
Renewable & Nonrenewable Resources Discover the pros and cons of wind and solar energy, hydropower, geothermal energy, biomass and nuclear energy. Explore the environmental impacts of mining for coal, oil and shale gas, as well as the importance of energy efficiency and conservation.
Mineral Resources Get an introduction to economic geology before looking into the relationship between plate tectonics and concentrations of ore and mineral deposits. Learn about the processes involved in finding these resources.
Human Impact on the Environment Recognize the factors used to determine humans' environmental impact. Identify problems created by the industrial revolution and subsequent development, including deforestation, declining biological diversity, pollution, eutrophication and desertification.
Environmental Sustainability Explore the concepts and applications of sustainable development and consumption alongside behaviors that threaten the environment.
Environmental Risk Analysis Define environmental health and find out how it's threatened by disease-causing agents, toxicants and pollutants. Discuss procedures and technologies used to monitor water supplies, assess health risks and mitigate exposure to risk factors.
Ethical and Political Processes of the Environment Become aware of environmental ethics and worldviews, as well as the concept of environmental justice. Consider the steps that go into environmental legislation, policy, planning and decision making. Follow the assessment measures used to determine a project's environmental impact.

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