Geology

The science of geology integrates physics, chemistry, mathematics, and biology in order to better understand the planet earth. Students typically choose geology because of an interest in the natural world and a desire to work outdoors. Some geologists explore for energy, mineral, and water resources; some evaluate the potential hazards of earthquakes, floods, landslides, and volcanic eruptions; and others locate, contain, or remove pollutants. The geology program prepares students for professional careers in the geosciences and provides the background required for graduate studies. The program offers concentrations in geology and petroleum systems, as well as a minor in geology.

The geology program is broadly based in the traditional geologic disciplines with an emphasis on field studies in the Rocky Mountains. Students participate in numerous field trips, and many students work on independent study/research projects with individual faculty. Students have access to state-of-the-art laboratories and analytical equipment within the geology department and through collaboration with other academic institutions.

Learning Outcomes

Geology Concentration
Students who graduate with a concentration in geology will be able to:

  1. Interpret and describe geologic relationships and rocks in the field and in lab;
  2. Develop geologic hypotheses and test these hypotheses through experimentation and/or designed data collection;
  3. Analyze geologic data and construct and comprehend geologic maps and reports.
Petroleum Systems Concentration
Students who graduate with a concentration in petroleum systems will be able to:

  1. Interpret and describe geologic relationships and rocks in the field and in lab;
  2. Develop geologic hypotheses and test these hypotheses through experimentation and/or designed data collection;
  3. Analyze geologic data and construct and comprehend geologic maps and reports;
  4. Describe the genesis of petroleum and petroleum-bearing deposits;
  5. Analyze surface and subsurface data in order to characterize petroleum systems.

Geology Concentration

A minimum of 60 semester hours is required, including:
Geology core courses:
CHM 101: General Chemistry I
GEO 101/104: Fundamentals of Geology
GEO 204: Earth Materials I
GEO 218: Evolution of theEarth
GEO 302: Stratigraphy and Sedimentology
GEO 305: Earth Materials II
GEO 343: Field Methods for Geoscientists
GEO 350: Applied Field Geology
GEO 411: Structural Geology and Tectonics
GEO 490: Geology Capstone Seminar: Regional Tectonics

Choose one of the following:
PHS 101: Fundamental Physics I
PHS 201: General Physics I

Choose one of the following:
MAT 175: Calculus I
MAT 210: Probability and Statistics

12 semester hours from:
GEO 245: Geoscience Research Methods
GEO 301: Paleontology
GEO 310: Geomorphology
GEO 324: Petroleum Reservoir System
GEO 331: Oil and Gas Geology
GEO 345: Practical Geoscience Research I
GEO 349: Geomechanics
GEO 354: Sedimentary Basin Analysis
GEO 445: Practical Geoscience Research II
GEO 450: Internship
GEO 483: Thesis in Geology
or other courses approved by the geology faculty

Petroleum Systems Concentration

A minimum of 60 semester hours is required, including:
Geology Core Courses:
CHM 101: General Chemistry I
GEO 101/104: Fundamentals of Geology
GEO 204: Earth Materials I
GEO 218: Evolution of the Earth
GEO 302: Stratigraphy and Sedimentology
GEO 305: Earth Materials II
GEO 343: Field Methods for Geoscientists
GEO 350: Applied Field Geology
GEO 411: Structural Geology and Tectonics
GEO 490: Geology Capstone Seminar: Regional Tectonics

Choose one of the following:
PHS 101: Fundamental Physics I
PHS 201: General Physics I

Choose one of the following:
MAT 175: Calculus I
MAT 210: Probability and Statistics

Petroleum systems courses (12 semester hours):
GEO 324: Petroleum Reservoir Systems
GEO 331: Oil and Gas Geology
GEO 349: Geomechanics
GEO 354: Sedimentary Basin Analysis

Geology Minor

A minimum of 23 semester hours is required, including:
GEO 101/104: Fundamentals of Geology
GEO 204: Earth Materials I
GEO 218: Evolution of the Earth
GEO 302: Stratigraphy and Sedimentology
GEO 343: Field Methods for Geoscientists

Plus four semester hours of geology electives approved by the geology faculty (of which at least two semester hours must be upper-division).

CHM 101 - General Chemistry I
Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 4
This course introduces students to the science of chemistry. The concepts of atoms, molecules, bonding, and energy successfully explain the properties of matter and how reactions happen. Goals of this course include introducing students to representative materials and reactions, to important models and theories of the science, and to the symbols and language of chemists. The laboratory will involve observations of elements, compounds and their reactions (including synthesis), and quantitative measurements of properties or amounts of matter. Three hours of lecture, one two-hour laboratory session, and one hour of recitation per week.
Corequesite: MAT 100 or higher mathematics course or placement into MAT 110 or higher mathematics course
GEO 101 - Fundamentals of Geology
Semester: Fall and Spring
Semester hours: 3
This course provides an introduction to the science of earth materials, earth systems, and earth history, including the study of minerals, rocks, volcanoes, earthquakes, rock deformation and metamorphism, weathering, and erosion within the modern paradigm of plate tectonics. Special emphasis is placed on interpreting the geologic landscape and history of the Rocky Mountains through an understanding of Earth processes. Three hours of lecture and one recommended two-hour laboratory per week, plus field trips. This course fulfills a natural lab science core curriculum requirement if taken concurrently with GEO 104.
GEO 104 - Fundamentals of Geology Laboratory
Semester: Fall and Spring
Semester hours: 1
Focus on description of the earth materials and earth systems within the framework of plate tectonic theory. Introduction to identification of minerals, rocks, geologic maps, and structures.
Corequesite: GEO 101
GEO 204 - Earth Materials I
Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 4
This course involves a detailed study of rocks and minerals and the environments in which they form. The course is very hands-on with emphasis placed on the identification of minerals and rocks in hand specimens and under the optical microscope. Three hours of lecture, one two-hour laboratory per week, and occasional all-afternoon field trips.
Prerequisite: GEO 101 and GEO 104
Corequesite: CHM 101
GEO 218 - Evolution of the Earth
Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 3
A survey of the major geologic events that have shaped the Earth through time, techniques for telling time geologically, and the connections between the evolution of life and geologic processes and/or events will be covered in this course. Special attention will be given to the regional geologic and environmental history of Montana and the surrounding area. This course will fulfill the non-laboratory science core curriculum requirement for non-geology/environmental science majors. Additionally, this course will provide a temporal context for many geologic features and concepts for geology majors and minors. Three hours of lecture per week and several day- or weekend-long field trips to examine local geologic features will be required.
GEO 245 - Geoscience Research Methods
Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 2
This is a sophomore-level course intended for geology majors that plan to conduct an undergraduate research project. Students will be exposed to the fundamentals of geoscience research. Topics will include research hypothesis generation, literature searches, scientific literature interpretation, data collection, and the basics of presenting findings in written and oral formats. Students must apply for acceptance to the course. Students who complete this course are eligible to enroll in GEO 345: Practical Geoscience Research I.
Prerequisite: sophomore standing, GEO 101, GEO 104, GEO 280, and permission of instructor
GEO 299 - Independent Study
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 1-3
This course allows a superior student to devise and pursue independent study in an area agreed upon in consultation with, and supervised by, a faculty member. Students should be either a major or minor and have a cumulative GPA of 3.00 or greater. A maximum of three credits will count toward the student's major requirements.
GEO 301 - Paleontology
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 4
This course explores the morphology, classification, paleoecology, biogeography, and biostratigraphy of important fossil groups. Three hours of lectures and one two-hour laboratory per week, plus fossil collecting trips.
Prerequisite: GEO 101, GEO 104, and GEO 204
GEO 302 - Stratigraphy and Sedimentology
Semester: Fall; Alternate years
Semester hours: 4
This course provides an introduction to the properties, classification, depositional environments, and diagenesis of sediments and sedimentary rocks and their stratigraphic nomenclature and correlation. Field trips are required. Three hours of lecture and one two-hour laboratory per week.
Prerequisite: GEO 204 and GEO 343
GEO 305 - Earth Materials II
Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 4
In this course, students build on skills learned in GEO 204 with emphasis on origin and makeup of igneous and metamorphic rocks. This course covers recognition, description, and classification using hand specimen and optical microscopy. Textures, occurrences, and processes are emphasized in practical exercises. The course provides an introduction to geochemical data and field occurrences of igneous and metamorphic rocks. Three hours of lecture, one two-hour laboratory per week, and occasional all-afternoon field trips. The final project is a poster presentation involving a literature review and synthesis of a major igneous or metamorphic region (e.g., Yellowstone, Hawaii, Beartooth Mountain Range).
Prerequisite: GEO 204
GEO 310 - Geomorphology
Semester: Fall; Alternate years
Semester hours: 4
Students study landforms and the processes that create them. Topics include surface processes of erosion and deposition by rivers, glaciers, wind, waves, and mass wasting. Field trips are required. Three hours of lecture and one two-hour laboratory per week.
Prerequisite: GEO 305 and GEO 343
GEO 316 - Geochemistry
Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 4
Scientific literature and other resources will be used to illustrate the current ideas about the mechanisms that control water quality and chemistry in aqueous systems. Lecture topics will include hydrogeology, acid-base and reduction-oxidation reactions in natural systems, the geochemistry of metals, stable isotope geochemistry, and case studies of contaminated sites in Montana and throughout the West. Laboratory exercises will include basic sample collection, measurement of major ion concentration, and geochemical modeling with several field exercises. Three hours of lecture and two hours of laboratory per week. This course is cross-listed with ESC 316.
Prerequisite: GEO 101, CHM 101
GEO 324 - Petroleum Reservoir Systems
Semester: Fall; Alternating years
Semester hours: 3
Students will explore the characteristics and genesis of petroleum reservoirs. Topics will include sandstone and carbonate depositional environments, reservoir modeling, porosity, fluid migration, and exploration and reservoir characterization techniques. Assignments will include field-based and laboratory-style activities using examples from the recent scientific literature and the northern Rockies/western Great Plains region. Several day-long field trips will be required throughout the term.
Prerequisite: GEO 204 and GEO 218
GEO 330 - Paleoclimate and Global Change
Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3
This course is designed for geology majors, geology minors, upper-level environmental science majors, and other upper-level science majors with interest in the climate of the Earth throughout its history. Scientific literature and other resources will be used to illustrate the current ideas about the mechanisms that drive Earth’s climate system on the plate tectonic timescale, glacial timescale, and short-term timescale. Topics will include Earth’s climate system, paleoclimate proxies and paleothermometers, atmospheric chemistry and climate, controls and effects of oceanic circulation on climate, the effects of geologic features on climate (volcanoes, supercontinents, ice sheets, etc.), and the effects of biologic organisms on climate and vice versa. Three hours of lecture per week.
Prerequisite: GEO 101, CHM 101
GEO 331 - Oil and Gas Geology
Semester: Spring; Alternating years
Semester hours: 3
This course provides an introduction to oil and gas geology, illustrating the various processes that take place from petroleum source to sink. Lectures will focus on the generation of oil and gas, the nature of source rocks and reservoirs, exploration of petroleum traps, as well as drilling and production. Special consideration will be given to regional oil and gas fields in Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota. Take-home exercises will include basic rock description (hand sample and thin section), as well as geologic map and seismic interpretation and structural analysis. Assignments will focus on weekly reading and take-home assignments, as well as several day-long field trips. Students will be assessed via reading quizzes, field reports, final project presented in written and oral form, as well as one midterm and final exam.
Prerequisite: GEO 101, GEO 104, GEO 204, and GEO 218
GEO 343 - Field Methods for Geoscientists
Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 4
This practical course in basic field techniques focuses on the use of the fundamental tools of geologic field work including topographic and geologic maps, air photos, the Brunton compass, hand-held GPS, and Jacob's staff. Students draft cross-sections, geologic maps, and stratigraphic columns, and prepare geologic reports using proper scientific writing and data analysis techniques. This course should be taken during sophomore or junior year. One hour of lecture and a two-hour laboratory per week. This course does not serve as a substitute for GEO 350 or equivalent. Students should expect several mandatory field trips. Some will require camping and strenuous hiking in mountain settings.
Prerequisite: GEO 101, GEO 104, and MAT 110 or satisfactory score on a math placement exam
GEO 345 - Practical Geoscience Research I
Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 2
This is a junior-level course for students that have completed GEO 245: Geoscience Research Methods and have initiated an undergraduate research project. Topics will include a continuation of the concepts introduced in GEO 245 tailored to the student's specific research project. Emphasis will be on identifying appropriate methods of data collection, manipulation, and presentation. Students will meet regularly as a group for discussion and literature review and one-on-one with a faculty mentor.
Prerequisite: GEO 245
GEO 349 - Geomechanics
Semester: Spring; Alternating years
Semester hours: 3
This course is a non-laboratory course that will provide an introduction to evaluating rock strength and the mechanical criteria used to predict and analyze rock failure at a variety of scales. In this course, we will discuss the mechanical laws that help us quantify rock deformation under the influence of stress. Concepts such as force and stress will be discussed through the lens of elasticity theory. Through problem sets and field exercises, students will investigate stress-strain relationships, the distribution of stress within the crust, and the associated failure characteristics (e.g., joints, fractures, and faults). This analysis of brittle structures has important implications for reservoir evaluation and petroleum extraction. One required multi-day field trip.
Prerequisite: GEO 204, GEO 218, MAT 175 or MAT 210, PHS 101 or PHS 201, or consent of the instructor
GEO 350 - Applied Field Geology
Semester: Summer; On demand
Semester hours: 6
This course must be taken through another academic institution and approved by the student's RMC academic advisor prior to enrollment in the course. An approved course must have the following components: geologic mapping on topographic and aerial photograph bases, use of the geologic compass as a mapping and field surveying tool, coverage of a wide variety of rock types and geologic settings, and use of hand-held GPS. Students will also learn the preparation and interpretation of geologic maps and cross sections and the measurement and interpretation of stratigraphic sections. A special emphasis is placed on using appropriate methods to solve a variety of complex geologic problems. This course lasts five or six weeks. An additional field fee is required.
Prerequisite: GEO 302, GEO 305, GEO 343, GEO 411
GEO 354 - Sedimentary Basin Analysis
Semester: Fall; Alternating years
Semester hours: 3
A synthesis of sedimentology, stratigraphy, geophysics, and tectonics related to sedimentary basins is examined in this course. Emphasis will be on the genesis and architecture of modern and ancient examples of various basin settings and their relationship of petroleum generation and extraction. Topics will include a survey of deposystem types, the role of the Earth's crust in basin genesis, subsidence analysis, subsurface models, stratigraphic correlation, and basin models. Petroleum producing sedimentary basins of Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas will be studied in detail. Lectures and exercises will include interpretation of scientific literature, field trips, and computer modeling.
Prerequisite: GEO 204 and GEO 218
GEO 411 - Structural Geology and Tectonics
Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 4
This course involves the study of rock deformation at all scales, from microscopic analysis of fault rocks to mountain building processes. Topics include the classification and characterization of structural elements such as faults, folds, foliations, and lineations. Emphasis is placed on methods of structural analysis including stereographic projection, construction of accurate cross sections, and kinematic analysis. Three hours of lecture, one two-hour laboratory per week, and occasional all-afternoon field trips. As a follow-up to the GEO 343 report, the final paper is a paper focused on synthesizing the structural and tectonic evolution of the northern Bighorn Basin.
Prerequisite: GEO 204, GEO 343, MAT 110 or satisfactory score on a math placement exam
GEO 445 - Practical Geoscience Research II
Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 2
This is a senior-level course for students that have completed GEO 345 and are in the final stages of an undergraduate research project. Topics will include written and oral presentation skills and strategies and research grant proposal preparation. Students will meet regularly as a group for discussion and literature review and one-on-one with a faculty mentor. Additionally, students will meet with and serve as mentors for students in GEO 245 and GEO 345.
Prerequisite: GEO 345
GEO 450 - Internship
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 1-12
This course is a guided experience either in industry or governmental work. The student must arrange the internship in agreement with the instructor and the Office of Career Services. The internship should relate to the student's major or minor area of study. Pass/no pass grading. Contract is required. A maximum of 3 credits will count toward the student's major requirement.
Prerequisite: junior or senior standing and permission of instructor
GEO 483 - Thesis in Geology
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 3
This course provides research in geology resulting in a formal written paper, oral presentation, and approval by faculty.
Prerequisite: junior or senior standing and permission of professor
GEO 490 - Geology Capstone Seminar: Regional Tectonics
Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 4
This capstone course in the geology degree program combines literature reviews with local field research. The focus is on collection and synthesis of field data in order to solve tectonic problems. Field skills along with oral and/or written presentations are emphasized. All field trips are mandatory. These trips will involve hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities in mountainous terrain. The final paper covers the tectonic and stratigraphic evolution of the Western Cordillera.
Prerequisite: senior standing in geology or permission from instructor
GEO 499 - Independent Study
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 1-3
This course allows a superior student to devise and pursue independent study in an area agreed upon in consultation with, and supervised by, a faculty member. Students should be either a major or minor and have a cumulative GPA of 3.00 or greater. A maximum of three credits will count toward the student's major requirements.
Prerequisite: junior or senior standing
MAT 175 - Calculus I
Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 5
This course is a study of the functions of one real variable and includes a brief review of circular functions. The ideas of limit, continuity, and differentiation are explained and applied to physical problems. Topics include the use of approximations and problem solving. The use of graphing calculators is required.
Prerequisite: satisfactory score on a placement exam or MAT 110
MAT 210 - Probability and Statistics
Semester: Fall, Spring, and Summer
Semester hours: 3
This course provides a non-calculus-based study of discrete probability theory and its statistical applications. Distribution theory and its applications in hypothesis testing and setting confidence intervals are discussed.
Prerequisite: MAT 100 or satisfactory score on a placement exam
PHS 101 - Fundamental Physics I
Semester: Fall; Alternate years
Semester hours: 4
Students examine a survey of the laws and phenomena of classical physics, including motion, force, energy, momentum, waves, and thermodynamics. This course is suitable for non-science majors who have a strong background in high school algebra and who wish to have a more rigorous understanding of physics than provided in most courses for non-science majors. The course will satisfy the requirements of geology and biology majors. Students considering graduate work in these areas should take PHS 201 and PHS 202 instead. Three lecture periods and one two-hour laboratory per week.
PHS 201 - General Physics I
Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 4
This course is a calculus-based introduction to the laws and phenomena of classical physics, including force and motion, energy and momentum, their conservation laws, and their oscillations. This sequence is required for chemistry majors and engineering students and is recommended for mathematics, biology, and geology students. Three lecture periods and one two-hour laboratory per week.
Corequesite: MAT 175