EES program courses – long descriptions

Earth and Environmental Sciences Courses

Course list; descriptions are given below.

Prerequisites:   • Chemistry    Physics    Ecology
Mixed Research Methods
Introduction to GIS and Remote Sensing
Ways of Knowing; Mountain Environments in Thought and Practice
Environment and Development in Mountain Regions
Science, Impact, and Complexity of Climate Change
Natural Hazards and Risk Management in Mountain Regions
Introduction to Geology and Earth Processes
Introduction to Geologic Materials and Resources
Surface Processes in Mountain Environments
Hydrology and hydrogeology
Advanced GIS and Remote Sensing
Senior environmental science:
Conservation Science
Applied Ecology
Environmental Impact and Risk Assessment
Environmental Governance; Water, Air, Land, and Biosphere
Senior geoscience:
Geodynamics and Structural Geology
Sediments, Stratigraphy and Related Resources
Minerals, Petrology and Related Resources

Three prerequisites, taken in year 3 of 5

Introductory chemistry for Earth & environmental sciences 

Fundamentals of chemical bonding, properties of matter, solution-phase chemistry, thermochemistry, equilibrium, kinetics, and nuclear chemistry. Chemistry at the microscopic and macroscopic level are explored with emphasis on an earth and environmental context, including atmospheric, aqueous, and solid-state chemistry. Applications of chemistry in the modern world and its impact on humans and the environment will be explored.

Description of capabilities: After taking this course, you should be able to:

  • Describe the key features of molecules and chemical bonding, classify intermolecular interactions, and predict the relative strength of chemical interactions.
  • Describe the physical properties of different states of matter and how those properties affect chemical behaviors.
  • Write and use chemical equations that describe common aqueous and atmospheric chemistry.
  • Explain the role of energy in chemical reactions and describe how factors like temperature, time, and activation energy affect the rates of reactions.
  • Describe how modern chemical analysis techniques like spectroscopy and spectrometry are used and interpret basic UV-VIS, IR, and mass spectra.

Introductory physics
This course introduces students to physical processes and ways of thinking quantitatively about the Earth. Includes introductions to: mechanics and gravity (how objects move), thermodynamics (how heat moves), fluid dynamics (how liquids and gases move), atomic structure, waves (e.g., light waves; waves inside the Earth), and electricity and magnetism. Throughout the course, we’ll develop skills of estimation, build ideas of important length-scales and timescales in EES (e.g., age and size of the Earth; melting rate of glaciers; masses of mountains), and think about physics in everyday and EES-specific phenomena.

Description of capabilities: Description update in progress.

Ecology I; Evolutionary Ecology
This course is designed to give students a solid basis for furthering their studies related to the biological sciences by striking a balance between mastery of core concepts and exposure to the breadth of the discipline. Students will examine the interrelationships between organisms and their biotic and abiotic environments, and will be introduced to the genetic, evolutionary, and ecological processes governing the patterns we observe in nature. The course covers basic principles of how genetic variation is generated, stored, and transmitted; the origin and evolution of species; and ecological interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems.

Description of capabilities: By taking this course you will acquire:

  • Lasting knowledge and appreciation for living organisms and their connections to the world in which we live.
  • Understanding of the subdisciplines of biology as they provide insights and solutions to many of the environmental issues we are confronted with in our daily lives.
  • Understanding and appreciation of how biologists, as scientists, understand the world, and the necessary skills to begin thinking like a biologist yourself.
  • The ability to apply biological knowledge to new situations.
  • The ability to integrate concepts from multiple sub-disciplines to solve problems and make predictions about biological systems.

Eleven required courses

Mixed Research Methods:
Introduction to methods used in academic and professional endeavors to answer environmental science research questions. Students are exposed to qualitative and quantitative methodologies and research methods including use of academic, public domain or other literature, interviews, ethnographies, experiments, surveys, and primary and secondary data, as well as approaches such as case studies and participatory research. Students will gain practical experience in research design, data collection, and data analysis.
Prerequisites: None

Description of capabilities: By the end of this course you will be able to:

  • Read and evaluate scientific articles in environmental science that use mixed methods research.
  • Develop research questions, write clear research objectives, and select appropriate methods to answer the research question(s).
  • Use qualitative and quantitative methods to collect and analyze data.

Introduction to GIS and Remote Sensing: Students learn foundational concepts and practices in geospatial science including the use of computer systems for environmental research and natural resource management. The course includes surveying, mapping and remote sensing; creating, accessing, handling, and analyzing data; processing and visualization of information; topographic modeling; spatial interpolation; map design; introduction to programming in open-source GIS languages. Contexts include vegetation, soil, water, land use, land cover and infrastructure.
Pre-requisites: Calculus I.

Description of capabilities: After taking this course you will be able to conduct basic analyses using a Geographic Information System, create maps, and conduct scientific research on the spatial dimensions of a wide range of natural resource management and environmental issues such as pastoral land management, land use conflicts, forest plantation management, and global environmental change.

Ways of Knowing: Mountain Environments in Thought and Practice
How different institutions or groups understand, value, and use mountain environments, focusing upon local and indigenous ways of knowing in Central Asia while linking to other mountain based regions. Questions of ethics, responsibility, rights, and justice as applied to human-environment relations, including economic, political, social, legal and epistemological dimensions. Material implications of these issues for environments, societies, and for effective land, resource and risk management policies and practices. Students are exposed to historical and contemporary debates and issues.
Pre-requisite: None.

Description of capabilities: 

  • Use the framework concept of socio-natures to examine mountain environments and societies
  • Explore common Indigenous ways of knowing
  • Realize that knowledges are subjective and appreciate their relationship to worldviews
  • Investigate the contributions of indigenous and local knowledge in the context of socio-cultural and environmental change and natural resource management in mountain environments
  • Challenge and reflect upon your worldview and ways of knowing
  • Develop skills in critical thinking, analysis and communication of ideas in both academic and non-academic forums

Environment and Development in Mountain Regions

The biodiversity of mountain regions is important in sustaining the livelihoods of mountain communities, and also to the food security and socio-economic well-being of people who may not live on the mountain, but rely on its resources. This course investigates the topographic, climatic, and geologic drivers of diversity in mountain environments, which are reflected in cultural and land-use practices. Topics such as agro-pastoralism, land management issues, water management, urban mountain environments, and mountain tourism are addressed. This is a modular course with topics to vary depending upon student needs and faculty priorities.
Pre-requisites: Environmental Governance: Water, Air, Land, and Biosphere and Ways of Knowing: the environment in thought and practice.

Description of capabilities: By the end of this course you will be able to:

  • Explain the factors that make mountain environments unique and rich in diversity.
  • Examine the relationships between mountain environments, economics, and society in the context of global and local change and uncertainty.
  • Develop an enhanced understanding of sustainable development theories and concepts as they relate to mountain regions, and their application to development and environment issues

Science, Impact, and Complexity of Climate Change
This course investigates the scientific evidence for global warming, examines the causes of climate change, considers the impacts on natural and human systems, and explores options to mitigate and/or adapt to changing climatic conditions. Particular attention is paid to impacts and adaptation in Central Asia. Students are introduced to mountain weather patterns and the relationship to global and regional climate. Pre-requisites: None.

Description of capabilities: By the end of this course you will be able to:

  • Develop tools to examine climate change from multidisciplinary perspectives, including its environmental, socio-economic, and political dimensions.
  • Analyze climate data and evaluate how interactions between climate system components lead to climate variability that impacts human societies.
  • Develop enhanced skills in science literacy, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication.

Natural Hazards and Risk Management in Mountain Regions
Causes, characteristics, consequences and mitigation strategies of natural hazards encountered in mountainous regions, including earthquakes, glacial lake outbursts, floods, storms, avalanches, landslides, and rockfall. This course focuses on how natural processes interact with societal contexts to give rise to mountain hazards, with particular attention given to the assessment and mitigation of risk and socio-economic impacts of natural hazards.
Pre-requisites: Surface Processes in Mountain Environments.

Description of capabilities:

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Evaluate the causal factors for a wide range of natural hazards based on the underlying physics.
  • Predict which locations locally, regionally, and globally are most at risk from these hazards and explain why.
  • Appraise, for a specific location with associated natural hazards, how vulnerabilities including socioeconomic conditions, culture, livelihoods, governance, and education influence risk and complicate the building of resilience in that community.
  • Develop a strategy to assess hazard and risk for a given scenario.
  • Assess which mitigation approaches (evaluation, monitoring, modelling, forecasting, prevention, and protection) are possible and most useful for a given hazard in a specific situation.
  • Identify how current and projected impacts of global warming will affect natural hazards and mitigation strategies.
  • Develop skills in communication with stakeholders, science literacy, collaboration, and critical thinking.

Introduction to Geology and Earth Processes
Planet Earth as a coupled system of the atmosphere, oceans, geosphere and life; geologic “deep” time; origins of the universe, emergence of life, emphasis on planetary tectonics, orogenesis, the ice age and human evolution. Pre-requisite: None.

Description of capabilities: 

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Apply an evidence-based, logical, scientific approach to ask and address questions about our planet.
  • Interpret everyday observations of the natural world and evaluate Earth Science-related topics covered in the media in terms of the Earth System and planetary processes including tectonics, magmatism, surface processes, and climate.
  • Recognize the complex links among geologic, oceanic, glacial, atmospheric, and biologic processes.
  • Identify and use appropriate time scales to describe and link different planetary processes.
  • Articulate the relevance of Earth Science to individuals and to mountain societies.

Introduction to Geologic Materials and Resources
Physical and chemical properties or characteristics of minerals, rocks and soils, including means of measuring or determining their values in the lab and in-situ. Influence of water and biological processes on geologic materials and soils; origins and characteristics of mineral, hydrocarbon, hydrological and geotechnical resources.
Pre-requisite: None.

Description of capabilities: 

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Describe and identify hand specimens of common rock forming minerals and rock types, both in the lab and in the field.
  • Relate mineral properties to composition, atomic structure, bonding, and the occurrence of those minerals in different rock types
  • Describe the processes of formation of common rock types, and use their textural, chemical and mineralogical features to classify them
  • Predict where certain rock types have formed at different periods of geological time and where they are forming today, using plate tectonics through time as a framework
  • Apply knowledge of rock forming processes to interpret the geological history of an area based on samples and geological maps, with a particular focus on the local region
  • Relate important economic minerals to their mineral deposit types, geological setting and deposit formation processes

Surface Processes in Mountain Environments
The course offers an introduction to quantitative analysis of geomorphic processes in mountainous terrain, and examines the interaction of climate, tectonics, and surface processes in the sculpting of Earth’s surface. Students will examine the mechanics of fluvial, hillslope, and glacial processes through the principles of weathering, soil formation, runoff, erosion, slope stability, sediment transport, river morphology, and glacial erosion.
Prerequisites: Physics I.
Co-requisite: Introduction to Geology and Earth Processes.

Description of capabilities: Taking this course will allow you to acquire:

  • An appreciation of how mountainous landscapes are formed and their continued evolution through time.
  • An understanding of how human activities have influenced the form of the landscape.
  • An ability to assess various solutions to a wide range of environmental problems and engineering designs in mountainous environments.

Hydrology and hydrogeology
This course is designed to give students an understanding of the processes of water movement at the Earth’s surface and in the subsurface environment. This course covers the hydrologic cycle, the principles governing the flow of groundwater, the interaction of groundwater with surface water, as well as the sustainability and management of surface water and groundwater systems.
Prerequisites: Physics I.
Co-requisite: Introduction to Geological Materials and Resources.

Description of capabilities: Taking this course will allow you to acquire:

  • An understanding of how hydrologists and hydrogeologists analyze data to predict water movement from hydrologic events.
  • Skills in the analysis of local hydrologic data and the basic techniques used in the computation of design flows from hydrologic events and the routing of surface flows.
  • The ability to apply hydrologic and hydrogeologic knowledge to a wide variety of environments.
  • The ability to integrate hydrologic and hydrogeologic principles to solve problems and to improve the sustainability and management of surface water and groundwater systems.

Advanced GIS and Remote Sensing:
This course builds upon the introductory course. We focus on advanced GIScience topics such as the nature of geographic data, uncertainty in geographic data, database management systems, and advanced spatial analysis. We also focus on specific data types available for and analysis processes for remote sensing. Overall, the course is aimed at furthering your understanding of how geographic information can be used to solve problems and gain insights, and how GIS and Remote Sensing plays an important role in many areas of Geography–both human and physical–as well as in disciplines ranging from Archaeology and Ecology through to Water Resource Management and Zoology.
Pre- requisites: Calculus II, Physics I, Intro GIS/RS.

Description of capabilities: After taking this course you will be able to conduct advanced spatial analyses using both raster and vector data, know what makes spatial data ‘special’ (e.g., MAUP, projections), identify appropriate sources for spatial data (e.g., GPS, remote sensing), and learn how to collaborate with others as you work towards a common goal (i.e., the project). You will gain a number of applied skills including understanding how to use software and satellite data to model watersheds.

Four senior courses, environmental stream

Conservation Science
Conservation Biology is the scientific study of the phenomena that affect the maintenance, loss, and restoration of biological diversity. Topics covered will include: 1) the impacts of global climate change, non-native species invasions, and habitat destruction on biodiversity, 2) strategies developed to combat these threats, and 3) a consideration of key economic and ethical tradeoffs. Special attention will be paid to current debate and controversy within this rapidly emerging field of study.
Pre-requisite: Ecology I.

Description of capabilities: After the course the student should be able to:

  • Identify major threats to biodiversity, the most important and effective approaches to conserving biodiversity, and the societal challenges that confront conservation.
  • Think critically and creatively about conservation problems and solutions, recognizing that some approaches that work better than others and are often context specific, and the importance of compromise in successful conservation.
  • Identify and evaluate how best to address a local conservation issue of their choice.

Applied Ecology
Applied Ecology is the utilization of ecological principles. The discipline focuses on the relationship between biotic (living things) and abiotic (environmental) factors, to address environmental issues. The goal of this course is for each student to build an understanding of ecological principles and theories, then apply these knowledge bases to address enduring and current environmental problems. Critical evaluation of ecological studies; ecological modeling; techniques used in solving problems related to individual, population, community and ecosystem dynamics.
Prerequisite: Ecology I.

Description of capabilities: After the course the student should be able to:

  • Use ecological knowledge in order to understand the distribution of individuals, populations and species.
  • Discuss different theories that may explain biological diversity.
    Identify threats to biological diversity.
  • Understand the importance of different ecosystem services to society.
  • Identify and explain the ecological underpinnings of the most important environmental problems in the region and the world.
  • Use some common ecological methods and applications.
    Follow and implement the scientific method for ecological studies.

Environmental Governance: Water, Air, Land, and Biosphere
Environmental governance refers to the processes through which societies make decisions that affect the environment. Though environmental decision-making has traditionally been done by governments, increasingly the complexity and immediacy of environmental problems calls for innovative, often non-governmental responses. This course examines “wicked” environmental management problems and explores governance solutions with a focus on sustainability. We will discuss the role of technology and the policy setting for managing environmental challenges, environmental trade-offs, and issues of environmental justice.
Pre-requisite: None

Description of capabilities: By the end of this course you will be able to:

  • Explain the elements that can make an environmental management issue a “wicked problem”.
  • Gain familiarity with the principles of, and identify the best practices in, effective environmental governance.
  • Discuss the political and scientific factors that affect environmental governance processes and outcomes.
  • Develop skills in stakeholder mapping, discourse analysis, content analysis, and summarizing scientific research.

Environmental Impact and Risk Assessment
Principles, approaches and applications of environmental impact assessments and their relationship with environmental management plans. Students receive exposure to commonly used international systems for conducting EIAs, with emphasis placed on the Central Asia context and trans-boundary projects that have potential environmental consequences. Case examples may include (but are not limited to) EIAs for aquaculture, mining, and oil and gas pipelines.
Pre-requisites: Calculus II, Physics I, Chemistry II, Ecology I.

Description of capabilities: By the end of this course you will be able to:

  • Describe EIA as a technical process, a social process for environmental governance, and as a decision-making process.
  • Critically review an EIA document.
  • Demonstrate improved research, writing and critical thinking skills.
  • Articulate the strengths and limitations of EIA in regard to environmental management.

Four senior courses, Geoscience stream

Thermodynamics and kinetics, aquatic geochemistry, trace elements, radioactive and radiogenic isotope geochemistry, stable isotope geochemistry, use of isotopes in petrology, the study of planetary evolution, geothermometry, sedimentology, paleontology, biogenic and non-biogenic carbon emissions assessments, organic geochemistry, and biogeochemistry.
Pre-requisites: Chemistry I, Introduction to Geologic Materials and Resources.

Description of capabilities: This course is designed to prepare you to use principles of chemistry and its tools to understand major geological systems and solve problems in other geological disciplines such as petrology, geothermometry, sedimentology, paleontology, hydrogeology, and petroleum geology. Capabilities or learning objectives include:

  • Apply the tools thermodynamics and kinetics to the Earth.
  • Examine the interaction of solutions with solids through precipitation, dissolution and adsorption.
  • Analyze the interaction of natural, anthropogenic metals and hydrocarbons in aquatic settings.
  • Examine the interaction of trace elements in soils, sediments, rocks and water.
  • Discuss isotopic character of elements.
  • Apply radioactive and radiogenic isotope geochemistry to radioactive decay schemes.
  • Apply stable isotope geochemistry to solving problems in petrology, geothermometry, paleontology, sedimentology, planetary evolution and biogenic and non-biogenic carbon emissions.
  • Apply geochemical tools to understand the origin of the earth.
  • Examine how organic compounds are produced and distributed in water and sediments.
  • Evaluate the influence of microorganisms on the transformation of elements and organic compounds in sediments, soils and water.

Geodynamics and Structural Geology:
Mechanisms driving plate tectonics, mountain building, earthquakes, faulting, volcanoes, seafloor spreading, etc. in terms of the physical and chemical processes and properties of the Earth. Use of geological maps and field observations to recognize and interpret 3D geological structures in layered, intrusive and metamorphic rocks. Includes field and lab work.
Pre-requisites: Introduction to Geology and Earth Processes, Introduction to Geologic Materials and Resources, Surface Processes in Mountain Environments.

Description of capabilities: 

Upon the completion of this course students will be able to:

  • Recognize & describe primary and secondary structures, joints, fractures, faults, folds, foliations and lineations in rock specimens, outcrops, landscapes, satellite imagery and geological maps.
  • Interpret the geological and deformation history of rocks, outcrops and landscapes in terms of dynamic processes including stress, strain, forces and rheology.
  • Synthesize observations and geodynamic concepts to characterize tectonic settings today and their changes throughout Earth’s history.
  • Apply geological and geophysical concepts to discuss current research about geodynamics in the greater Central Asian region.
  • Identify the roles of geodynamics and structural geology in applications such as geotechnical engineering, resource exploration and management, natural hazards and others.

Sediments, Stratigraphy and Related Resources:
Origin and distribution of sediments and sedimentary rocks, properties and classification of clastic and non-clastic sedimentary rocks, sedimentary bedding and structures, sedimentary environments and facies in non-marine, coastal and marine settings, stratigraphic principles, relationship between sedimentation and hydrocarbon resources, and basic exploration, extraction and recovery cycles for hydrocarbon resources.
Pre-requisites: Introduction to Geology and Earth Processes, Introduction to Geologic Materials and Resources.

Description of capabilities: This course is designed to prepare you to understand the importance of sedimentary rocks, the processes that result in their formation and how sedimentology is tied to stratigraphy (study of the physical relationships of sedimentary layers) to gain insight of where hydrocarbon deposits are formed. Capabilities or learning objectives include:

  • Discuss the origin and transport of sedimentary rocks.
  • Examine the composition, classification and diagenesis of clastic and non-clastic sedimentary rocks.
  • Describe, classify and interpret sedimentary rocks, bedding and structures.
  • Classify and interpret sedimentary environments and facies based on sedimentological (non-marine, coastal, and marine settings).
  • Recognize core logging (rock core description).
  • Discuss principles of stratigraphy and correlation of stratigraphic units with geophysical logs.
  • Understand hydrocarbon resources and their relation to sedimentation.
  • Recognize exploration, extraction and recovery cycles for hydrocarbon resources.

Minerals, Petrology and Related Resources:
Physical and chemical properties of minerals and rocks, including basic crystallography. Introduction to mineral associations, resources, and environmental implications. Basic exploration, extraction & recovery cycles for these resources.
Pre-requisites: Chemistry I, Introduction to Geology and Earth Processes, Introduction to Geologic Materials and Resources.

Description of capabilities:

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Review the basic principles of plate tectonics and the rock cycle
  • Describe and identify hand specimens of common ore and gangue minerals, and associated mineral assemblages
  • Predict where certain mineral deposits might be found based on the current and past plate tectonic setting of an area
  • Compare and contrast different exploration methods and their use in looking for different deposit types
  • Compare and contrast different mining methods and their applications to certain deposit types
  • Debate the social and environmental impact of mining giving appropriate examples
  • Describe the basic resource cycle of exploration, development, mining and reclamation and provide both global and Central Asian examples
  • Investigate specific geological models for common mineral deposit types, magmatic Ni-sulphides, orogenic gold, porphyry, epithermal, VMS/SEDEX, using case studies as examples.


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