Physical Geology

I.     Course Prefix/Number: EAS 101

       Course Name: Physical Geology

       Credits: 4 (3 lecture; 3 lab)

II.    Prerequisite


III.   Course (Catalog) Description

Course introduces earth materials and the physical and chemical processes that sculpt earth’s surface. Content includes rocks, minerals, earthquakes, volcanoes, glaciers, groundwater, coastal processes, geologic time, structural geology, and topographic maps.

IV.   Learning Objectives

After successfully completing this course, a student should be able to:

  1. Identify mineral and rock samples based on diagnostic properties and tests.
  2. Explain the theory of plate tectonics and identify associated features on land and the sea floor.
  3. Describe and locate geologic hazards associated with plate boundaries.
  4. Interpret and construct topographic maps.
  5. Label features and recognize stages of development of arid, glacial, coastal, and fluvial settings.
  6. Explain the basis for relative and radiometric age dating.
  7. Draw subsurface geological structures using strike and dip data.
  8. Work effectively with people of diverse backgrounds, both individually and in groups.
  9. Communicate effectively in writing or speech.

V.    Academic Integrity and Student Conduct

Students and employees at Oakton Community College are required to demonstrate academic integrity and follow Oakton's Code of Academic Conduct. This code prohibits:

• cheating,
• plagiarism (turning in work not written by you, or lacking proper citation),
• falsification and fabrication (lying or distorting the truth),
• helping others to cheat,
• unauthorized changes on official documents,
• pretending to be someone else or having someone else pretend to be you,
• making or accepting bribes, special favors, or threats, and
• any other behavior that violates academic integrity.

There are serious consequences to violations of the academic integrity policy. Oakton's policies and procedures provide students a fair hearing if a complaint is made against you. If you are found to have violated the policy, the minimum penalty is failure on the assignment and, a disciplinary record will be established and kept on file in the office of the Vice President for Student Affairs for a period of 3 years.

Please review the Code of Academic Conduct and the Code of Student Conduct, both located online at

VI.   Sequence of Topics


  1. Cosmology and Earth Origin
    1. Formation of the Universe
    2. Origin and description of our solar system
      1. Dust and gas nebulas
      2. From planetesimals to planets and more
      3. Objects in our solar system
  2. Characteristics of the Earth
    1. Earth System
    2. Earth’s Layers
    3. Lithosphere and Asthenosphere
  3. Minerals and Matter
    1. Basic chemistry review and crystal lattice structures
      1. Atomic structure and bonding
      2. Ions
      3. Isotopes
    2. Classification by Anion Group
    3. Crystal Structures: Shapes, Angles and Faces
    4. Polymorphs
    5. Formation and Destruction
    6. Diagnostic Identification
      1. Color, Streak, Luster, Hardness, Fracture/Cleavage
      2. Mohs Hardness Scale
      3. Acid Reactivity
    7. Mineral classes
      1. Silicates
      2. Oxides
      3. Carbonates
    8. Uses of minerals
    9. Special Properties of Minerals
  4. Rocks
    1. Definition
      1. Clastic
      2. Crystalline
    2. Classification
      1. Igneous
        1. Origin, formation and description
        2. Extrusive and Intrusive
        3. Causes of Melting
        4. Categories of Magma: Felsic, Intermediate, Mafic and Ultramafic
        5. Movement of Molten Rock
        6. Bowen's Reaction Series
        7. Classification
          1. Crystalline, glassy and pyroclastic rock
          2. Texture - Grain/crystal size and rate of formation
          3. Mineral Composition - light, intermediate, dark
        8. Introduction to Plate tectonics
      2. Sedimentary
        1. Classification: clastic, biochemical, organic, chemical
        2. Process and types of weathering: mechanical and chemical
        3. Sedimentary structures and environments
        4. Soil Formation and Influencing Factors
        5. Soil Classification and soil orders
        6. Erosion
      3. Metamorphic
        1. Processes of formation (heat, pressure, stress, hydrothermal fluids)
        2. Foliated and Non-foliated metamorphic rock
        3. Chemical composition
        4. Metamorphic grade
        5. Location and types of metamorphism
    3. Distinguishing Rock Types within Classifications by Properties
      1. Grain size, shape, composition, texture, layering, chemical reactivity
      2. Mohs hardness scale
    4. Rock Cycle
  5. Earthquakes
    1. Causes of earthquakes and plate tectonics
      1. Earthquakes at plate boundaries
      2. Predicting earthquakes
    2. Seismic waves and earthquake location
    3. Earthquake hazards: ground motion, fire, ground failure, aftershocks, tsunami
  6. Volcanoes
    1. Lava, Volcaniclastic Deposits and Volcanic Gas
    2. Structure and Subaerial Volcanic Edifices
    3. Effusive and Explosive Eruptions
    4. Geologic location of volcanoes
    5. Hazards and Effect on Climate
  7. Continental Drift and Plate Tectonics
    1. Hypothesis of Continental Drift
    2. Seafloor spreading
      1. Evidence for plate movement
      2. Linear magnetic anomalies
    3. Theory of plate tectonics
      1. Plate boundaries and geologic structures
      2. Convergent
      3. Divergent, Seafloor spreading
      4. Transform
  8. Topographic Maps
    1. Contour lines and intervals
    2. Geologic cross section
  9. Structural Geology
    1. Causes of Deformation: Stress and strain in Earth’s lithosphere
    2. Measuring and recording geologic structures
      1. Strike and Dip
      2. Geologic cross sections
    3. Folds and Foliations
    4. Faults and Fractures
    5. Mountain building
  10. Streams and Flooding
    1. Hydrologic cycle
    2. Formation of streams and drainage networks
    3. Discharge and Turbulence
    4. Running water and stream erosion
    5. Flooding
  11. Glaciers
    1. Formation
    2. Categories: Mountain, Continental, Temperate, Polar
    3. Movement
    4. Glacial Erosion and Deposition
    5. Ice Ages
  12. Deserts
    1. Characteristics and Location
    2. Types of Deserts
    3. Erosion and Deposition
    4. Landforms and Life
  13. Coastal Processes
    1. Waves
      1. Ocean water and currents
      2. Tides
      3. Wave action
    2. Coastal Landforms
      1. Beaches and Tidal flats
      2. Rocky coasts
      3. Organic coasts
      4. Fjords
      5. Tectonic Causes
  14. Geologic Time
    1. Relative Time and Absolute Age
    2. Geologic Principles for Defining Relative Age
    3. Methods of Determining Absolute Ages
      1. Radioactive dating
      2. Counting Changes of Season
      3. Magnetostratigraphy
      4. Fisson-Track Dating
    4. Fossils
  15. Groundwater
    1. Storage
    2. Movement, Permeability, Porosity
    3. Darcy’s Law
    4. Water Table
    5. Well, Springs and Streams
    6. Contamination
    7. Withdrawal and Recharge
  16. Mass Wasting
    1. Controlling Factors
    2. Rate of Movement and Material Type
    3. Types of Mass Wasting
      1. Creep
      2. Flows
      3. Falls
      4. Slides
    4. Prevention

*Instructor provided labs will accompany most topics. At a minimum 10 labs must be completed.

VII.  Methods of Instruction

Instructional methods may include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Assigned readings
  • Lecture
  • Discussion
  • Field trips
  • Lab exercises
  • Case studies
  • Field demonstrations
  • Video clips
  • Web activities and links
  • Debates
  • Application assignments

Course may be taught as face-to-face, hybrid or online course.

VIII. Course Practices Required

Required course practices are to be established by the instructor.  Completion of lab exercises is required.

IX.   Instructional Materials

Note: Current textbook information for each course and section is available on Oakton's Schedule of Classes.

Earth: Portrait of a Planet, Stephen Marshak, 4th Edition, W.W. Norton.
Physical Geology, Pearson Carlson, Hammersly, and Plummer, 14th Edition, McGraw Hill.

X.    Methods of Evaluating Student Progress

Evaluation of student learning is established by the instructor and may include, but is not limited to:

  • Quizzes
  • Exams
  • Research Papers
  • Class Participation
  • Laboratory Reports
  • Oral Presentations
  • Application Assignments
  • Field Journals

XI.   Other Course Information

Attendance and other policies are established by individual instructors.

If you have a documented learning, psychological, or physical disability you may be entitled to reasonable academic accommodations or services. To request accommodations or services, contact the Access and Disability Resource Center at the Des Plaines or Skokie campus. All students are expected to fulfill essential course requirements. The College will not waive any essential skill or requirement of a course or degree program.

Oakton Community College is committed to maintaining a campus environment emphasizing the dignity and worth of all members of the community, and complies with all federal and state Title IX requirements.

Resources and support for
  • pregnancy-related and parenting accommodations; and
  • victims of sexual misconduct
can be found at

Resources and support for LGBTQ+ students can be found at

Electronic video and/or audio recording is not permitted during class unless the student obtains written permission from the instructor. In cases where recordings are allowed, such content is restricted to personal use only. Any distribution of such recordings is strictly prohibited. Personal use is defined as use by an individual student for the purpose of studying or completing course assignments.

For students who have been approved for audio and/or video recording of lectures and other classroom activities as a reasonable accommodation by Oakton’s Access Disabilities Resource Center (ADRC), applicable federal law requires instructors to permit those recordings. Such recordings are also limited to personal use. Any distribution of such recordings is strictly prohibited.

Violation of this policy will result in disciplinary action through the Code of Student Conduct.