Summer 2014 - Notes on Planet Earth - Session 1 - Online - Syllabus

Introduction | Grading | Contact Information | Objectives | Holidays | Final | Schedule of Readings and Exams

Important changes or notifications will be posted here. Please check here daily.

If you live out of town, and will not be able to take the exams at SDSU, then you must provide me a name and official address of

  1. a school teacher, principal, or vice-principal
  2. a pastor, minister, priest, or rabbi
  3. a librarian
  4. a policeman or lawyer, or
  5. a test center associated with a local community college or institute of higher learning
  6. or some other professional that we can agree to (e.g., your boss).

You must send me their name, e-mail, phone number, and a professional address. The exam schedule is provided below. I recommend that you tell your potential proctor that the exams will be mailed to them via registered mail about 3-4 days prior to the scheduled exam date. Please note that I will not send any exams to home addresses, and that your proctor may not be related to you in any way. After I receive the contact information from you, then I will contact your chosen proctor via regular mail, phone, or email.

Exams that you will be taking are not open book exams and you may not use your notes nor receive any phone calls during the exam. In addition, I will post a video review prior to each exam at this web site (see Readings and Exams schedule). 

All of the material that you are responsible for is contained on this web site under the menu items Contents, Practice Exams PDF Format, and Lecture Videos.  These items are found on the home page. Upon reaching the home page click on each button with these labels to expand the menu items. 

If you live in San Diego, then I will be monitoring your exams which will be taken at SDSU (see Readings and Exams schedule) in SSW 1500 from 9:00 to 10:30 am. See the Readings and Exams schedule for specific dates.

Mean while all of you should make sure that you read the following syllabus carefully, and especially the Schedule of Readings and Exams.

If you have any questions about the structure of this class, then please contact me as soon as possible.

Posted May 16, 2014, 11:00 am - Extra credit questions for exam 1

Complete a google search and be prepared to answer the following questions on the Exam 1.

  1. The Haitian earthquake on January 12, 2010 occurred along a plate boundary separating a major lithospheric plate from a microplate. What are the names of these two plates? (2 points)?
  2. What kind of a plate boundary did the 2010 Haitian earthquake occur on (1 point)?
  3. How many people were killed during the Haitian earthquake, and what was the major cause of so many deaths (1 points)?
  4. What was the magnitude of the January 12, 2010 earthquake (1 point)?

Now go to the following web site and read Chapter 4 Mount St. Helens: A Case Study -

Chapter 4 can be found in the Table of Contents under the menu item labeled "eBook". After reading Chapter 4 please be prepared to answer the following questions on Exam 1.

  1. What is the maximum speed reached by the pyroclastic flow generated by the northward-directed lateral blast that occurred on May 18, 1980 at Mt. St. Helens? (1 point)
  2. The area affected by the pyroclastic flow produced by the lateral blast can be subdivided into three roughly concentric zones.  What are these zones referred to and how is each characterized? (3 point)
  3. How were most people killed during the May 18, 1980 eruption? (1 point)

Posted May 16, 2014, 11:00 am - Extra credit questions for exam 2

Go to the following web site and read in Chapter 8, A Case Study of the La Conchita landslide -

  1. Where is La Conchita located?
  2. What kind of a landslide occurred on March 4, 1995 at La Conchita?
  3. During the January 10, 2005 event, was new material involved in the landslide? If not, then what part of the March 4 landslide was reactivated?
  4. How thick was the debris that buried 4 blocks of La Conchita during the January 10 event?
  5. How many people were killed during the January 10 event at La Conchita?
  6. What is thought to have been the major cause of both the March 4 and January 10 landslides at La Conchita?
  7. How would you describe the material making up the mountain in back of La Conchita?
  8. What is the name of the most ancient and probably largest landslide?
  9. Is it safe to live at La Conchita? If not, then why not?
  10. List below two rather obvious similarities between the La Conchita and Mount Soledad landslides?

Posted May 16, 2014, 4:00 pm - Extra credit question for exam 3

The geologic column or geologic time scale is the framework in which geologists view Earth history.  On the CD and web site Figure 7 of Chapter 9 is an example of the geologic column.  You will receive 10 extra credit points if you can list in descending order (youngest/uppermost to oldest/lowermost) the Eonothems/Eons, Erathems/Eras, Systems/Periods, and Series/Epochs of the column shown in Figure 7, Chapter 9. You also must show the age boundaries for the Cenozoic, Mesozoic, and Paleozoic.

Posted May 16, 2014, 4:00 pm - Extra credit questions for exam 4

Please consult the following web sites:

Based on your review of the above web sites please answer the following questions.

  1. What is the largest magnitude earthquake recorded in historical time, and what was the length of the fault rupture?
  2. What is the largest magnitude earthquake recorded in California, and what was the length of the fault rupture?
  3. What can you deduce about the length of the fault rupture and the magnitude of the resulting earthquake?
  4. Is a magnitude 10.5 earthquake possible?
  5. If your answer to (4) is no, then why not?
  6. The Mexico City earthquake killed approximately 9500 people.  What was the major cause of all of those deaths?
  7. What kind of geological material is Mexico City built on?
  8. During the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 liquefaction during ground shaking produced what two cascading effects that ultimately led to much of the city being consumed by fire?
  9. About 410,000 people lived in San Francisco at the time of the 1906 earthquake.  About how many were left homeless?
  10. The North Anatolia fault ruptured on August 17, 1999.  The resulting earthquake killed between 17,000 and 40,000 people and left about 500,000 homeless, and is commonly referred to as the Izmit earthquake.  In what country did the Izmit earthquake occur?


The reading and exam schedule provided below will be followed strictly.

You do not need a scantron for any of the scheduled exams.

CD (its your book): Notes on Planet Earth version 3.0 can be purchased in the campus bookstore. It is highly recommended but not a requirement that you purchase the CD.


Geologists utilize physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and computer science to develop a holistic understanding of our planet. In so doing they have reached the conclusion that the fundamental Earth paradigm is Plate Tectonics, a subject that we will cover in Chapter 1. As you walk on the surface of the Earth, it feels hard and solid. That is because it is built from various types of rocks and sediments, topics that we will cover in Chapters 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. However, prior to jumping too far ahead it is important to recognize that the rocks and sediments below our feet are made up of many different varieties of minerals, a topic that we will cover in Chapter 2. As you probably already know the Earth has a long complicated history. In Chapter 9 we will delve deeply into this history, and attempt to understand how geologists distinguish time, an abstract but quantifiable term, from material that was deposited during, and therefore is representative of, a particular time. Geologic maps portray the distribution of various types of Earth materials and the complicated forms that are produced by forces acting within and on the surface of our planet. In Chapter 10 we will learn how to read a topographic map, and in Chapters 11 and 12 we will study how to identify folds and faults as well as consider the causes of earthquakes. In Chapter 13 we will evaluate the kinds of evidence that indicate that in the past the global climate of our planet was vastly different than it is today. We will then consider several reasons why that may be the case. We will close our study of planet Earth by investigating the causes of ocean waves, tides, currents, and tsunamis in Chapters 14 and 15.

All exams will be taken on the scheduled dates. Basically, I provide you a web site and a CD that contains all of the material including practice tests. You work through the 15 chapters and take four exams according to the schedule listed below. 

At the web site you will find under Contents, links to the 15 major topic areas (chapters) that we will cover this semester along with a link to this syllabus. Below the heading Contents, you will find links to a Glossary, PDF files of practice exams, PDF files for the Geology 101 Laboratories, and Video Lectures. If you have not signed up for the 1 unit Geology 101 Laboratory, then do not worry about the links for the various Laboratories.


There will be four exams. Each exam is worth 25% of your total grade.  Extra credit questions will be posted in the syllabus in the section entitled Important notifications and changes will be posted here. Please check here daily. I will not provide answers to the extra credit questions. Answers can be found via a web search, and you must show that you have learned the correct answer by answering the questions during the scheduled exam. The 4 exams break the course up into 4 more or less equal quarters. Grades will be determined based on the following scale.

100 – 93.3 A
93.3 – 90 A-
89.9 – 86.7 B+
86.7 – 83.3 B
83.3 – 80.0 B-
79.9 – 76.7 C+
76.7 – 73.3 C
73.3 – 70 C-
69.9 – 67.7 D+
67.7 – 63.3 D
63.3 – 60.0 D-
< 60 F

Contact Information

My office phone number is 594-2552 and my e-mail address is My office is GMCS 120. If you have any questions, then please do not hesitate to call or e-mail me. I have open office hours Monday through Friday, but I may be spending considerable time in the field with my graduate students. Hence, it is best that you email prior to coming in.


This course has several overarching and content goals. Overarching goals are outline below and meet several of the Goals and Objectives for GE Courses in the Sciences as outlined in the 2003 SDSU Curriculum Guide

I. Overarching Goals/Outcomes
After completion of this course students will be able to:

1. Articulate the multidisciplinary integrated nature of the Earth Sciences and the importance of its role in their and others everyday lives (Goal 1 – Objectives 2 and 3)

2. Articulate how technological advances along with the collection of a myriad of observational and analytical data over the last 200 years have lead naturally to the interpretation that the Earth originated about 4.6 billion years ago, and that its development has been punctuated by several major planet-wide events that brought about profound change in Earth’s habitants (Goal 2 – Objective 1)

3. Articulate how laboratory experimentation has lead to an enhanced understanding of dynamic earth processes such as faults and earthquakes, and, as a result, how the Earth Sciences have impacted their and others quality of life (Goal 2 – Objective 2; Goal 3 – Objective 3).

4. Articulate how the scientific method is used to infer the causes of global-scale changes that have affected planet Earth over time (Goal 2 – Objectives 2, 3).

5. Articulate examples of everyday observations that indicate that the Earth is dynamic and ever changing, and how these observations impact their daily life (Goal 4 – Objectives 1, 3, 4).

The above overarching goals are intertwined with the following specific content goals.

II. Content Goals/Outcomes
To meet content goals students will be able to:

1. Articulate the role that lithospheric plates and their movements play in shaping the Earth’s landmasses and ocean basins, and the internal compositional and mechanical attributes of planet Earth

2. Identify from their physical and chemical characteristics the common minerals in the non-silicate and silicate mineral groups

3. Distinguish the three major rock groups based on their physical characteristics and modes of formation

4. Articulate the distribution of the 12 major soil orders within the various states, and convey the major climatic or parental controls on this distribution

5. Convey the vastness of geologic time, key biological and physical events that have affected Earth through time, the terminology used to distinguish time from the rocks and sediments deposited during a specific time interval, and the role of the fundamental age equation in establishing the temporal framework for the geologic time scale

6. Identify the different types of faults and demonstrate an understanding of their origin, distribution, and relationship to earthquakes.

7. Identify the different types of folds from their geometrical and stratigraphic character, and the various map symbols used to locate and characterize them on geologic maps.

8. Identify the various landforms displayed on topographic maps, articulate locations in township and range format, and convey the differences between magnetic and geographic north.

9. Articulate the role of the Earth, Moon, and Sun in producing tides, the role of wind in producing waves, and the physical characteristics of deep and shallow water waves.

10. Convey that the Earth’s climate has been different in the past as exemplified by the Great Ice Age, and that the Earth’s climate is influenced by a variety of mechanisms including the precession and obliquity of the Earth’s axis of rotation and the eccentricity of its orbit around the sun along with large volcanic eruptions and bolide impacts.



Wednesday July 2, 2014 at 9:00 am to 10:30 am SSW 1500

Schedule of Readings and Exams

Below is the schedule that we will follow during the first session of Summer 2014. Please adhere to it.  


Date - weekly reading assignments


(1) Plate Tectonics

May 21 - 23

The fundamental paradigm - How your planet is organized!

(2) Minerals

May 24 - May 26

The building blocks of your planet.  Basic chemistry!

(3) Igneous Rocks

May 27 - May 29

Volcanoes and magma


Exam I

May 30 Friday Room # SSW 1500, 9:00 am – 10:30 am, covers Chapters (1), (2), and (3)
(4)Weathering May 31 From rock to sand

(5) Soils

June 1 - 3

Its more than a garden curiosity

(6) Mass Wasting

June 4

Gravity pulls everything down
(7) Sedimentary Rocks June 5 - 8 Cementing sand - Chapter (7) is a long one.

Exam II

June 9 Monday Room #SSW 1500, 9:00 am – 10:30 am, covers Chapters (4), (5), (6), and (7)
(8) Metamorphic Rocks June 10 - 11 Heat and pressure
(9) Geologic Time - Part I June 12 - 14 Chapter 8 is broken into two parts. Here we study only part I. The present is the key to the past! A difficult chapter for many students
(9) Geologic Time - Part II

June 15 - 17

Part II of Chapter 8 - Geologic time & the fundamental age equation - Math!!!
(10) Topographic Maps June 18 - 19 Can you read the deed to your new home?

Exam III

June 20 Friday

Room #SSW 1500, 9:00 am – 10:30 am, covers Chapters (8), (9), and (10)

(11) Structural Geology June 21 - 23 The major distortions of the Earth's crust.  Don't forget to study folds and map patterns
(12) Earthquakes June 24 Shaking while baking in all this sun!
(13) Glaciers June 25 - 28 Yosemite!  What a sight!!
(14) Oceans June 29 - July1 Tell me again exactly why do we have tides?
(15) Tsunami July 2 Big earthquakes and big waves
 Exam IV - Final July 2 Wednesday Room #SSW 1500, 9:00 am – 10:30 am, covers Chapters (11), (12), (13), (14) and (15)