Physical Geology

Course Number: G 202
Transcript Title: Physical Geology
Created: September 1, 2012
Updated: June 9, 2016
Total Credits: 4
Lecture Hours: 30
Lecture / Lab Hours: 0
Lab Hours: 30
Satisfies Cultural Literacy requirement: No
Satisfies General Education requirement: Yes
Grading options: A-F (default), P-NP, audit
Repeats available for credit: 0


MTH 95 or equivalent placement test scores

Prerequisite / Concurrent

Course Description

Introduces physical geology which deals with mass wasting, streams, glaciers, deserts, beaches, groundwater, and use of topographic maps. Includes weekly lab. Prerequisite: MTH 95 or equivalent placement test scores. Prerequisite/concurrent: WR 121. Audit available.

Intended Outcomes

A student who successfully completes this course should be able to:

  1. Use an understanding of landform characterization and classification to infer the geologic processes which formed specific landforms.
  2. Analyze how earth materials, uplift, subsidence, erosion, transport, deposition, climate, biological activity and time interact to create landscapes.
  3. Access earth science information from a variety of sources, evaluate the quality of this information, and compare this information with current models of earth surface processes identifying areas of congruence and discrepancy.
  4. Make field and laboratory based observations and measurements of landforms and/or surface processes, use scientific reasoning to interpret these observations and measurements, and compare the results with current models of earth surface processes identifying areas of congruence and discrepancy.
  5. Use scientifically valid modes of inquiry, individually and collaboratively, to critically evaluate the hazards and risks posed by flooding, slope processes and coastal erosion both to themselves and society as a whole, evaluate the efficacy of possible ethically robust responses to these hazards and risks, and effectively communicate the results of this analysis to their peers.
  6. Assess the contributions of physical geology to our evolving understanding of global change and sustainability while placing the development of physical geology in its historical and cultural context.

Alignment with Institutional Core Learning Outcomes

In-depth 1. Communicate effectively using appropriate reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. (Communication)


2. Creatively solve problems by using relevant methods of research, personal reflection, reasoning, and evaluation of information. (Critical thinking and Problem-Solving)


3. Apply the knowledge, skills and abilities to enter and succeed in a defined profession or advanced academic program. (Professional Competence)


4. Appreciate cultural diversity and constructively address issues that arise out of cultural differences in the workplace and community. (Cultural Awareness)


5. Recognize the consequences of human activity upon our social and natural world. (Community and Environmental Responsibility)

Outcome Assessment Strategies

At the beginning of the course, the instructor will detail the methods used to evaluate student progress and the criteria for assigning a course grade. The methods may include one or more of the following tools: examinations, quizzes, homework assignments, laboratory write-ups, research papers, small group problem solving of questions arising from application of course concepts and concerns to actual experience, oral presentations, or maintenance of a personal work journal.

Course Activities and Design

The material in this course will be presented in a combination of lecture/discussion and laboratory exercises. Other educationally sound methods may be employed such as guest lectures, field trips, research papers, and small group work.

Course Content (Themes, Concepts, Issues and Skills)

  1. Identify and classify the landforms associated with mass wasting, groundwater, streams, glaciers, deserts and shorelines
  2. Understand how landforms are related to the processes of erosion, transport and deposition
  3. Describe the materials that make up landforms associated with mass wasting, groundwater, streams, glaciers, deserts and shorelines
  4. Examine weathering and the formation of soils (this topic may be covered in either G201 or G202 at the discretion of the instructor)
  5. Develop an understanding of the kinds and origins or geologic structures (this topic may be covered in either G201 or G202 at the discretion of the instructor)
  6. Examine the role of plate tectonics in shaping the surface of the Earth
  7. Discuss hazards associated with mass wasting, groundwater, streams, glaciers, deserts and shorelines

Topics to be covered include: 

  1. Weathering (may be taught in G201 instead)
    1. Mechanical weathering (frost wedging, abrasion, exfoliation)
    2. Chemical weathering (dissolution/solution, oxidation, hydration)
    3. Factors that affect weathering rates
    4. Products of weathering (sand, clay, iron oxides/hydroxides)
    5. Soil structure
    6. Types of soils (pedocals, pedalfers, laterites)
  2. Structural Geology (may be taught in G201 instead)
    1. Stress and strain
    2. Folds (syncline, anticline, dome, basin)
    3. Faults (normal, reverse, strike-slip)
    4. Strike and dip
    5. Mountain building and relation to stress
    6. Relationship to plate tectonics
  3. Mass Movement
    1. Causes of mass movement (gravity, slope angle, angle of repose, slope composition, vegetation, water)
    2. Types of mass movement (falls, flows, slides, slumps)
    3. Features associated with mass movement (talus, evidence of creep, scarp)
    4. Prevention of mass movement
    5. Triggers (storms, earthquakes, fires, land use)
  4. Streams
    1. Hydrologic cycle
    2. Stream topography (drainage basin, divide, tributaries, distributaries, gradient, graded stream)
    3. Stream erosion (base level, abrasion, hydraulic lifting, dissolution, waterfalls)
    4. Drainage patterns (dendritic, radial, rectangular, trellis)
    5. Channels (braided stream, meandering stream, cut bank, point bar, flood plain, terraces)
    6. Transport (competence, capacity, dissolved load, suspended load, bed load, saltation)
    7. Deposition (alluvial fan, delta, channel deposits, flood plains)
  5. Groundwater
    1. Groundwater movement (hydraulic gradient, zone of aeration, zone of saturation, water table, porosity, permeability, aquifer, aquiclude, artesian systems)
    2. Springs and geysers
    3. Groundwater pollution/depletion (subsidence, saltwater intrusion, cone of depression)
    4. Karst topography (sinkholes, bind valleys, disappearing streams)
    5. Caves and their features (stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, columns, dripstone/flowstone)
  6. Glaciers
    1. Formation and budget of glaciers (snow to firm to glacial ice, zone of ablation/wastage, zone of accumulation, furn line/snow line)
    2. Classification of glaciers (alpine glaciers, valley glaciers, continental ice sheets)
    3. Glacial flow (plastic deformation and basal slip)
    4. Erosional features (cirque, tarn, horn, arête, u-shaped valley, hanging valley, fjord)
    5. Glacial sediments and sedimentary features (drift, till, erratic, moraine, drumlin, outwash, eskers)
    6. Introduction to ice ages (evidence for past ice ages, possible causes of last ice ages)
  7. Deserts
    1. Types of deserts (subtropical created by global air circulation, rain-shadow)
    2. Water erosion and deposition and related features (alluvial fan, pediment, bajada, arroyos, playa)
    3. Wind erosion and deposition and related features (deflation, deflation basins, desert pavement, ventifacts, yardangs, dunes, loess)
  8. Coasts
    1. Waves (wavelength, wave base, wave motion, breaker, wave refraction, longshore current, rip current)
    2. Erosion and erosional features (headlands, wave-cut platform, marine terrace, sea cave, sea arch, sea stack)
    3. Deposition and depositional features (beach, spit, berm, baymouth bar, tombolo, groins, jetties, breakwaters, barrier islands)
    4. Relationship to plate tectonics (passive vs. active margins)
    5. Features associated with sea level changes (estuary, fjord)
    6. Causes of sea level changes (glaciers, rate of sea-floor spreading, human-induced global warming)

Department Notes

Physical Geology G202 is intended for both geology majors and non-majors, and is the second term of a year of beginning college geology. Physical Geology is concerned with earth materials and geologic processes acting on the earth. G202 deals mainly with surficial geologic processes. This course can be used to partly fulfill graduation requirements for the Associate Degree, and has been approved for block transfer. The text and materials have been chosen by the faculty and the emphasis of the course will be the viewpoint of the author(s). This includes the concepts of geologic time and the evolution of the Earth.

Columbia Gorge Community College Science Department stands by the following statement about regarding science instruction:

Science is a fundamentally nondogmatic and self-correcting investigatory process. Theories (such as biological evolution and geologic time scale) are developed through scientific investigation are not decided in advance. As such, scientific theories can be and often are modified and revised through observation and experimentation. “Creation science", “Intelligent design” or similar beliefs are not considered legitimate science, but a form of religious advocacy. This position is established by legal precedence (Webster v. New Lenox School District #122, 917 F. 2d 1004).

The Science Department at Columbia Gorge Community College therefore stands with organizations such as the National Association of Biology Teachers in opposing the inclusion of pseudo-sciences in our science curricula except to reference and/or clarify its invalidity.

Students are expected to be able to read and comprehend college-level science texts and perform basic mathematical operations in order to successfully complete this course.