Chair: Kirsten Nicolaysen
Nicholas Bader (on Sabbatical, Spring 2016)
Angela Cota
Bryn Kimball
Lyman P. Persico
Kevin R. Pogue
Grant T. Shimer
Patrick K. Spencer 

Geology Department Website »

Geology deals with the physical, chemical, and biological study of the Earth from its inception to the present day. A background in earth science not only increases the general student’s appreciation of the world, it also increases the depth of understanding of a science student’s own field. Serious students of geology find opportunities in the environmental, petroleum, mining, teaching, engineering, and geophysics fields, and in hydrology, space science, and oceanography. 

A student who enters Whitman without any prior college-level preparation in geology will have to complete 50 credits (36 in geology) to fulfill the requirements for the geology major. After a geology or geology combined major is declared, no geology course may be taken P-D-F.

Distribution: Courses completed in geology apply to the science and quantitative analysis (selected courses) distribution areas.

Learning Goals: Upon graduation, a student will be able to:

  • Major-Specific Areas of Knowledge
    • Have the skills and background knowledge necessary to pursue independent investigations in the earth sciences. Construct bedrock and surficial geologic maps utilizing topographic maps, aerial photographs, and fieldwork. Recognize and interpret landforms on topographic maps and aerial photographs. Construct valid geologic cross-sections of structurally complex regions. Recognize and appreciate the relationships between human activities and geology. Demonstrate a fundamental knowledge of Earth processes and history. Determine the geologic processes responsible for specific landforms. Determine the conditions of mineral and rock formation based on mineral assemblage, chemistry, and textural relationships. Describe how internal atomic structure determines the optical and physical properties of minerals.
  • Accessing Academic Community/Resources
    • Utilize published geologic maps to interpret structural geology and geologic history.
  • Communication
    • Demonstrate a high level of competence in both written and oral communication.
  • Quantitative Skills
    • Describe and quantify strain in rocks at hand sample to map-scales.
  • Research Experience
    • Identify minerals and rocks through observations of hand sample characteristics and by using techniques like optical microscopy and X-ray diffraction.

The Geology major: A minimum of 36 credits to include either Geology 110, 120, or 210; Geology 227; and either Geology 312, 321, or 368; and Geology 343, 346, 350, 420, 470; a minimum of one credit of Geology 358, and a minimum of three credits of Geology 480; Chemistry 125, 126, 135; Mathematics 125 or 128; Physics 155, 165, or Geology 310. A minimum grade of C- (1.7) is required in Geology 343.

It is strongly recommended that geology majors complete Composition 210, and Rhetoric 110, no later than their junior year. For those planning to pursue graduate programs in the earth sciences, Mathematics 126 and Physics 156, and courses in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), statistics, physical chemistry, and biology are strongly recommended. Seniors completing a geology or geology combined major shall take a comprehensive senior assessment consisting of a four-hour written exam constructed by the geology faculty. In addition, geology majors shall take an oral exam, which may be conducted in the field.

The Geology minor: Either Geology 110, 120, or 210, and 227, plus additional work in geology for a minimum of 16 credits.

The Astronomy-Geology combined major: Astronomy 177, 178, 179, two credits of 490, one of the following: 310, 320, 330, 350, 360, 380, and at least two additional credits in courses numbered 310-392; either Geology 110, 120, or 210; and 227, 343, 350, 470 and a minimum of one credit in 358, two credits of 490, and two of the following: 310, 346, or 420; Physics 155, 156, Mathematics 125, 126, and Chemistry 125, 135 are also required. Computer Science 167; Mathematics 225, 235, 244, Chemistry 126, 136, and Physics 245, 246, 255, 256 are strongly recommended. In the final semester the student must pass a senior assessment consisting of a two-part comprehensive written examination and an approximately one-hour oral exam conducted jointly by astronomy and geology faculty.

The astronomy-geology combined major requires coursework in astronomy, geology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. A student who enters Whitman with no prior college-level work in any of these areas would need to complete 20 credits in astronomy, 23 to 24 credits in geology, four credits in chemistry, eight credits in physics, and six credits in mathematics.

The Biology-Geology combined major: Biology 111, 112, 205; four credits each from the Organismal Biology and Ecology/Evolution categories, and at least four additional credits in biology and/or BBMB courses numbered 200 or above; either Geology 110, 120, or 210; and 227; either Geology 312 or 368; Geology 343 and 350; either Geology 301, 321, or 346; and Geology 470 and a minimum of one credit in 358; either three credits of Geology 480, 490, or 498 or three credits of Biology 489, 490, or 498; Chemistry 125, 126, 135, 136 or Chemistry 140; 245; Mathematics 125, 126 or statistics (Mathematics 128 or 247, Biology 228, Economics 227, Psychology 210, Sociology 208). Two semesters of physics and field experience are strongly recommended.

The Chemistry-Geology combined major: Either Chemistry 125, 126, 135, 136 (or 140), and 240, 346, 320 (or 388); either Geology 110, 120, or 210; and 227, 343, 346, 350, 460, 470, a minimum of one credit in 358; Mathematics 125, 126, Physics 145, 155, 165. Chemistry 320 or 420 is recommended. Seniors completing the chemistry-geology major will complete a written exam constructed by the geology faculty, a written exam constructed by the chemistry faculty, and an oral exam conducted jointly by faculty in both departments. Additionally, all students are strongly encouraged to complete a senior research project under the guidance of a faculty member in either of the two disciplines, registering for a minimum of three credits in either Chemistry 490 or 498 or Geology 490 or 498.

The Geology-Physics combined major: Physics 145 or 155 or 165, 156 or 166, 245, 246, 255, 256, 325, 339, and one additional physics courses numbered from 300-480, or BBMB 324; either Geology 110, 120, or 210; and 227, 343, 310, 346, 350, 420, 470 and a minimum of one credit in 358; Mathematics 225, 235, and 244; Chemistry 125.

The Geology-Environmental Studies combined major: The requirements are fully described in the Environmental Studies listing of the catalog.

110 The Physical Earth
4, x Shimer; Labs: Shimer

Physical geology including earth materials, the processes responsible for uplift and erosion, landforms, plate tectonics and the earth’s interior. The laboratory will emphasize mineral and rock identification and the study of topographic and geologic maps. Three lectures and one three-hour laboratory per week; field trips. Open only to first-year students and sophomores; others by consent of instructor. Students who have received credit for Geology 120 or 210 may not receive credit for Geology 110. Lab fee: maximum $20.

120 Geologic History of the Pacific Northwest
4; not offered 2015-16

An examination of the geologic history of the Pacific Northwest, including Washington, Idaho, Oregon, northern California, and southern British Columbia. Fundamental geologic processes that have shaped the Pacific Northwest will be examined through detailed study of different locales in the region. Lab will emphasize rocks and minerals, and topographic and geologic maps representing the areas examined in lecture. Three lectures and one three-hour lab per week, optional and required field trips. Open to first- and second-year students, others by consent of instructor. Students who have taken Geology 110 or 210 for credit may not receive credit for Geology 120. Lab fee: maximum $20.

130 Weather and Climate
x, 3 Pogue

An introductory course in meteorology designed for nonscience majors with an emphasis on the weather patterns and climate of the Pacific Northwest. Topics covered include Earth’s heat budget, atmospheric stability, air masses, midlatitude cyclones, global circulation patterns and climates, and the origins of violent weather phenomenon.

158 Regional Geology
1-3, 1-3 Fall: Bader; Spring: Kimball

The geology of part of the United States or elsewhere, with emphasis on geologic history, including petrology, stratigraphy, tectonics, and geomorphology. Lectures on the geology and other aspects of the area will precede field trips, which will take place during vacations and on long weekends. Geologic mapping may be involved. May be repeated for credit for different areas. Prerequisite: Geology 110, 120, or 210 and consent of instructor. Graded credit/no credit. Fee: maximum $75 per semester.

210 Environmental Geology
4, 4 Fall: Nicolaysen; Spring: Persico, Labs: Nicolaysen, Persico

Geologic aspects of the environment: human effects upon and interaction with such phenomena as landslides, erosion and deposition of sediments, surface waters, groundwater, volcanism, earthquakes, and permafrost. Environmental effects of land use, waste disposal, and mineral and petroleum usage as they relate to geologic processes and materials. Three lectures and one three-hour lab per week; field trips. Students who have received credit for Geology 110 or 120 may not receive credit for Geology 210. Open to first- and second-year students; others by consent of instructor. Lab fee: maximum $20.

227 Sedimentology and Stratigraphy
x, 4 Shimer

Fundamental principles of analysis pertaining to sedimentary rocks and rock sequences. Fluid flow, weathering, sediment transport, sedimentary structures, depositional systems. Geologic time and chronostratigraphy. Principles of Lithostratigraphy. Three one-hour lectures and one three-hour lab/week. Field trips. Textbook, professional articles, in-class presentations, research paper. Prerequisite: Geology 110, 120, or 210.

229 Geology and Ecology of Soils
3, x Bader

Soils provide nutrients, water and support for growing plants, host an amazing variety of organisms, and even influence global climate. This class will focus on the dynamic systems in soil and on the interactions between soils and larger ecosystem properties. Course topics will include pedogenic processes, agricultural ecosystems, the interpretation of paleosols, and the role of soils in the global biogeochemical cycling of organic carbon and nutrients. Three lectures per week, field trip(s).

250 Late Cenozoic Geology and Climate Change
3; not offered 2015-16

The geology of the last few million years of Earth history, including glaciology, Pleistocene stratigraphy, glacial and periglacial geomorphology, and changes in flora and fauna. What are the causes of ice ages and the alternating glaciations and interglaciations within them? What are the roles of nature and humans in the current global climate change? Research paper and field trip. Prerequisites: Geology 110, 120 or 210, or Environmental Studies 120; consent of instructor. Offered in alternate years.

258 Geology in the Field

An exploration of the geology of a region, followed by a field trip to that area. Likely to include geomorphology; structure and tectonics; minerals, rocks, and sediments; fossils and stratigraphy. Classes followed by a field trip at least a week long. Students will make maps and presentations and keep a detailed notebook. Fee: variable depending on location, possible scholarships available. May be repeated as location changes. Any current offerings follow.

301 Hydrology
4; not offered 2015-16

A class devoted to understanding water resources, including both surface water and groundwater. We will study the hydrologic cycle and the properties of water, the shape and behavior of streams, the recharge and movement of groundwater, and environmental management of water including wells, dams, irrigation, and water contaminants. Lab topics will include stream gauging and the construction of hydrographs and hyetographs, determining peak discharge, water sampling, flow nets, well tests, and computer modeling of groundwater and contaminant flow. Three lectures and one three-hour lab per week. Prerequisite: Geology 110, 120, or 210; highly recommended: Chemistry 125, Mathematics 126.

310 Geophysics
x, 3 Pogue

An introductory course in the application of seismic, gravitational, thermal, and magnetic methods for the study of the structure and composition of the interior of the Earth. Prerequisite: Geology 110, 120, or 210 and Mathematics 125.

312 Earth History
x, 4 Shimer

The physical and biological events during the geologic past. Special consideration given to plate tectonics and fossils in the lectures, and to fossils and geologic maps in the laboratories. Three lectures and one three-hour lab per week; required and optional field trips. Prerequisite: Geology 110, 120, or 210 or consent of instructor.

321 Sedimentary Basin Analysis
4; not offered 2015-16

An intermediate-level course that examines the evolution of selected marine and nonmarine sedimentary basins primarily in North America. Consideration of sedimentary features ranging from small-scale sedimentary structures and grain textures and composition to bedform geometry, unit contacts and tectonic significance of depostional features represented. Fossil succession, biostratigraphy and paleoenviromental indications. Hydrocarbon and other economically significant mineral potential. Geologic map interpretation of important sedimentary basins. Lectures, presentations, and field trips. Professional articles, Internet sources, reference sources. Prerequisites: Geology 110, 120 or 210; 227. Geology 368 will be useful. Offered in alternate years.

338 Pages of Stone: The Literature of Geology
3; not offered 2015-16

Critical reading of the work of writers on Earth science. Examination of works demonstrating different styles, from scientific to poetry to descriptive prose, and how those writers incorporate Earth into their work. Two lectures per week, papers, in-class presentations, field trip. Prerequisites: Geology 110, 120, or 210, with consent of instructor. Offered in odd-numbered years.

340 Volcanoes
3; not offered 2015-16

An investigation of volcanoes, including morphology, composition, eruption processes, periodicity, and impacts on climate and humans. Exploration of the topic will occur through lecture, in-class experiments, computer simulations, discussion of primary literature, and several field trips. Prerequisite: Geology 110, 120, or 210. Offered in alternate years. Fee: maximum $40 unless field trip is outside of the Pacific Northwest.

343 Minerals and the Nuclear Fuel Cycle
4, x Kimball

This intermediate-level course investigates mineral structure, composition, and identification within the context of the nuclear fuel cycle and geologic disposal of nuclear waste. Skills emphasized include discussing scientific literature, hand sample and optical microscope identification of minerals, and analysis of crystal structures by X-Ray Diffraction. Lectures, discussions, and laboratory exercises. Prerequisites: Geology 110, 120, or 210; Chemistry 125 or 140. Open only to juniors and seniors; others by consent of instructor.

346 Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology
x, 4 Nicolaysen

Identification, classification and interpretation of igneous and metamorphic rocks. Development of the chemical and physical background necessary to study rocks as chemical systems at equilibrium. Emphasis on using observed features, chemistry, and experimental results to interpret rock origin and evolution. Laboratories will be devoted to the identification and interpretation of rock hand specimens affected by high-temperature environments and processes. Three lectures and one three-hour laboratory per week. Prerequisite: Geology 343.

350 Geomorphology
4, x Persico

Description, origin, development, and classification of landforms. Relationships of soils, surficial materials, and landforms to rocks, structures, climate, processes, and time. Maps and aerial photographs of landscapes produced in tectonic, volcanic, fluvial, glacial, periglacial, coastal, karst, and eolian environments. Exercises on photo-geology. Lectures, discussions, laboratories, and field trips. Prerequisite: Geology 110, 120, or 210; open only to geology majors except by consent of instructor.

358 Field Geology of the Northwest
1, 1 Fall: Bader; Spring: Kimball

The geology of part of the Pacific Northwest, with emphasis on geologic history, including petrology, stratigraphy, tectonics, and mineralogy. Geologic mapping, paleontology, and mineralogy may also be involved. Most field trips will take place on long weekends. Each student will be required to write a report. May be repeated for credit for different areas. Required of all geology and geology combined minors. Prerequisite: Geology 110, 120, or 210 and consent of instructor. Fee: maximum $75 per semester.

368 Paleobiology
3; not offered 2015-16

A comprehensive examination of the fossil record through Earth history. Taxonomy and classification of important fossil groups, evolution and extinction, functional anatomy and morphology, ecologic significance of individual taxa and assemblages through time, paleogeographic reconstruction based on the fossil record, time-significance of fossil groups. Two lectures, one three-hour lab/week. Textbook, journal articles, research paper, and weekend field trip. Prerequisites: Geology 110, 120 or 210 and Geology 227. Offered in alternate years.

390 Independent Study
1-3, 1-3 Staff

A reading or research project in an area of the earth sciences not covered in regular courses and of particular interest to a student. Maximum of six credits. Prerequisite: consent of instructor.

410 Problems in Earth Science

Specific problems in the geological sciences will be considered. Textbook and/or professional articles, discussions, paper, possible field trips. May be repeated for credit with different topics. Prerequisite: consent of instructor. Any current offerings follow.

415 Terroir
3, x Pogue

Terroir is a French word that refers to the idea that agricultural products derive unique sensory characteristics from the physical and cultural environment in which they are produced. The focus of the course will be on the science, philosophy, economics, and politics of terroir, in particular as they relate to the production and marketing of wine. The course will only be open to seniors or others by consent, providing they are 21 years of age. Prerequisite: Geology 110, 120, 210, or 229. Fee: $50.

418 Introduction to Geographic Information Systems
3, x Bader

A geographic information system (GIS) is a powerful computer tool designed for exploring, creating, and displaying spatial information. GIS has become the primary way in which spatial information is managed and analyzed in a variety of fields. Any data that has a spatial component (including most data in the Earth and environmental sciences) can potentially benefit from a GIS. Lectures will examine the applications and the conceptual framework for computer GIS, and lab exercises will teach students to use GIS software. The final third of the course is dedicated to individual projects. One lecture and one three-hour lab meeting per week. Prerequisite: consent of instructor.

420 Structural Geology
4, x Pogue

The description and analysis of intermediate- to large-scale rock structures. Topics include the analysis and graphical representation of stress and strain in rocks, deformation mechanisms and fabric development, the geometry and mechanics of folding and faulting, and structures related to intrusive bodies. Geologic map interpretation and cross-section construction are used to analyze the structural geology of selected regions. Three lectures and one three-hour lab per week; field trip(s). Prerequisite: Geology 227 or 350.

430 Cordilleran Tectonics
3; not offered 2015-16

An in-depth study of the tectonic events that shaped the western United States. A review of plate tectonic theory emphasizing plate interactions and orogenesis and the tectonic evolution of the western U.S. beginning with the amalgamation of Precambrian basement and ending with the development of the San Andreas transform and Cascadia subduction systems. Each week two class periods are devoted to lectures, discussions and student presentations. The third class period is reserved for practical exercises, particularly geologic map interpretation. There is one required weekend field trip. Prerequisite: Geology 227.

460 Geochemistry
x, 3 Kimball

An investigation of Earth’s origin and systems using the principles of equilibrium, thermodynamics, diffusion, oxidation-reduction, solution chemistry, and isotope geochemistry. Among the concepts studied will be statistical analysis of geochemical data, pressure-temperature conditions of mineral formation, weathering of minerals, dating rocks by radioactive decay, stable isotopes, water chemistry, and environmental geochemistry. May incorporate use of analytical equipment such as the Scanning Electron Microscope and Portable X-Ray Fluorescence Spectroscope. Prerequisites: Geology 110, 120, or 210, Geology 343, and Chemistry 126 or 140, or consent of instructor.

470 Senior Seminar
x, 1 Nicolaysen

Seminar on various topics in the earth sciences. Topics to be chosen by the instructors, but are likely to include discussions of the history of geology, controversial principles of geology (such as uniformitarianism), and the ethics of the profession of geology. Students are expected to complete assigned readings and make an oral presentation. Required of all senior geology majors and combined majors.

480 Field Mapping
1-4; not offered 2015-16

An advanced course in geological field methods. In a typical course students make maps in stratified and crystalline terranes, with rocks in varying degrees of deformation. Maximum of nine credits. Prerequisites: Geology 227, 343, 346, 420, and consent of department. Note: Geology 480 is not regularly offered by Whitman College. Students wishing to complete major requirements with a field experience should plan to complete an approved summer field course offered by another collegiate institution.

490 Senior Research
1-3, 1-3 Staff

A project involving field and laboratory research in the geological sciences. Written and oral reports are required during the senior year. Maximum of six credits. Prerequisite: consent of instructor.

498 Honors Thesis
2-3, 2-3 Staff

Designed to further independent research or projects leading to the preparation of an undergraduate thesis. Required of and limited to senior honors candidates in geology. Prerequisite: admission to honors candidacy.