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About this course

Welcome to the geoMOOC, the MOOC on Geoscience: the Earth and its resources which will give you an introduction to the Earth and how it functions and gives you a solid platform for further deepening your geological knowledge in the field of your future career.

Geology is a fascinating science, an exciting and unique combination of exact and natural sciences. After the geoMOOC, you will see the world in a different way, you will be able to read the landscape and see phenomena which non-geologist will never see. In addition, with increasing pressure on our resources and environment, Geology is a science of great importance for our societies.

Most Universities offer General Geology courses and there is a nearly unlimited number of books on the same topic. Most of them want to cover all topics related to Earth Sciences, thereby resulting, in my view, in a long list of topics with insufficient connection between them and insufficient attention to underlying processes. I will adopt a more process-based approach focusing on how different phenomena are linked with each other. Mastering these processes and their result you will be able to tackle on your own most geology-related issues. In their professional life, geologists are asked to make predictions of what to expect in non-accessed spatial and temporal domains. They will, for instance, predict the type and properties of rocks at 3km depth under the Earth surface. Or they will estimate how a coastal domain will evolve in the future. Challenging tasks ahead!

Course schedule

The geoMOOC is organized in modules, blocks and clips. In the scheme below, I illustrate this with an example of module I, The Earth. While the number of blocks and clips might vary, the overall structure of the other five modules is the same.

Geo Science course schedule

Each module lasts a week and is subdivided in blocks (generally three). Blocks start with a warming up, which is a short task we encourage you to do. It requires some general knowledge you have and other courses you might have followed in the past and will help you in understanding how your own context is related to some of the topics addressed during the week.

Each block includes a number of video clips (between 2 and 6). In the case of module I, the three building blocks are The Rocks, the Earth and Plate tectonics. Having looked at the video clips of each block, you are asked to carry out a series of questions aiming at making sure that you master the topics presented in the clips. These questions are not graded, but they will help you to do the graded test.

Eventually, having gone through the three blocks, we will present a final test, comprehensive of all the topics handled in the module. This test is graded and will count for your final result. Make sure that you do your best here! The estimated amount of work is approximately 8 hours per week (5 to do meet the minimum requirements, up to 8 if you are actively engaged in our forums and making the warming up assignments).

Weekly assessment

The weekly tests counts for 90% of your final grade. The lowest (one) score of the weekly tests is dropped. In addition we give you a reward for doing your weekly warming up assignments. Together these warming up assignments count for 10% and we give you one week exemption, which will not be scored.

The first warming up assignment and weekly test will be released on 23rd of August, after which every week new tests will be released. You will find a detailed schedule under course structure in your course. The deadlines for these weekly tests are always two weeks after the release. You can view the deadline in the menu on the left side. Please note that deadlines are given at 11.59 UTC- so please check your time zone! The course finishes on October 11th 2016.

To pass the course you have to score at least 60%. If you wish to check your progress for both the non-graded and graded assignments, please go to the page in the top horizontal bar of your course. In the table you will find out under total: the percentage of the grade you have already passed. Per weekly test your score is represented and an average of your scores is provided. Under the table with the progress bars, you find an overview of all the topics. This is where you can view your practice scores for the quizzes after the knowledge clips.


Verified certificates are available for $50. To register for the verified track, use the upgrade to Verified button on your dashboard. The deadline to upgrade to a verified certificate is October 9th 2016.
Learn more about edX verified certificates.


Every week you are able to access a weekly forum. You may use these forums to discuss course concepts, problem solving approaches, interesting references, or other topics related to the course content of the week. You may also just use it to ask questions.

We have one general Q&A forum under ‘Welcome’ where you can ask other questions that do not relate to the weekly content.

Please observe the appropriate online etiquette as outlined in the Forum Guidelines and Collaboration Guidelines. The forum is moderated by course staff and teaching assistants.

At the end of each week feedback on the forum discussions and how you did your assignments will be given by the professor in a feedback movie.

Course Overview

Module 1 - The Earth

Module one is dedicated to the Earth. In the first block I.1, you will find basic notions on the three types of rocks composing our planet, namely magmatic, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks. You will see how magmas are formed and form intrusive body or reach the Earth surface forming volcanoes. We will quickly show how rock change their mineralogical and structural appearance when subjected to high temperatures and pressure (metamorphic rocks). Eventually we will present sedimentary rocks, generated either by erosion or by precipitations (carbonates); sedimentary rocks are possibly the most important type of rocks you will be handling during your career.
The second block (I.2)is dedicated to the Earth, the planet on which we live. We will discuss the core, the deepest part of the planet, important source of heat and magnetism. We will then travel towards the surface of the Earth, encountering the mantle and the crust.

The third block (I.3) starts describing the somewhat surprising observation that the outer part of the Earth is neither homogeneous nor stable and that it is composed of 12 major plates which move with respect to each other. These phenomena are considered under the general frame of plate tectonics, a powerful theoretical frame able to explain major phenomena in the Earth and allowing us to predict geological occurrences at different temporal and spatial scales.

Module II; The Lithosphere: horizontal deformations, upward and downward vertical movements, mountains and sedimentary basins

Having defined the main ingredients of the system Earth you start the journey that will bring you to the understanding of sedimentary systems. The first step is to understand the horizontal deformation and vertical movements which create mountains, the source of terrigenous sediments, and sedimentary basins, the areas where these sediments will be deposited. These are the topics of module II.

In the first block (II.1) we focus on rock deformation. We will look at the strength of rocks, how do they deform at different temperature and pressure conditions and at the products of such deformations, the folds and faults which form some of the most spectacular features of geology.

In the second block (II.2) we address vertical movements of the surface of the Earth, key processes to form mountains and basins; strangely enough, processes not adequately described in most General Geology books! A major result of the horizontal deformations described in block I.1 is that the crust becomes thinner (in the case of extension) or thicker (in the case of shortening). Similarly to what happens for a body floating on a fluid of higher density, changes in thickness cause vertical movements: simple physics, beautifully able to explain first order features of the Earth

The third block (II.3) is dedicated to the results of vertical movements, the beautiful mountain chains crossing large parts of the globe and the sedimentary basins which host a large part of our resources and which support significant portions of the world population.

Module III; Climate, weathering erosion and sediment production

As soon as mountains are created (which we examined in block II), they will be attacked by chemical and mechanical erosion, starting producing the sediments which will end up in the sea. Erosion, transport and sedimentation processes are all affected by climate. A knowledge of climate, of the changes it has experienced in the past (at scale of 103-108 yr) and how it impacts geological processes is key not only for better geological predictions but also for a more profound understanding of future climate changes; indeed a topic of great importance for society

In block III.1 we will focus on climate, its impact on Earth surface processes and how these changed through time. We will first look at the overall budget of the energy irradiated from the sun and how this is absorbed and sent back to the atmosphere. Climate change, greenhouse gases, all these issues you regularly see in the news will be addressed. Based on the basic climate knowledge, we will be see how winds and ocean currents are generated and what the resulting global patterns are.

Having built mountains (block II.3) and having a good understanding of climatic processes (block III.1) we can combine the two and see how mechanic erosion and chemical weathering do their best to destroy mountains, thereby producing the sediments we will eventually find in the sedimentary basins. We will see how the amount and type of sediments is indeed very much influenced by climatic processes!

In block III.3 we will look at what happens to the sediments produced and which have been sliding to the valley floor. How do are they transported from the mountains to the large flat alluvial plains typically bordering the sea? We will see braided rivers, alluvial fans, meandering rivers and flood plains, all geological environments of great importance with which you will become fully acquainted during module III.

Module IV - Sediments in the marine domain

The sediments produced in the mountains and transported sometimes for thousands of kilometres through valleys and plains have eventually reached the sea, domain covering more than 50% of the Earth, at places deeper than the highest mountain of the planet and a domain we do not know much about. In the sea, sediments will be distributed, modified and deposited by currents, waves and tides. We will look also at a new category of sediments which are generated in the sea, carbonates

In the first block of the module (IV.1) we will present the main ingredients necessary to understand marine systems, namely the bathymetry of the sea and of the oceans and the effects of currents tides and waves.

In block IV.2 we will look at three major bathymetry and sedimentary domains, the coastal region, the continental shelf and the abyssal plains. Regions where different processes are active resulting in very different types of sediments.

Last but not least, block IV.3 is dedicated to sediments which we have mentioned at the beginning (block I.1) but which have neglected in the following, namely carbonate rocks. Differently from terrigenous rocks, produced by the mechanical and chemical erosion of pre-existing bodies, carbonates are generated by the precipitation of CaCO3. In most cases, precipitation is driven by organic processes and results in shells, skeletal and other parts of animals and plants. A very different, but extremely important type of rocks.

Module V - Hydrocarbon Geology

This is the first of the two module dedicated to two major commodities which you might be involved with in your professional life: hydrocarbons and water. Hydrocarbons, their use and their impact on the living environment are hugely discussed topics but they are the source of energy which has supported great economic progress in the last decades and which will remain a fundamental component of the energy cocktail in the next decades.

In block V.1 we will address general issues related to the present and future of hydrocarbons and will give an overview of the role of geologists in hydrocarbon related activities.

In block V.2 we will go in more detail in hydrocarbon geology, looking at the processes leading to the formation of the source rock generating hydrocarbons, how they migrate large distance along permeable layers and, eventually, how they might reach and fill the trap forming hydrocarbon fields.

The last block, V.3 is dedicated to different geological settings where hydrocarbons are found, from flat lying formations, to domains of extension and shortening. Some of these might be very close to where you are working and living!

Module VI - Hydrogeology

The last module of the geoMOOC is dedicated to water, possible the most important geology-related commodity. Water in many places of the globe is scarce and responsible use is of paramount importance in the face of increasing population and economic activities. But water is not only there to drink or to irrigate but also a source of the energy associated with geothermal fields.

In the first block, VI.1 you will learn the general features of hydrogeological systems, of permeable and impermeable layers and how water flows through them

Block VI.2 will highlight a variety of hydrogeological systems in specific cases such as foothills or coastal plains and the challenges posed by these aquifers.

In the last block, VI.3 I will give you a schematic overview of geothermal systems one of the most important source of energy for the future.


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