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SCI 72 — Earth: Revolutionary Ideas about Our Planet's Past, Present, and Future

Quarter: Summer
Day(s): Tuesdays
Course Format: Live Online (About Formats)
Duration: 7 weeks
Date(s): Jul 18—Aug 29
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm (PT)
Refund Deadline: Jul 20
Unit: 1
Grade Restriction: No letter grade
Tuition: $400
Instructor(s): Michael McWilliams
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Open
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Live Online(About Formats)
7:00—8:50 pm (PT)
Jul 18—Aug 29
7 weeks
Refund Date
Jul 20
1 Unit
Grade Restriction
No letter grade
Michael McWilliams
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
How does Earth work? Theories of Earth’s origin, its place in our solar system, and its possible future states have radically evolved over decades of scientific research. Less than a century ago, dominant paradigms held that continents were immobile and mountains formed by vertical crustal motion, and we had no explanation for why earthquakes and volcanoes occurred where they did. Further, geologists and astronomers were struggling with the paradox that new data suggested that Earth was older than the universe.

This course is designed to help us understand how Earth’s physical, chemical, and biological systems have worked together to create and sustain a habitable planet. We will briefly examine some of the most important revolutions in geoscience to understand how the solid Earth and its atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere systems interoperate, how these systems evolved to their present state, and what the long-term future looks like. Along the way, we will learn how old the Earth is, understand how and when the continents formed, infer what makes the plates move, and explain the geographical distribution of oceans, volcanoes, and earthquakes. Most importantly, we’ll discuss modern thinking about climate change, mass extinctions, and biological evolution on a geological timescale.

This course incorporates an optional one-day weekend field trip for students in the San Francisco Bay Area. The trip's date will be determined based on student interest and availability.

Professor of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Emeritus, Stanford

Michael McWilliams has taught undergraduate, postgraduate, and Continuing Studies courses in geology, geochemistry, and geophysics. He has held numerous international science leadership roles, including chief executive of the New Zealand Geological Survey, and is a frequent contributor to academic publications. McWilliams received a PhD in geophysics from the Australian National University.

Textbooks for this course:

(Recommended) Andrew Knoll, A Brief History of Earth: Four Billion Years in Eight Chapters (ISBN 978-0062853929 )