Indiana University Bloomington

H205: Theory of the Earth

H205: Theory of the Earth (3 cr.) NMNS Examination of how progressively increasing knowledge about the interior of the earth and planetary bodies is shaping the understanding of mechanisms of earth processes. Inferences of earth processes from properties of earth materials. For non-science majors.

The course aims to reason why and how the Theory of the Earth would evolve in the current century. Wisdom distilled from the knowledge gained from information from space research is moving the theory from being earth-centric to one based on the evolution of the solar system.

The foundation of the modern Theory of the Earth (Hutton, 1788-95) came into being in late 18th century. Qualitative observation of the earth's surface and an explanation (~ theory) in terms of its interaction with the atmosphere and the hydrosphere, and motions in the upper few kilometers of the solid earth formed the basis of the theory. Acceptance of the theory of Continental Drift (Wegener, 1912; tr. 1966) depended on new knowledge of the global pattern of continents and the first 10s of kilometers below the earth's surface. Quantitative data on the earth's deep interior (1000s of kilometers), sea floor, and global satellite images led to the Theory of Plate Tectonics (e.g., Dewey, 1972). Only Anderson (1989) considered properties of other planetary bodies in expanding the theory but a general theory of terrestrial planets is yet to come.

Since Darwin (1859) a flexible consensus exists on theories of the origin, evolution and extinction of life. Distribution of fossils in space and time provides some evidence for the theories of continental drift and plate tectonics. Meteoritic impacts, causing mass extinction and spawning subsequent biodiversity, have established an extraterrestrial connection. Interesting as that may be, it is the theory of the earth that has influenced the theory of origin, evolution and extinction of life, and, is now poised to interject a solar system perspective. The course will debate this contemporary movement in reshaping the theory of the earth and its influence.


Course Outline and Logistics for Fall, 2003
Principal Text:
Grotzinger, Jordan, Press, Siever (GJPS): Understanding Earth (2007; 5th Ed)

Hartmann and Miller: The History of Earth (1991)
Feynman: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman (Bantam ed., 1986)

Additional assignments from a few of:
Dott and Prothero: Evolution of the Earth (1994; 5th Ed)
Morrison and Owen: The Planetary System (1996; 2nd Ed)
Wood: The Solar System (2000; 2nd Ed)
Emiliani: Planet Earth and Cosmology (1992)
Hutton: Theory of the Earth (1795)
Anderson: Theory of the Earth (1989)
Shaw: Craters, Cosmos and Chronology: A New Theory of Earth (1994)
Wegener: The Origin of Continents and Oceans (1912; tr. 1966 by King)
Verhoogen: Energetics of the Earth (1991)
Hallam: A Revolution in Earth Sciences (1973)
Engelhardt and Zimmerman: Theory of Earth Science (1982; tr. 1988)
Oreskes: The Rejection of Continental Drift (1999)
Ausich and Lane: Life of the Past (1999; 4th Ed)
Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolution (1962; 2nd Ed 1970)
Popper: Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1962)

These are on reserve in the Geology Library.

"STUDY" means a lot more than quick reading for an impression. Please Think About the Assignments in a Global Context.

Lecture Schedule & Study Assignments
All Quizzes and Examinations are OPEN BOOK OPEN NOTES - NO CONVERSATION

  1. M Jan 8 Introduction; course outline; "what, where, when, how, & why" in science and in this course; paradigms; conjectures and refutation; Kuhn vs. or and Popper.
    Study:  GJPS: Pages 1-17; Feynman: Pages 191‑198 (MUST)
  2. W Jan 10   Minerals.
    Study:  GJPS: p. 45-61; 73-75
    F Jan 12 Lab I Atomic structure of minerals
  3. M Jan 15  NO CLASS
  4. W Jan 17 Rocks.
    Study:  GJPS: p. 62-75
    F Jan 19  Lab II   Minerals and rocks – empirical study
  5. M Jan 22    Igneous rocks.
    Study:  GJPS: p. 77-97
  6. W Jan 24   Volcanism.
    Study:  GJPS: p. 271-289

    F Jan 26  Lab III  Common minerals I
  7. M Jan 29    Weathering, erosion and the rock cycle.  
    Study:  GJPS 371-381
  8. W Jan 31  Sediments and Sedimentary Rocks.
    Study:  GJPS: p. 101-111; 114-123

    F Feb 2 Lab IV Common minerals II
  9. M Feb 5    Metamorphic rocks.
    Study:  GJPS: p. 131-136; 141-147
  10. W Feb 7    Plate tectonics.
    Study:  GJPS: p. 18-42

    F Feb 9 Lab V  Common rocks I
  11. M Feb 12  Plate tectonics.
    Study:  Dewey (1972) Plate tectonics. Scientific American, v. 226 (May) p. 56-66
  12. W Feb 14    Geologic time
    Study:  GJPS: p. 169-184

    F Feb 16 Lab VI Common rocks II
  13. M Feb 19  Rock deformation.
    Study:  GJPS: p. 151-166
  14. W Feb 21 Examination I

    F Feb 23  Lab VII Project I – Plate margin rock types I
  15. M Feb 26  Radiometric dating.
    Study:  GJPS: p. 180-183; Handout (Faul 1966; pp. 33-38)
  16. W Feb 28  Radiometric dating.
    Study:  Handout (Faul 1966; pp. 33-38)

    F Mar 2   Lab VIII  Project I – Plate margin rock types II
  17. M Mar 5   Earthquakes.
    Study:  GJPS: p. 297-311
  18. W Mar 7  Interior of the earth.
    Study:  GJPS: p. 325-337

    F Mar 9            Lab IX Propagation of seismic waves

    SPRING BREAK – March 10-18     
  19. M Mar 19 Earth’s magnetic field.
    Study:  GJPS:  p. 337; 342-344
  20. W Mar 21 Core of the earth; conjectures on core-formation.
    Study:  Handout (from: Jones J.H. and Drake M.J. (1986) Geochemical constraints on core formation in the Earth in Nature, v.  322, pp. 221-228)

    F Mar 23 Lab X  Interior of the earth
  21. M Mar 26 Review

    F Mar 30         Lab XI  Rocks from asteroids, Mars, and the Moon I
  23. M Apr 2 Plate tectonics; ocean floor; plumes; revisited.   
    Study:  GJPS:  p. 18-42; 286-289
  24. W Apr 4   Impacts and cratering
    Study:  Handout  (from Hartmann; Morrison&Owen; Rubin)

    F Apr 6 Lab XII Rocks from asteroids, Mars, and the Moon II
  25. M Apr 9    Meteorites; carbon in the solar system.
    Study:  Handout  (from Wood; McSween; Rubin).
  26. M Apr 11  Differentiated bodies, hydrosphere, atmosphere and origin of life.
    Study: Handout (from Dott and Prothero)

    F Apr 13 Lab XIV Fossils
  27. W Apr 18 Evolution and the fossil record
    Study:  Handout (from Ausich and Lane)
  28. M Apr 20  Impacts, extinctions, and biodiversity.
    Study:  Handout (from Dott and Prothero)

    F Apr 23 Lab XV Review
  29. W Apr 25 Paradigms, Conjectures and Refutations
    Study:  Kuhn p. TBA Popper p. TBA
  30. M Apr 27 Review
    F Apr 29 Lab XVI

Examinations & Grading

Grading will be on an "A‑F" scale; "P‑F" will not be per­mitted and an "I" will be allowed only for medical reasons and ex­tremely extenuating circumstances.

Two intra-term OPEN BOOK OPEN NOTES comprehensive examinations, each worth 25% of the course grade (i.e., 50% for the two) will be given during the semester. The FINAL lecture examination, also OPEN BOOK OPEN NOTES, will be comprehensive and will constitute 25% of the course grade.  Lab grades will add up to the other 25% of the course grade. Students are strongly encouraged to parti­cipate in discussions; marginal adjustment of letter grades may be made depending on contribution to class discussions. MATERIAL DISCUSSED IN THE CLASS, WHETHER IN THE READING ASSIGNMENT OR NOT, WILL BE IN THE EXAMINATIONS.  Take good notes.


Click on images below to enlarge.


a comparison of diameters


impact crater

impact crater

planetary differentiation



impact crater

planetary evolution

steps in forming the solar system