EARTH: INSIDE AND OUT
Though the geologic record is incredibly ancient, it has only been studied intensely since the end of the 19th century. Since then, research in fields such as plate tectonics and climate change, and exploration of the deep sea floor and the inner Earth have vastly increased our understanding of geological processes. This course delves into the five questions listed below in order to understand how our dynamic planet evolved and what processes continue to shape it. In the process, learners will get to know the museumʼs Hall of Planet Earth, explore geologic time, and gain an understanding of how scientists study vast Earth systems.
Student Learning Outcomes
In this course, students will:
This is a six-week online graduate course with an additional week for assignment completion. The course is asynchronous and does not have specific meeting times. Assignments and discussions change on a weekly basis. Students are expected to complete work within the specific week it is assigned.
For the current schedule of offerings, please visit www.amnh.org/learn/calendar
This graduate course is co-taught by an experienced educator along with a research scientist.
For current instructor information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Earth Machine: The Science of a Dynamic Planet
By Edmond A. Mathez, James D. Webster
Hardcover: 378 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press; (May 8, 2007) ISBN: 0231125798
You will need to locate a geologic map of your local area. We recommend that you begin your search at the nearest library. See the Week 1 Assignment page of the course for more details.
The following resources are recommended as general references but are not required.
The Dynamic Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geology, 5th edition
by Brian J. Skinner, Stephen C. Porter
Paperback: 648 pages; Dimensions (in inches): 0.88 x 10.83 x 8.56
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons; 5th edition (2004) ISBN: 0471152285
Earth: Inside and Out
by Edmond A. Mathez, American Museum of Natural History
Paperback: 238 pages; Dimensions (in inches): 0.71 x 9.24 x 7.54
Publisher: New Press; (May 2001) ISBN: 1565845951
Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe
by Peter Douglas Ward, Donald Brownle
Hardcover: 368 pages; Dimensions (in inches): 1.30 x 9.58 x 6.44
Publisher: Copernicus Books; 1st edition (January 2000) ISBN: 0387987010
Technical support is available by calling (800) 649-6715 or emailing email@example.com.
The American Museum of Natural History welcomes learners with disabilities into its Seminars on Science program and will make reasonable accommodations for them. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you require information about requesting accommodation services. These services are only available to registered students with documented disabilities. Please submit requests at least two weeks prior to the start of the course.
Assessments are based on a detailed grading rubric developed for this course:
Weekly Overview and Expectations
Week 1: Our Dynamic Planet
This first week, learners meet Drs. Ed Mathez and Ro Kinzler and are introduced to the Museumʼs Hall of Planet Earth. They tackle the fundamental question of how the Earth works and the challenges of studying enormous systems that operate across vast reaches of time. Understanding begins with observation, so learners look at the Earthʼs early atmosphere, the Ice Age, the planetʼs churning interior, and submarine hot springs for clues about how the planets systems interact.
Week 2: How Do We Read the Rocks?
Nearly everything we know about the Earth is relayed through rocks. They are evidence that geologists use to deduce the history of a part of our planet. Determining the age of individual rocks, their composite minerals, and even the Earth itself, is critical. Radioactive dating helps geologists determine how old (or young) a rock may be. Why are the oldest rock samples on Earth significantly younger than the planet itself? What tools and processes have scientists used to estimate the age of the Earth? This week learners will review the past and current science behind dating rocks, and begin to observe and describe a local geologic feature.
Week 3: How Has Earth Evolved?
The atmosphere is part of the Earth system, and its history is part of the story of our planet. When asked, “Has the evolution of the Earth influenced the evolution of life?” most people would say yes. On the other hand, when asked, “Has the evolution of life influenced the evolution of the Earth?” many might say no. But in fact life has profoundly influenced the evolution of the Earthʼs atmosphere, and thus of the planet as a whole. This week, learners examine what rocks tell us about the composition of the early atmosphere. They also continue to research a local geologic feature, and begin to consider final project options.
Week 4: What Causes Climate Change?
Climate is the long-term state of weather. As discussed in Week 3, the Earth's geological systems are deeply interrelated. Climate is a particularly complex system controlled by the interaction of the atmosphere, ocean, and other Earth systems, and not immune to the effect of human activities. This week, learners examine how geologists deduce what past climate or paleoclimate was like, examine the Younger Dryas as an example of dramatic climate change over a short period of time, and investigate the connection between the oceans, the atmosphere, and climate.
Week 5: Why are there Ocean Basins, Mountains, and Continents?
The flow of solid rock in the Earth's mantle (convection) is the engine that drives the movements of rocky plates on the Earth's surface (plate tectonics). These movements, in turn, open and close ocean basins, thrust mountains skyward, and shift and reshape continents. This week learners investigate how convection works, and how plate tectonics cause earthquakes to occur, volcanoes to erupt, and mountains to rise up. Learners will study how computer modeling is used to describe and study mantle convection, and then evaluate two different mantle convection models.
Week 6: Why is the Earth Habitable?
Life on Earth is possible because of the "Goldilocks effect": itʼs in just the right place (neither too close nor too far from the Sun) and is made of just the right stuff (water plus the six elements of which 95% of life consists). Everywhere on the planet that theyʼve looked, scientists have found life — even in around deep-sea hydrothermal vents, where superheated water spews into the frigid blackness of the ocean floor. This week focuses on the variety of life forms in this extreme environment, and how their discovery speaks to larger questions such as where did life first evolve? And where and how might life (as we know it) exist on other planetary bodies?