Overview | Requirements | Courses | Faculty


The mission of the Geology major is to foster in students an understanding of the Earth: the processes that affect its surface and interior; its formation and evolution through time; and its functioning as the physical environment for the living world. The major accomplishes this goal by offering to students a set of coordinated experiences in the classroom, laboratory, and field. Geology is an intrinsically interdisciplinary science, drawing upon the tools of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, and environmental science to examine problems that range in scale from a single mineral grain to the entire solar system. Geology majors learn to work together on inquiry-based laboratory and field projects, and each produces a Senior Thesis describing independent research they have undertaken with a faculty mentor. There is a special emphasis on articulating ideas orally, graphically, and in writing, skills that are valuable not only in science but also in the many other careers where geology majors from Occidental have found success. Geology is a global science, and so students who have made progress in the major as sophomores are encouraged to study abroad for a semester during their Junior year. The Geology major expresses the Department's commitment to prepare students to excel in an increasingly complex and environmentally stressed world.


MAJOR: The following courses are required for completion of the major program in the Department of Geology: Geology 105 (or equivalent), 215, 225, 235, 305, 324, 325, 315 or 342 345, 490, and at least three of the following: Geology 245, 255, 315, 342, 355, or 4 credits of 390 or other approved geology courses. A course used to fulfill one requirement cannot fulfill another major requirement. Mathematics through Math 120 (or equivalent) or Math 110 and a Department-approved statistics course is also required.

Environmental Science Concentration in Geology:  Geology 105; one of Biology 105, 106, 110, 115; Biology 260 or 270; Economics 101 and 301(or approved alternative); Geology 225; Geology 235; Geology 245; Geology 255; Geology 305; Geology 315 or 342; Geology 325; Geology 490.  Mathematics through Math 120 (or equivalent) or Math 110 and a Department-approved statistics course is also required.

All graduate schools and professional careers in geology or environmental science require at least a basic understanding of chemistry and physics. Students considering graduate school or professional careers in these fields should also take the following courses: Chemistry 120; Physics 110 and 120 or Physics 115 and 125. The

MINOR: Geology 105, 215, 235, and any other two courses in Geology to be selected with department approval.

WRITING REQUIREMENT: Students majoring in Geology will satisfy the final component of Occidental College's college-wide writing requirement by submitting a portfolio of at least two papers from any of the intermediate- or advanced-level writing-intensive Geology courses normally required for the major (or appropriate course work). Students should familiarize themselves with the departmental requirement at the time of declaring the major. See the Writing Requirement and consult the department chair for additional information.

COMPREHENSIVE REQUIREMENT: The comprehensive requirement in Geology is met by a passing grade on the senior comprehensive project.  The senior comprehensive project is based on research conducted under the supervision of Department faculty or in an off-campus summer research program or field camp. This project can be started as early as the Junior year and typically involves field or laboratory work during the summer between Junior and Senior years. Seniors are expected to present their research orally and submit a written thesis by Spring Break. During the Fall semester of senior year, all Geology majors attend a senior seminar (Geology 490 or equivalent). A major goal of these meetings is to help students make timely progress on their comprehensive projects.

HONORS: Students with a GPA of at least 3.25 are eligible to graduate with honors in geology. For these students, a larger senior thesis is planned, and students start their research earlier than the fall of their senior year. For this extra work, the honors student receives additional course credit beyond credit for comprehensives. Refer also to the general College policies regarding the Honors Program.

GEOLOGY COURSE NUMBERING: Geology 105 is open to first-year and second-year students only; 200-level courses are open to any student who has completed Geology 105; 300-level courses are intended for junior and senior geology majors and minors; 400-level seminars are for senior majors.


105 - Earth: Our Environment

Introduction to geology with emphasis on the physical processes that shape the environment on the Earth's surface. The course will cover the fundamentals of plate tectonics, rocks, minerals, geologic time, surface processes, and Earth's interior. Special attention will be paid to geologic hazards (such as earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, and landslides), the history and future of global climate change and the human impact on the environment. Students who have completed a substantive introductory Geology course are encouraged to seek instructor permission to enroll in any of the 200-level Geology courses. Includes one 2-hour laboratory per week and a one or two day field trip. Open to first-year and second-year students only.

106 - Earth and the Human Future

Nature and humanity interact with and impact one another in complex and significant ways. Human health, safety and economic well-being is significantly impacted by natural processes, providing both opportunities and constraints on sustainability. This course focuses on these interactions as studied by earth scientists. Topics include Earth surface properties and processes, air quality, mineral and energy resources/reserves for industrialized society, water resources, hazardous earth processes, development and degradation of soils, and climate. Labs include using problem-solving skills and case studies. Includes one 2-hour laboratory per week and a one day field trip.

150 - Geographic Information Science I

This course focuses on teaching students how to access, integrate, and quantitatively evaluate many types of spatial information using different methods of analysis. Students use GIS software to understand, explore and analyze information from a variety of sources with an emphasis on understanding the geography of environmental health and the relationships between multiple determining factors. Students will learn fundamentals of geography and cartography, GIS techniques in quantitative spatial analysis, and introductory spatial statistics as applied to vector-based data. The tools and skills used in this course, and the analytical, problem-solving projects used in laboratory and project assignments, will provide them with a means to better understand the environmental health, risk and epidemiology, and enhance their ability to and make informed and quantitative comparisons. (Students are encouraged to enroll in UEP 201, a course that explores how environmental factors impact human and ecological health.)

215 - Evolution of the Earth

The history of the Earth and life upon it, from the origin of the planet 4. 6 billion years ago to the present.  The course focuses on the chemical, physical and biological processes that have affected the planet’s interior and surface, including atmosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere, through time.  Includes one 3-hour laboratory per week and field trips. Prerequisite: Geology 105

225 - Introduction to Field Methods

Collection and interpretation of geologic data form the core of the course, with seven days devoted to field work. Basic rock identification, analysis of ancient environments, and structural geology are discussed, and applied during field work. Scientific writing skills are emphasized. The techniques learned in this course are widely applicable, so the course is open to majors of any specialty. Field trips replace weekly laboratory work. Prerequisite: Geology 105 or permission of instructor.

235 - Global Geophysics and Tectonics

An introduction to plate tectonics and the geology of plate boundaries. Topics include techniques for describing plate motions, earthquakes and seismology, reversals of the earth's magnetic field, the nature of the seafloor, and the geology of mountain belts. Includes one 3-hour laboratory per week. Prerequisite: Geology 105 or permission of the instructor.

240 - Geologic Hazards

This course will examine the physical and chemical process associated with geologic events that occur on the human-time scale and harm society: earthquakes, volcanism, and mass wasting. Focusing on events from California, the course will include in-field examinations of local geological examples as well as quantitative and qualitative evaluation of geophysical and geochemical datasets associated with well-documented case studies. Includes one 3-hour laboratory per week and required field trips. Prerequisite: Geology 105

245 - Earth's Climate: Past and Future

An introduction to Earth's climate system and the geological record of its change. Topics covered include: Earth's radiative balance and the role of greenhouse gases; poleward transport of heat by the atmosphere and ocean; climate change on the plate tectonic timescale; the Cenozoic cooling; astronomical control of Pleistocene glacial cycles; rapid millennial-scale climate change; and the future of Earth's climate. Includes one 3-hour laboratory per week. Prerequisite: Geology 105 or permission of instructor.

255 - Spatial Analysis with GIS

An introduction to concepts of Geographic Information Science and spatial analysis using GIS designed for natural science majors. Emphasis on spatial analysis both vector and raster data, including aerial photos, satellite imagery, and introductory terrain analysis. Course also includes introduction to GIS data acquisition and Global Positioning Systems receivers, individual and group projects, and presentation of results. It is expected that students are experienced using the MS Windows operating system, and Microsoft Excel software One three-hour laboratory per week. Prerequisite: Geology 105, or Geology 150, or permission of instructor CORE REQUIREMENT MET: LAB-SCI

305 - Earth Materials

The fundamentals of rock formation are explored through study of common rock-forming minerals and major rock types. Understanding of these processes is based on the physical, optical, chemical and textural properties of minerals and rocks. The course includes a field trip to investigate rocks and minerals in some of California's most interesting natural settings. One three-hour laboratory per week and field trip. Prerequisite: Geology 105

315 - Sedimentary Geology

Study of the processes of sedimentation, the properties of sedimentary rocks, and the use of stratified sedimentary sequences for correlation, dating, and interpretation of depositional environments and geologic history. Course includes field trips to classic localities throughout southern California and one laboratory per week. prerequisite: Geo 105 and 225

324 - Advanced Field Mapping

Building on material learned in Geology 225 and Geology 305, this course involves mapping of more complex areas Fieldwork is the heart of this course and full participation in the 4-6 days of fieldwork is required. May be taken twice.  Prerequisite: Geology 225 and Geology 305 (concurrent enrollment accepted)
2 units

325 - Structural Geology

Study of the deformation of rocks and the structures produced. Rock mechanics are introduced and the nature and origin of folds, faults, and other structures are discussed, along with the relation of structures to tectonic settings.  Course includes interpretation of areas displaying complex geological relations that illustrate structural principles. Includes field trips and one laboratory per week. Prerequisite: Geology 225. 

342 - Geomorphology

Landforms and their interpretation in terms of tectonic and climatic processes will be presented. The focus will be on landforms, such as mountain belts, faults, and landslides, caused by active tectonic processes. Methods of dating and quantifying geologic events will be introduced. Scientific writing skills will be emphasized. Includes one three-hour laboratory per week and field trip. Prerequisite: Geology 225.

345 - Petrology

Petrology is the study of the origin, tectonic occurrence, geochemical evolution, and  classification of igneous and metamorphic rocks. Students will address questions related to the origin of the Earth’s crust through examination of the textures, mineral assemblages, field relations, and compositional characteristics of igneous and metamorphic rocks.  Laboratory work will engage students in the  study of rocks in hand specimen and microscope  as well as the analysis and interpretation of experimental and geochemical datasets. Includes one three-hour laboratory per week and multiple field trips. Prerequisite: Geology 305.

355 - Paleomagnetism

Introduction to the magnetism of rocks, with special emphasis on laboratory techniques and applications. Strongly recommended for students considering research projects with Professors Bogue. Includes one 3-hour laboratory per week. Prerequisite: Geology 105.

390 - Special Topics in Geology

Two- or four-credit advanced courses on specialized topics in geology. May be taken more than once with department approval as topics vary.
2 or 4 units

397 - Independent Study in Geology

Prerequisite: permission of instructor.
2 or 4 units

490 - Senior Seminar and Thesis Research in Geology

This class focuses on student Senior Comprehensives research and covers proposal writing, data analysis, preparation of illustrations, and oral and written presentation of research projects. Journal readings and discussions on topics related to student research are integral to the course. Careers and graduate school options in the Earth Sciences are also discussed. Prerequisite: Open only to senior Geology majors.

499 - Honors in Geology

Prerequisite: permission of department.


Regular Faculty

Margaret Rusmore, chair

Professor, Geology

B.S., UC Santa Cruz; M.S., Ph.D., University of Washington

Scott Bogue

Associate Dean for Research; Professor, Geology

A.B., Brown University; Ph.D., UC Santa Cruz

James Sadd

Professor, Environmental Science

B.S., University of Southern California; M.S., University of Texas; Ph.D., University of South Carolina

On Special Appointment

Ann Blythe

Full Time Non Tenure Track Associate Professor, Geology

B.S., Ph.D., Cornell University; M.S., University of Pennsylvania

Geoffrey Cromwell

Non Tenure Track Assistant Professor, Geology

B.A. Occidental College; M.S., Ph.D. University of California San Diego

Joel Wedberg

Adjunct Instructor, Geology

SC.B. San Diego State University