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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Kenneth C Creager
ESS 502
Seattle Campus

The Solid Earth

Concepts of internal earth processes: Earth as heat engine and chemical processor, style of mantle convection, origin and evolution of the Earth's magnetic field, Cascadia subduction and hazards. Introduces seismology, fluid dynamics, heat flow, gravity, and geomagnetism. Focuses on the analysis, critique, and communication of ideas from scientific literature.

Class description

Description: Large-scale internal earth processes are explored through ongoing scientific controversies. Topics covered include: Earth as a heat engine and chemical processing factory, style of mantle convection, origin and evolution of Earth's magnetic field, and the process and hazards of Cascadia subduction. Geophysical concepts of seismology, fluid dynamics, heat flow, gravity and geomagnetism, will be introduced through lecture, reading and problem sets. Small group discussion and weekly writing will focus on the analysis and critique of ideas presented in selections from the scientific literature. Topics 1 through 3 will take about 6 weeks, topic 4 will be 4 weeks.

Topic 1: Earth's magnetic field: origin and evolution, rock record, reconstruction of plate motions. Concepts: rock magnetism, geodynamo, geomagnetism, magnetic field reversals.

Topic 2: Earth as a convective heat engine and chemical processing factory. Concepts: Plate tectonics, thermal, chemical, and mechanical boundary layers: lithosphere, asthenosphere, tectosphere, crust, mantle, core, heat flow, isostacy, rheology, plate bending, continuum mechanics, radiogenic heat sources.

Topic 3: Style of mantle convection: whole-mantle versus layered convection? Is there a stealth layer? Do mantle plumes originate from the lower-most mantle or the upper mantle? Concepts: Seismicity, focal mechanisms, seismic tomography, mineralogical phase transitions, fluid dynamics, heat flow, chemical/isotope reservoirs.

Topic 4: The process and hazards of Cascadia Subduction: megathrust, intraslab, and crustal earthquakes, deep tremor and slow-slip earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, sedimentary basins, accretionary prisms, serpentine wedge, water, water everywhere. Concepts: Physics of fast vs slow earthquakes, geodesy, role of mineral dehydration in inducing earthquakes, lowering melting temperature, modifying rheology.

Student learning goals

Learn fundamental geophysical principals that underlie ongoing scientific controversies

Read, analyze and critique scientific papers and hypotheses

Effectively communicate scientific concepts to peers

Understand the distinction and use of data and models

Gain an appreciation for the importance of multidisciplinary approaches

Recognize the human dimension in underlying global scale Earth processes

General method of instruction

This course will include about half lecture and half “active learning” discussion. We will cover fundamentals through lecture and using the reference texts. We then will incorporate reading of papers. Per the syllabus, we will require weekly reading and writing, class discussion (attendance is important).

Recommended preparation

This "breadth" course should be accessible to any graduate student in the Department of Earth and Space Sciences.

Class assignments and grading

The assignments are a mix of reading from Text books, reading research papers, some problems sets and writing assignments, in class and out of class discussion with fellow students, and two power point presentations.

Grades will be based on weekly writing assignments (40%), participation in class discussion (20%) and two (PowerPoint) group projects (40%).


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Additional Information
Last Update by Kenneth C Creager
Date: 01/04/2011