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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Bernard Hallet
ESS 504
Seattle Campus

The Earth Surface

Investigates the coupled tectonic and geomorphic processes that shape the surface of the Earth, creates the surface environment that sustains humanity and other life systems, and produces natural hazards. Introduces modern tolls, techniques, and theories applicable to analysis of this coupled dynamic system.

Class description

I will survey the fundamental tectonic and geomorphic processes that shape the surface of the Earth. This surface is vital to us as it supports humanity and the rest of the biosphere. The diverse topics will be unified through my emphasis on the few underlying principles. I will introduce 1) the fundamental tectonic and volcanic processes, including plate tectonics, isostasy, orogenesis and faulting, and their topographic expressions; and 2) geomorphic processes, including fluvial incision and sediment transport, hillslope evolution, and glacial processes, and major landscape types. The application of tools used extensively in modern research such as Digital Elevation Models, GPS geodesy, SAR Interferometry, and low-temperature thermochronometry will also be described. Synthesis will be provided by reviewing major recent advances in understanding particularly well studied areas shaped by the interaction of active crustal and surface processes. The include tectonically and seismically active areas (e.g. the Himalaya, New Zealand, Alaska) that generate diverse geohazards; these will also be introduced through instructive case studies.

Student learning goals

Students will 1) begin to understand the fundamental tectonic and geomorphic processes that shape the surface of the Earth (and, to a modest extent, other planets)

2) become aware of the diverse powerful tools and approaches used in contemporary research related to the Earth's surface in regions that are tectonically and seismically active

3) get a glimpse at the deep connections, interactions and feed backs between surface and crustal processes

4) review and appreciate exciting recent advances in understanding particularly well studied areas shaped by current tectonic activity (e.g. the Himalaya, Alaska, and the Andes)

5) explore a particularly interesting example of how society is impacted by geomorphic processes

6) be able to read critically and understand material related to the course more critically

General method of instruction

Two 80 minute sessions per week consisting primarily of Powerpoint lectures, blackboard presentations and discussion. Student presentations.

Recommended preparation

An open mind and eagerness to learn about exciting advances in understanding the earth's surface, to appreciate more deeply the terrain we and others live in, and to understand the diverse geo-hazards that may challenge us.

Class assignments and grading

Four to six take-home exercises through the quarter, and occasional lectures by visiting scientists. One class project on a relevant topic of your own choosing; it involves both a class presentation and a short (5 page max) written paper at the end of the quarter.

Exercises: 25% Class participation: 10% Class project: 65%


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.
Last Update by Bernard Hallet
Date: 12/10/2012