Geosciences offer exciting opportunities for students with an interest in applying a diverse range of science skills to understand the earth's properties and dynamic processes. This is a highly interdisciplinary program that applies physics, chemistry, biology, computational techniques, and mathematics to understand and manage all aspects of Earth and the environment. Geoscientists work everywhere in the world under almost any condition as they search for earth resources, address environmental risks and natural hazards, and supervise technical and business enterprises. For more information about exciting careers in Geosciences consult www.agiweb.org/careers.html. The extensive scientific and quantitative skills of geoscientists, along with their broad field experience, allow them to pursue careers in many related fields ranging from material science to technical management and scientific reporting.
Virginia Tech’s internationally recognized Geosciences faculty has developed six challenging options, described below, that lead to a B.S. in Geosciences. Coursework emphasizes the acquisition and processing of field data beginning with a special course in field methods taken in the spring of the first year. The geology option requires, and the other options recommend, that the student participate in a six-week field camp. The B.S. in Geosciences provides pre-professional preparation that will allow students to continue their education in post graduate programs in science, law, and business.
Earth systems and processes are enormously complicated and require a broad range of intellectual skills to decipher and manage. Geoscientists must possess strong quantitative skills and a solid understanding of physics, chemistry, and biology. They must be able to read maps, identify rocks, minerals, and fossils as well as visualize earth structures in three dimensions. They must have strong communication skills, both written and verbal. Learning to use these skills in an integrated way is a challenging and rewarding experience.
The graduation requirements in effect during the academic year of admission to Virginia Tech apply. Requirements for graduation are listed on checksheets. Students must satisfactorily complete all requirements and university obligations for degree completion. The university reserves the right to modify requirements in a degree program.
Please visit the University Registrar's website at https://www.registrar.vt.edu/graduation-multi-brief/checksheets.html for degree requirements.
The Geology option offers a detailed coverage of the broad range of classic disciplines within the geosciences. This option emphasizes the study of minerals, rocks and fossils, and teaches the student how to understand the processes and history of the earth based on the occurrences and relationships of these materials at or near the Earth's surface.
The Geochemistry option is designed for those students who have special interest in the fundamental chemical aspects of the Earth and its materials with applications to a broad range of geochemical and environmental problems.
The Geophysics option offers students the opportunity to specialize in the branch of the geosciences that investigates physical earth processes such as earthquakes and that images the interior of the earth through surface-based physical measurements.
The Earth Science Education option provides students with a broad Earth Science curriculum that meets the content goals for secondary earth science teaching. Certification for Earth Science teaching is not provided in the program. Information about teaching certification in Virginia can be obtained from the School of Education.
The Environmental and Engineering Geosciences option is designed for students with interests in applying geosciences to solve problems related to human interaction with the natural environment and to apply geologic principles to engineering issues.
The Geobiology and Paleobiology option is designed for students interested in studying the interactions between life and its environment in the modern Earth and ancient past (geobiology) and in reconstructing the biology and relationships of extinct life (paleobiology).
The requirements to earn a minor in Geosciences can be found on its checksheet by visiting the University Registrar website at http://registrar.vt.edu/graduation-multi-brief/index1.html.
The department offers M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in geosciences with specializations in many sub-disciplines. (See the Graduate Catalog for further information.)
University policy requires that students who are making satisfactory progress toward a degree meet minimum criteria toward the General Education (Curriculum for Liberal Education) (see "Academics") and toward the degree.
Satisfactory progress requirements toward the B.S. in Geosciences with any of the available options can be found on the specific major checksheet by visiting the University Registrar website at http://registrar.vt.edu/graduation-multi-brief/index1.html.
Head: W.S. Holbrook
University Distinguished Professors: R.J. Bodnar, P.M. Dove, G.V. Gibbs (Emeritus), and M.F. Hochella Jr. (Emeritus)
National Academy of Science: P.M. Dove
Professors: R.J. Bodnar, P.M. Dove, W.S. Holbrook, J.A. Hole, S.D. King, R.D. Law, N.L. Ross, M.E. Schreiber, J.A. Spotila, R. Weiss, and S. Xiao
Associate Professors: M.J. Caddick, B.C. Gill, F.M. Michel, S.J. Nesbitt, R.M. Pollyea, B.W. Romans, M. Shirzaei, D.S. Stamps, and Y. Zhou
Assistant Professors: G. Allen, M. Duncan, C. Dura, M.R. Stocker, S. Werth, and M. Willis
Research Professor: M.C. Chapman
Research Scientists: S. Bemis, R. Reid
Collegiate Associate Professor: J.A. Chermak
Senior Instructor: N.E. Johnson
Instructor: L.R. Neser
Adjunct Faculty: P. Prince, K. Weber, and W. Schmachtenberg
Affiliated Faculty: M. Murayama and S. Singerling
Introduction to Earth science, including the fundamental concepts of geology in the modern context of humans interacting with the Earth. Formation and evolution of the Earth (history, plate tectonics, the rock cycle, geologic time), internal Earth dynamics (earthquakes, volcanoes, mitigating natural hazards), Earth materials (minerals and rocks, energy and mineral resources), surface processes (Earth system science, hydrologic cycle, global geochemical cycles, oceans and atmosphere, climate, erosion and landscapes), Earth sustainability (resources, environmental change), evaluating geological information and products of research, the scientific approach to problem solving, and the ethical issues associated with geoscience and the environment.
Introduction to the interaction of the Earths processes that shape our planet and its biosphere through time. Application of modern geoscientific inquiry; biological, chemical and physical interactions that are part of the Earth system; distribution of life on Earth (i.e., biogeography); diversity of life over time; the differentiation between science and pseudoscience; ethical issues around human activities and their impact on the Earth-Life system.
Introduction to the Earths resources including their nature, formation, occurrence, extraction, distribution, consumption, and waste management and disposal using an integrated cradle to grave analysis. Population, the Earths metallic and non-metallic resources, rare earth elements, non-renewable and renewable energy and water. Social, environmental, economic and political impacts resource production and consumption have had historically, currently, and that are predicted into the future including current and future sources of energy in the United States and internationally. Sustainability, water abundance and quality, fracking, climate change, ocean acidification, and ozone depletion.
Fundamentals of Earth processes that drive natural hazards, including earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, climate change and impacts with space objects; impacts of human activities on the Earth; defining and analyzing hazards and risks through testing hypotheses on geologic data; ethical issues arising from hazard mitigation; analysis of uncertainties of scientific information.
Introduction to dinosaur paleontology, including fundamental geological and biological concepts, with focus on how modern paleontologists ask interdisciplinary questions to examine the fossil record. Use of dinosaurs to explore: process and impact of scientific method; geologic processes, geologic time, global change, ecosystems, biogeography; anatomy, evolution, biodiversity, phylogenetic relationships; and media portrayal of extinct animals.
Introduction to the fundamental components of Earths climate system. Changes of Earths climate at different time scales. Climate change induced by plate tectonics, variations in Earths orbit and transition to and from ice ages. Historical and future changes of Earths climate. Climate models as tools to interpret climate data. Impacts of climate change. Climate ethics and policies.
Introduction to Earth sciences laboratory, including identification of minerals and rocks, topographic and geologic maps, structural geology, geology impacting humans and humans impacting geology, environmental and social impacts.
Laboratory course on Earths resources including their nature, importance, occurrence, extraction, and environmental, social, and political impacts of consumption. Earths resources include metal ores, non-metallic resources which includes surface and ground water and non-renewable (e.g., fossil fuels) and renewable energy (e.g., hydroelectric). Sustainability, water quality and quantity, climate change, and ocean acidification related to resource extraction and consumption.
Introduction to geoscientific reasoning, methods, written and oral communication, professional expectations, and career options. Scientific methodology, empirical reasoning, and the specific application of these methods to conducting investigations and communicating the results to a geoscientific audience. Introduction to: accessing and using the geoscientific literature, conducting research, collaborating in research groups, using technologies that support collaborative oral and written communication, and building a professional presence. Restricted to Geoscience majors.
The events and processes that shaped the terrestrial planets; the scientific method (i.e., observations, techniques, and theories) that supports our understanding of these events and processes; the role of science, politics, and engineering and how these impact planetary science missions; ethical issues associated with planetary research; manned and unmanned exploration and how they have shaped our understanding of the planets.
Overview of the geosciences, emphasizing processes operating within and on the Earth now and over the last 4.55 billion years. Earth’s systems, cycles and material. Earth’s formation, the physical Earth, and plate tectonics. Earth’s record, including the fossil record, evolution, origin and diversity of life, and biogeography. History of the Earth-Life system, including key events throughout time. Time and length scales. Climate change and extinction. Field trips required. Restricted to geoscience majors (5H, 3L, 6C), partial duplication of GEOS 1004.
Structure of the earth, properties of minerals and rocks, and geologic processes that act on the surface and in the interior of the earth, and integrated geologic systems of importance in engineering and regional planning. For students in engineering and physical sciences. Geology 2104 duplicates material in Geology 1004 and both may not be taken for credit.
Study of geological phenomena in the field. Students make observations in the field, integrate them into coherent datasets, and construct interpretations. Rock type and structure identification in outcrop. Field techniques and applications in structural geology, sedimentology, stratigraphy, geomorphology, environmental geology, hydrogeology, geochemistry, and geophysics. 10 full days spent in the field (Mondays through Fridays during Summer I), plus additional classroom or laboratory meetings.
The roles of geology and geophysics in defining and monitoring the natural environment, with special application to interactions between humans and the geologic environment. Both descriptive treatment and quantitative concepts related to environmental processes involving the solid earth and earths surface, with emphasis on geologic hazards (e.g., earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides and slope failures, flooding, groundwater problems, mineral and rock dusts).
Development of computational skills aimed at extracting pertinent trends and significance of a wide variety and quantity of highly heterogeneous geoscience data; application of analytical, statistical and signal processing methods for analyzing time-series, spatial and satellite imagery data; tools for producing publication quality maps, graphs, charts, and other visual aids.
Descriptive and quantitative treatment of the geological, physical, chemical and biological processes that occur in, or are influenced by, the oceans. The history of oceanic exploration and discovery is addressed.
Service-learning through teaching. Identification and development of geoscience outreach activities based on national and state science education standards. Assessment methods for evaluating the effectiveness of outreach activities. Techniques for effective instructional design and communication of geoscience concepts to enrich the general publics awareness of the geosciences.
Acquisition and interpretation of exploration geophysical data. Seismic reflection and refraction methods, gravity and magnetic fields, geoelectrical methods, and geophysical well logging.
Study of sedimentary basins in a plate-tectonic framework, mechanisms of basin formation, three-dimensional geometry of basin fill, and controls on basin fill. Siliciclastic and carbonate-evaporate rocks as examples of basin fill are discussed in lectures and studied in the lab and in the field. Applied aspects of the course include a discussion of geometries of sedimentary aquifers and reservoirs.
Examines the variety of landforms that exist at the earths surface. Detailed investigation of major processes operating at the earths surface including: tectonic, weathering, fluvial, coastal, eolian, and glacial processes. Field excursion.
Introduction to basic geological structures, evolution of microfabrics, development of faults, folds and foliations, stereographic analysis of geological structures, thrust fault geometries, balancing of geological cross-sections, and introduction to the concepts of stress and strain.
Principles of modern mineralogy, crystal chemistry, and crystallography, with emphasis on mineral atomic structure and physical property relationships, mineralogy in the context of geology, geochemistry, environmental science and geophysics, phase equilibria, mineral associations, and mineral identification, and industrial applications of minerals. There are three required field trips during the semester.
Paleontological principles and techniques and their application to the evolution of life, the ecological structure of ancient biological communities, the interpretation of ancient depositional environments, and the history of the earth.
Characterization of soils as a natural resource emphasizing their physical, chemical, mineralogical, and biological properties in relation to nutrient availability, fertilization, plant growth, land-use management, waste application, soil and water quality, and food production. For CSES, ENSC, and related plant- and earth-science majors. Partially duplicates CSES/ENSC 3134.
Parent materials, morphology, physical, chemical, and biological properties of soils and related soil management and land use practices will be studied in field and lab. Partially duplicates CSES/ENSC 3134.
Introduction to museums and natural history collections, with a focus on hands-on curation of specimens to learn standard archival practices and principles. Exploration of campus collections such as the Museum of Geosciences, Massey Herbarium, and Cheatham Vertebrate Collection with particular focus on: specimen acquisition and accessioning; specimen preparation, preservation, and identification; collection labeling, organization, and storage; collection management databases; metadata; emergency response plans; and the role of museums over time for outreach and interpretation. Application of knowledge through final project.
Laboratory techniques for extracting and preserving paleontological data. Tracing the process a fossil goes through from the field until it is permanently curated. Supervised hands-on experience in an active paleontological laboratory. Independent paleontology information preservation projects. Topics include: philosophy of fossil preparation, mechanical and chemical preparation, conservation and lab materials, digital data and virtual preparation, molding and casting, 3D printing, and collaboration with other museums.
Study of characteristics and mechanisms of igneous intrusion at depth in the crust, volcanic phenomena on the surface, and textural and mineralogical modification of rocks at elevated temperatures and pressures of crustal metamorphism. Tectonic aspects of igneous and metamorphic rocks will be stressed.
Integration and solution of significant geoscience research problems and case studies by analysis and integration of information across a wide spectrum of geoscience sub-disciplines. Techniques for effective oral and written communication of technical information to experts and non-experts. Independent and team research projects. Analysis of ethics associated with societally-relevant geosciences issues. Ethics and professionalism in geosciences.
Use of automated systems for geographic data collection, digitization, storage, display, modeling and analysis. Basic data flow in GIS modeling applications. Development of proficiency in the use of current GIS software. Senior Standing.
Overview of seismic data acquisition and processing methods, seismic wavelets, static and dynamic corrections, and seismic velocities; seismic reflection data interpretation; seismic reflection responses Seismic mapping; seismic stratigraphy and seismic lithology. Consent required.
Analysis of issues and ethics related to water resources, water as a hazard upon human (infrastructure, economy) and ecological (rivers, groundwater) systems, water and vector borne disease, climate change, dams, and eutrophication. Development of proficiency in demonstrating the multidimensionality of water resources. Pre: Junior standing.
Seismicity and its causes in the context of plate tectonics; determination of earthquake location, size and focal parameters; seismogram interpretation; seismometry; hazard potential; use of earthquakes in determining earth structure.
Theory and application to engineering, environmental, and resource exploration. Gravity, magnetics, electrical resistivity, self potential, induced polarization, ground-penetrating radar, magnetotellurics, electromagnetic induction.
Theory and application of seismic methods to engineering, environmental and resource exploration: reflection seismics, refraction seismics, and tomography. Data acquisition, digital filtering, data corrections, imaging, interpretation, and forward modeling.
Study of measurement of Earth 's geometric shape, orientation in space, the gravity field, and how these properties change over time. Geodetic methods of measurement (i.e., GNSS, InSAR, TLS, gravity). Reference frames, geodetic applications, and geodetic advances.
Characterization of the evolution of vertebrates from the fossil record to now. Tracing anatomical features in humans to their origin of different vertebrate groups. Chronicling vertebrate diversification events through extinctions, changes in climate in the last 600 million years, biogeography, and phylogenetic methods. Evidence of evolution through fossils and dissection.
Identification of skeletal osteological elements of major groups of vertebrates, including aspects of skeletal functional morphology and homology, with emphasis on extant taxa. Skeletal systems of model and non-model organisms such as fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals; specimen care and data management; modern skeletal collection practices.
Study of Earth system evolution, with a focus on critical transitions that shaped the history of the Earth, and the integration and interaction of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and geosphere. Principles of system science, box models, atmospheric and oceanographic processes, microbial processes, isotopic tracers, elemental cycles, and critical transitions in Earth history, including the origin of life, changes in atmospheric composition, climatic events and mass extinctions.
Formation, evolution, and characterization of regions of the Earths surface that experience long-lived subsidence and sediment accumulation. Integration of concepts and skills from: stratigraphy, surface processes, tectonics, structural geology, burial/thermal history, geo/thermochronology, and geodynamics; content is relevant to fields such as paleontology, (paleo)climatology, and subsurface resource management. Use of programming/statistical software packages.
Study of past, current, and future drivers of coastal change and hazards. Integration of concepts and skills from: climatic, isostatic, and tectonic processes that drive sea-level change; geologic (e.g., coastal stratigraphy, microfossils) and instrumental (e.g., tide gauges, satellite altimetry) coastal change reconstructions, models, measurements, and projections. Coastal earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, and storm-surge hazards. Approaches and challenges of communicating coastal hazards to the public. Coastal hazards and public policy.
Theory and methods of remote sensing. Practical exercises in interpretation of aerial photography, satellite, radar and thermal infrared imagery. Digital analysis, image classification and evaluation. Applications in earth sciences, hydrology, plant sciences, and land use studies.
Basic principles of rock behavior under applied, non-hydrostatic stress (experimental and tectonic) and analysis of the geometrical patterns produced. Alternate years.
Introduction to the fundamental processes that drive the sorting of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, and sulfur stable isotopes in modern and past marine and terrestrial systems. Application of stable isotopes to address research questions in a variety of disciplines, including geology, paleobiology, ecology, and environmental sciences. Collect, prepare, analyze, and interpret stable isotope data.
Introduction to the range and variety of metallic and non-metallic economic mineral deposits. Classification of the petrologic and tectonic settings of mineral deposits. Source, transport and depositional mechanisms of mineral deposit formation. Laboratory emphasizes identification of ore minerals, gangue minerals, common host rocks, wall-rock alteration and mineral zoning. Course requirement of 3 hours of GEOS at the 3000-level or above, may be satisfied by taking prerequisite prior to or concurrent with course.
Application of quantitative methods of thermodynamic and physicochemical analysis to the study of the distribution and movement of chemical elements in surface and near-surface geological environments. Emphasis on practical approaches to environmental geochemistry.
Study of characteristics and mechanisms of volcanic phenomena, including magma dynamics, origin and chemistry of lavas, physics of eruptions, and characteristics of volcanic products, particularly pyroclastic deposits. Includes focus on volcanism as a general planetary process, on terrestrial tectonic settings of volcanism and on volcanic hazards.
Physical principles of groundwater flow, including application of analytical solutions to real-world problems. Well hydraulics. Geologic controls on groundwater flow.
Application of geological, geochemical, and hyrdogeological principles to engineering problems; relating rock and soil forming processes to engineering properties of geological materials; physical and chemical weathering processes and relationships with engineering properties of soil and rock; effective stress theory and geologic hazards; methods and data types for environmental applications and engineering works; geologic hazards and human-land interactions; professionalism and ethics in the practice of engineering geology.
Overview of modern plate tectonic theory and history. Physical processes driving present-day plate tectonic deformation including continental rifts, rifted margins, continental transforms, strike-slip faults, subduction zones and orogenic belts. Plate kinematic concepts and information about the Earth’s structure. Application of scientific method, data analysis, and computational modeling.
Study of geoscience topics in a global environment. Cross‐cultural perspectives on scientific inquiry and knowledge in the geosciences. Application to topics of societal relevance. Field experiences in places of geologic, societal and cultural interest. Specific topics may vary from semester to semester. May be repeated with different content for a maximum of 9 credit hours.
May be repeated for a maximum of 4 credits.