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Courses : Syllabi : 101

Geography 101 Principles of Physical Geography


Dr. Trent Biggs

Course Description

Why is the Sahara Desert dry? Why are the Amazon Basin and African Congo wet? Why are tropical rainforests rich in biological species? What are the causes and consequences of global warming? How does climate and location affect human activities? Physical geography addresses such questions by describing the spatial distribution of climate, water, soil, relief, and biota at the Earth's surface, the functional interactions between them, and their relationships with people. In this course we will describe the basic forces governing the distribution and flow of mass and energy over the Earth's surface, and will apply knowledge of those processes to better understand major environmental problems including climate change, pollution and desertification. The theoretical focus of the class is on the Earth as a set of interconnected systems governed by exchanges of mass and energy.

A major theme of the course is the role of questions in science and geography. All readings and homework will be oriented around asking and addressing questions, including an appreciation of what we know and do not know about the Earth. Another theme is the role of visualization and illustration in forming conceptual models of geographic phenomena. Students will be expected to draw diagrams of their conceptual understanding more than recall memorized facts.




Your grade in this course will be based on the following elements:

The content of exams will be drawn from the homework, readings, and material covered in lecture.
Exams will be graded on a curve if the highest score is less than 95%.

Class participation will be assessed by clicker responses to in-class questions. Clicker responses may not be used in every class session, and will start in week three. Participation will be credited as percent response rate plus 10%. For example, if responses are reported for 90% of days when clickers are used, the student receives 100% credit for class participation.

Books and Materials

Free, online textbook
Additional articles will be posted on Blackboard

CLICKERS are required.

Weekly Topics

Week Topic
Week One Intro to class
The Earth, maps, and Earth-Sun relationships
Week Two Atmosphere: Composition and structure, pollution
Week Three Energy and radiation: Seasons and greenhouse effect
Week Four Atmospheric temperature
Week Five Global circulation
Week Six Atmospheric moisture and precipitation
Week Seven Midterm One
Plate tectonics
Week Eight Weathering, soils and agriculture
Week Nine Landforms: Watersheds, rivers and deltas
Week Ten Global hydrological cycle and water resources
Week Eleven Midterm Two
Global biomes; hotspots
Week Twelve Global biogeochemical cycles, fire
Week Thirteen Ecosystem structure and function
Week Fourteen Human societies and physical geography
Week Fifteen Review for Final Exam

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