How the Earth Works

Course No. 1750
Professor Michael E. Wysession, Ph.D.
Washington University in St. Louis
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Course No. 1750
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Course Overview

Continents move. Glacial cycles come and go. Mountains spring up and erode away. We live on a planet that is constantly in motion-except we see it in extreme slow motion. In this exciting course of 48 half-hour lectures, you effectively speed up the action to witness the history of our planet unfold in spectacular detail, learning what the Earth is made of, where it came from, and, above all, how it works.

An Astonishing Journey

How the Earth Works takes you on an astonishing journey through time and space. You will look at what went into making our planet-from the big bang, to the formation of the solar system, to the gradual evolution of the planet into what it is today. You will travel to the center of the Earth and out again, charting the geological forces that are constantly reshaping the continents and seafloor.

Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis are byproducts of our planet's ceaseless activity, and you will focus on specific examples of each to learn why and when they occur. Earth's surface is mostly water, and you will explore the cycling of this vital substance throughout the planet, along with its role in climate, erosion, plate tectonics, and biology.

Not only are humans at the mercy of our planet's natural forces, but we ourselves have become agents of change. We are altering the Earth's land, water, and air faster than any geologic process, and this will be another theme of your journey.

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48 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Geology's Impact on History
    If you could view Earth's history at high speed, you'd see continents whiz about, ocean basins grow and shrink, and mountain ranges rise and erode away. This lecture sets the stage for investigating our dynamic planet. x
  • 2
    Geologic History—Dating the Earth
    Discovering Earth's exact age took centuries of detective work. Rock strata provide relative ages, but only with the discovery of radioactivity was it possible to determine the absolute geologic timescale. x
  • 3
    Earth's Structure—Journey to Earth's Center
    Analysis of seismic waves from earthquakes allows scientists to map the structure inside Earth. Using this technique, we take a modern-day journey to the center of the Earth in the style of Jules Verne. x
  • 4
    Earth's Heat—Conduction and Convection
    We reverse the direction of the previous lecture to see how heat flows from the center of Earth toward the surface, exploring the phenomena of heat radiation, conduction, and convection. x
  • 5
    The Basics of Plate Tectonics
    The theory of plate tectonics accounts for the existence of continents, oceans, mountains, earthquakes, volcanoes, mineral resource distribution, climate changes, and many other aspects of our planet. x
  • 6
    Making Matter—The Big Bang and Big Bangs
    We investigate the big bang and the early evolution of the universe to learn the origin of atoms, stars, and planets. The supernovae of dying stars played a key role in forging heavy elements. x
  • 7
    Creating Earth—Recipe for a Planet
    The solar system formed 4.6 billion years ago when a cloud of gas, dust, and ice began to collapse and rotate, with Earth accreting in the inner region of the disk. An enormous collision with the proto-Earth produced the Moon. x
  • 8
    The Rock Cycle—Matter in Motion
    Though rocks may seem eternal, they are part of a continuous cycle of changing forms called the rock cycle, which begins with igneous rocks and can involve sedimentary and metamorphic phases. x
  • 9
    Minerals—The Building Blocks of Rocks
    Rocks are made of minerals, which in turn are composed of different elements. Silicon and oxygen are the two most abundant elements in Earth's mantle and crust, and most rocks contain them. x
  • 10
    Magma—The Building Mush of Rocks
    Most magma is generated beneath mid-ocean ridges, where plates move apart and rock moves toward the surface to fill the gaps. Magma forms in these places due to a process called pressure release. x
  • 11
    Crystallization—The Rock Cycle Starts
    When magma cools below certain temperatures, solid mineral crystals begin to grow. With continued cooling the entire magma will eventually crystallize, and the result is an igneous rock. x
  • 12
    Volcanoes—Lava and Ash
    Volcanoes form where magma reaches the surface and erupts—at which point the magma becomes lava. The different kinds of volcanoes are related to the tectonic settings in which they occur. x
  • 13
    Folding—Bending Blocks, Flowing Rocks
    Most rock of the crust and mantle is solid. And yet, over long timescales, the crust and mantle are in motion, bending and flowing. This lecture shows how rocks deform in an elastic, plastic, or brittle manner. x
  • 14
    Earthquakes—Examining Earth's Faults
    More than 200,000 earthquakes are recorded each year. We examine the types of faults along which they occur and the aftermath, which in some cases can leave the Earth ringing like a gong for months. x
  • 15
    Plate Tectonics—Why Continents Move
    Continents move because they are the surface expression of mantle convection. Two main forces are directly responsible for plate motions: slab pull and ridge push. x
  • 16
    The Ocean Seafloor—Unseen Lands
    The seafloor shows a tremendous diversity of features that are related to plate tectonics and the process of mantle convection. x
  • 17
    Rifts and Ridges—The Creation of Plates
    Oceans undergo reincarnation: they repeatedly die and are reborn. The Atlantic Ocean is only 180 million years old and will eventually close up again. The Red Sea appears to be a new ocean in the making. x
  • 18
    Transform Faults—Tears of a Crust
    The San Andreas is a transform fault that separates the North American and Pacific plates. Transform faults are actually rare on land, but mid-ocean ridges are intersected by countless such features. x
  • 19
    Subduction Zones—Recycling Oceans
    Subduction zones are the most geologically exciting places on Earth. Here the most destructive earthquakes and volcanoes occur, and forces are generated that may rip supercontinents apart. x
  • 20
    Continents Collide and Mountains Are Made
    When plate motions bring continents in contact with each other, the result is the formation of mountains. A notable example is the Himalayas, produced by the continental collision of India with China. x
  • 21
    Intraplate Volcanoes—Finding the Hot Spots
    For years intraplate volcanoes such as those that produced the Hawaiian Islands were lumped together under the catch-all name of "hot spots," but recent work is showing that Earth has many different ways of making a volcano. x
  • 22
    Destruction from Volcanoes and Earthquakes
    The largest earthquakes and volcanic eruptions release as much energy as the simultaneous explosion of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. We look at the human consequences of these events. x
  • 23
    Predicting Natural Disasters
    Volcanoes can be easily monitored, and they reveal many clues to an impending eruption as the magma slowly forces its way toward the surface. Earthquakes, by contrast, are not yet predictable. x
  • 24
    Anatomy of a Volcano—Mount St. Helens
    We examine the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, triggered when an earthquake caused a gigantic avalanche that released pent-up magma and gases, leveling trees for over 600 square kilometers. x
  • 25
    Anatomy of an Earthquake—Sumatra
    The 2004 Sumatra earthquake produced a massive tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people around the Indian Ocean. We look at the complex tectonic forces behind this cataclysm. x
  • 26
    History of Plate Motions—Where and Why
    Earth's tectonic plates have been moving for at least as long as scientists can see back into the geologic record. Over time the continental fragments collect into supercontinents and then break apart again. x
  • 27
    Assembling North America
    North America has a fascinating geologic history, having continuously grown in size through collisions with other continents. The process of growth has been very different on the East and West coasts. x
  • 28
    The Sun-Driven Hydrologic Cycle
    As fast as plate tectonics creates mountains, erosion tears them down. The principal agents of erosion are water and ice, which are part of a continuous cycle of moving water called the hydrologic cycle. x
  • 29
    Water on Earth—The Blue Planet
    Earth is unique in the solar system for having liquid water at its surface. Water is the single most important substance on our planet, controlling much of geology and allowing for the evolution of life. x
  • 30
    Earth's Atmosphere—Air and Weather
    Earth's gravity is strong enough to hold onto an atmosphere of nitrogen and oxygen, while lighter gases have long since been lost to space. We explore the structure of the atmosphere and its circulation. x
  • 31
    Erosion—Weathering and Land Removal
    A mountain on the Moon can last for billions of years, but the same mountain on Earth is worn down in only tens of millions of years. The reason is the rapid rate of erosion on Earth due to its atmosphere and hydrosphere. x
  • 32
    Jungles and Deserts—Feast or Famine
    The circulation of air within the atmosphere occurs predominantly in the form of six large convecting cycles called Hadley, Ferrel, and Polar cells. These control the distribution of precipitation and therefore of ecosystems. x
  • 33
    Mass Wasting—Rocks Fall Downhill
    Once rock is broken into sediment, gravity makes sure that it heads downhill. Such "mass wasting" can occur as quickly as a landslide or as slowly as the piecemeal creep caused by repeated freezing and thawing. x
  • 34
    Streams—Shaping the Land
    Once sediment is eroded and moved downhill, streams do most of the work from there. Streams are like a giant network of highways, continuously carrying rock from the mountains to the sea. x
  • 35
    Groundwater—The Invisible Reservoir
    There is 100 times more water in the ground than in streams and lakes combined. Groundwater rarely consists of underground rivers, but rather of water percolating slowly though tiny pore spaces within rocks. x
  • 36
    Shorelines—Factories of Sedimentary Rocks
    The pounding of ocean waves is so strong that it sets all the continents reverberating. Shorelines are energetic environments where wave energy erodes rock and transports the sediments that become sedimentary rocks. x
  • 37
    Glaciers—The Power of Ice
    Glaciers are slowly moving rivers of flowing ice. They are remarkably efficient agents of erosion, tearing away mountains faster than any other geologic process. x
  • 38
    Planetary Wobbles and the Last Ice Age
    There is a cyclical pattern in the alternation of cold glacial periods and warmer interglacials, primarily due to variations in Earth's orbital characteristics. These are called Milankovitch cycles. x
  • 39
    Long-Term Climate Change
    Long timescale variations in climate are controlled predominantly by plate tectonics. The global cooling that has occurred over the past 50 million years is largely due to the formation of the Himalayan Mountains. x
  • 40
    Short-Term Climate Change
    This lecture looks at climate change on timescales of decades to thousands of years. Several factors affect climate at these shorter timescales, among them variations in sunlight, ocean current fluctuations, and volcanoes. x
  • 41
    Climate Change and Human History
    The course of human civilization, which began at the same time as the warm, stable climates of the current interglacial period, is strongly tied to small changes in global and regional climates. x
  • 42
    Plate Tectonics and Natural Resources
    Did you ever wonder why there is gold in California, coal in Indiana, and oil in Iraq? During the natural process of plate tectonics, valuable metals and ores become concentrated to levels much higher than they normally exist. x
  • 43
    Nonrenewable Energy Sources
    Most of the energy that humans now consume is in the form of nonrenewable sources, notably oil, natural gas, and coal. Uranium for powering nuclear reactors is also a limited, nonrenewable source. x
  • 44
    Renewable Energy Sources
    We will eventually get almost all of our energy from solar-driven sources. These include solar panels and passive solar heating. Wind power, hydroelectric power, and biomass are also ultimately derived from sunlight. x
  • 45
    Humans—Dominating Geologic Change
    Life has been altering the planet over roughly the past 4 billion years. What is remarkable, however, is the rapidity with which humans have become Earth's most powerful agent of geologic change. x
  • 46
    History of Life—Complexity and Diversity
    Life on Earth began at least 3.85 billion years ago, almost as soon as the conditions of a stable ocean would allow it. The path of evolution since then has been a remarkable one, and an integral part of Earth's story. x
  • 47
    The Solar System—Earth's Neighborhood
    Although Earth is unique in our solar system for having complex life, it is not unique in geologic processes such as volcanism, earthquakes, mantle convection, erosion, and even stream and lake formation. x
  • 48
    The Lonely Planet—Fermi's Paradox
    What are the chances that there are other civilizations in our galaxy? Given the delicate balance of conditions that have allowed life to flourish on Earth, that number may be astonishingly small. x

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Your professor

Michael E. Wysession

About Your Professor

Michael E. Wysession, Ph.D.
Washington University in St. Louis
Dr. Michael E. Wysession is the Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. Professor Wysession earned his Sc.B. in Geophysics from Brown University and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University. An established leader in seismology and geophysical education, Professor Wysession is noted for his development of a new way to create three-dimensional images of Earth's interior from seismic...
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How the Earth Works is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 109.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The lecture’s were very well organized in a thoughtful sequence. I pertically learned something new about the long and very long climate change cycles that effecting us today.
Date published: 2018-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nicely Constructed I really enjoyed this course. Professor Wysession knows his subject and does an excellent job in presenting it. The lessons about plate tectonics are particularly informative and strong. I took an Earth and Planetary Science course in college in the 1970s and had no idea it was such a young science then. I disagree with some of the criticism with the last few lectures as I found them very timely and a natural conclusion to the course. Climate Change is a very divisive and political topic, but I appreciated hearing it discussed by a Geologist with charts and graphs rather than a politician in Washington. I think anyone would enjoy this course and come away with additional knowledge of earthquakes, coastlines or some other piece that they would find fascinating.
Date published: 2018-09-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome Earth Science Course This course has been very helpful in my college study of General Earth Science.
Date published: 2018-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic course The Earth will never look the same. Great material, explanations, examples and overall content. A great value and well worth your time and effort.
Date published: 2018-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Our Busy Planet Our complex Earth is a world of interlocking cycles. First there is the tectonic. Beneath the surface solid hot rock rises and falls over millions of years, propelling oceanic and continental plates of the planetary crust around the world. Oceanic plates form at underwater ridges and then after one or two hundred million years of motion dive back into the mantle, building up mountain chains and island arcs. Continental plates like bumper cars slam into each other and part ways again, retaining geological evidence of past supercontinents Pangea, Rodinia, Columbia, Kenorland and Vaalbaara. Then there is the rock cycle, or really cycles. Igneous rock erupts at or near plate boundaries and mountains rise in continental collisions, only to weather slowly away under the brute force of rain, wind, stream, temperature changes, and even gravity. The particles flow downhill and downstream to the shorelines, where they gather in layers of sediment that under pressure become sedimentary rock, eventually to rise again as mountains and weather away again or to be buried deep, changed under pressure and then to reemerge at or near the surface as metamorphic rock. Water and air rise and fall and move around the planet. The entire planet moves through Milankovitch cycles, slowly drawing nearer to and further from the sun, its axis gaining and losing angle while steadily changing direction. When these conditions combine to minimize the sun’s light and heat, the Earth cools enough for vast glaciers to blanket continents and sea levels to drop. When the Earth warms again, the glaciers melt away and sea levels rise. In the life cycle we living things are born (or germinate), reproduce and die, though only the very luckiest of us have remains fossilized in sedimentary rock, dug up by paleontologists, and displayed in museums. The course structure has two major parts and a few small ones. Professor Wysessions explains thoroughly the Earth’s tectonic processes in Lectures 1, 3, 5 and 10 through 28, including the effects of vulcanism and quakes, and then the surface processes in Lectures 8 and 29 through 46. Lectures 6 and 7 deal with the solar system’s development, and Lecture 9 with atomic bonding. Lecture 47 briefly examines the other planets in our solar system and Lecture 48 answers the question of whether there is likely life elsewhere in the galaxy. This last lecture is rather a downer, because Wysessions’ answer is no. In his view, our life-bearing planet is extremely unlikely. We happen to be in a narrow band around the galaxy where life is possible, we happen to be just the right distance from the right kind of sun in a near-circular orbit, we happen to be protected from most comets by Jupiter (imagine if Shoemaker-Levy had slammed into the Earth!), and we happen to have an unusually large iron core thanks to long-ago planetary collision, the iron producing the magnetosphere that protects living things from cosmic rays. There’s probably only one planet like Earth in the galaxy, and that’s us. Wysessions’ presentation is mostly excellent. I love his simple yet effective desktop demonstrations, like setting up a lava lamp or a bowl of miso soup to show how mantle convection works, bending or cutting layers of yellow, red and blue clay (or is it Silly Putty?) to show demonstrate rock deformation and erosion, shaking a bottle of fizzy water to reproduce an explosive volcanic eruption, tilting a board on its side with oatmeal, peanut butter, honey and water to show their different viscosities, and using bricks to demonstrate the difference between transform faults and oceanic ridges—it’s a lot easier to slide bricks past each other than to pull each one apart. There are problems with his technique. In his speech he hesitates sometimes and frequently resorts to “umms” to mask pauses. In Lectures 21 and 27 he lacks enough drawings to make his points, so he fills the gap with hand gestures supposed to demonstrate the thrusts and shifts of rock layers. Finally, I object to his overdrawn claims in Lectures 1 and 40 that volcanic eruptions caused the French Revolution of 1789 and drove US settlers westward in 1815-16 by chilling the weather and killing crops. Human history is a lot more complicated than that! Nonetheless, this is a great Earth Science course and I recommend it highly.
Date published: 2018-05-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed This documentary reminds me of "Inexplicable Universe." I disliked that series for the same reason I dislike this series -- too much time is spent trying to use science to disprove religious theories. I greatly enjoyed the lectures from Plant Science: An Introduction to Botany whose professor majored in evolution. If this series was able to focus on science instead of philosophy in the same way the professor from the later series did the presentation would be much more professional and intellectually enjoyable. Like other reviewers mentioned, more visuals would greatly improve the quality of the lectures as well. I have only made it to lecture 13 and feel it is time to consider returning it.
Date published: 2018-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear explanations... fun learning!! I just retired and wanted to fill a life long dream of learning basic, them more advanced, geology. This course exceeds all expectations- I could not be happier with the professor, content and results. Thank you so much Dr Wysession and Great Courses for making this available. One more word WOW!
Date published: 2018-04-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not Enough Visuals Professor is slow to provide information. Points are not explored deeply or when pertinent.
Date published: 2018-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great instructor; Great visual reference. Only a 1/4th through the course and find that I started it without a great deal of background education/experience in this area. But found by spending a bit more time initially trying to really understand the material, the rest (which builds on earlier) is a great deal easier.
Date published: 2018-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from How This Earth Works and More I have taken one and one-fifth other courses from Dr. Wysession. The first was “The World’s Greatest Geological Wonders: 36 Spectacular Sites”. I was not overly fond of the format of the tourist approach of that course, although that is one of the reasons why I bought it. I’ve never had any formal education in the earth sciences and came away from that fine course thinking I needed to take a course in Geology (so I purchased this course and two years later I am finally getting around to watching and reviewing it). The one-fifth course was “National Geographic Polar Explorations” where Dr. Wysession was one of five lecturers. This was yet another “tourist” course and I thought quite disappointing, although Dr. Wysession was the pick of the lecturers. He and one other professor were the reason that I managed to give that course a second star. But this course gets full marks. To begin, if one is looking for a general course in geology, this is not it. Other reviewers have commented for example that there is a distinct lack of mineralogy in this course. Just so—I urge those reviewers to consider the course title “How the Earth Works”. So we expect a lot of plate tectonics and details on the core of the earth, ocean and air circulation and so on. Here Professor Wysession gives full value. With 48 lectures at his disposal, there is plenty of time for the inclusion of how the geology of the earth affects history, culture and more. This begins with the very first lecture through the very last (my favorite) where we are presented with the probabilities (possibilities) of other planets with intelligent life. There are many more issues other than sheer numbers of stars in the universe that I had never consciously considered. There are plenty of other gems scattered throughout the course, some of them expected and others that were completely unexpected. And some technical (e.g. the Milankovitch Cycle) while others were largely cultural such as the effects of climate change on human history. The heart and culmination of the course is for me, the last four lectures. How humans now dominate geologic change, the history of life on our planet from a geologic perspective, the geology of other planets and moons in our solar system and finally the consideration of life on other planets. The course has a reasonable number of charts and other graphic illustration that are helpful in understanding the concepts. But it could use more. Too many times the only visual help on points being made are only hand gestures. Also Professor Wysession has a fair number of verbal tics such as “interestingly”. The one that did not bother me however, was “it turns out that…”, a phrase in common use when providing a phenomena that time, space, difficulty or common knowledge prohibits or makes unnecessary a full explanation or proof. It may well be the Dr. Wysession is not the smoothest presenter, but he makes up for this in his genuine enthusiasm for his subject and his obvious desire to transmit that joy to us.
Date published: 2017-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful! This course is even better than I expected, having read many of the rave reviews. The instructor is enthusiastic, articulate, witty, and gifted in his ability to communicate his knowledge to a general audience. I'm very happy with this purchase.
Date published: 2017-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding I have subscribed to and enjoyed a number of the Great Courses and this is one of the very best. I am a volunteer docent at a natural history museum and spend a lot of time interpreting museum exhibits on earth sciences for the public. This course has greatly deepened my understanding. Michael Weysessions is one of the best of the instructors.
Date published: 2017-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presenter It's very interesting to listen to Professor Wysession. He gives a very polished presentation while still sounding extemporaneous. And the content is very enlightening.
Date published: 2016-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from How The Earth Works I'm an older student. I tried taking a course in geology at a local college but found that it went way to fast for me. This course is wonderful. I can take my time to understand. The professor is so clear in his presentation. I am only on Lecture 12 and have enjoyed every minute. Now when I look at my local hills and mountains and the dirt beneath my feet, I feel different. It's almost like, I don't know, making them alive, although I know they are not. I say to myself, "now how did you get here" or "where did you come from" "how was you're journey to here." I find it amazing and awe inspiring. Thank you!
Date published: 2016-10-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tremendous fun Wide ranging presentation that answers a lot of questions I've had about geology. Fun and helpful demonstrations, enthusiastic delivery.
Date published: 2016-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Fundamental Course in Earth's Geology Professor Wysession's delivery is logical, well-spoken, and without the usual semantic "hiccups" so often encountered "you know", et. al. This covers all that you will find in a college level introductory course to the subject, except possibly a "lab section" to observe and handle rocks/minerals, develop understanding of geological mapping, and similar topics. This is my second time through the course and it retains its "freshness" and value as a refresher of the concepts, primariiy grounded in today's well-accepted "theory of plate tectonics", which together with other concepts and theories of geological operations, explain (and within its current understandings can "predict") geological phenomena. I recommend this course for anyone who has an interest in geology. I would also recommend that if possible to supplement the course with an introductory college text. You can find inexpensive, clean used copies, at Abebooks. com or HalfPriceBooks stores. These will give you more than a brief look at the Course's diagrams and charts. The only criticism of this and other science courses offered is the inability to have illustrations available for continual reference.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I recommend instead "An introduction to Geology" I have about 3 dozen Teaching company courses, and I wanted an additional perspective after the excellent work by Dr. Renton in "Introduction to geology. My objection, however, is that he makes in the introduction several references to evolution that strike me as cutting. Not everyone believes in evolution, and I do not. Dr. Renton sticks to the subject. If I wanted to be taught evolution then would I not buy a course on it? In fact careful students will find that Albert Einstein did not throw his lot in with Charles Darwin either.
Date published: 2015-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Amazing Oveview I had expected this course to be about the usual geological topics - rocks, volcanoes, erosion and so forth. It is so much more. The title is accurate, it's about how the entire earth works. So along with the geological topics, it covers some oceanography, meteorology and even astronomy - the earth as a planet. And the really impressive thing that I learned was that none of these topics can really be taken in isolation. If you want to understand how the earth works, you need to see how all these topics interact to produce the planet we live on today, and why we find it as it is. Yes, there is the human element, too, and I don't mean just our influence on the modern climate. I think my favorite lecture was number 41, "Climate Change and Human History." Professor Wysession has spent forty lectures explaining how everything from plate tectonics to astronomical cycles interacts to influence climate, changing sea levels and so forth so that he can now show how this has influenced human history. And it's amazing. We have all learned some human history, but he puts this into the context of the ever changing climates to give us some understanding of the why of human migrations, the rise and fall of civilizations, and even such things as the black plague of the middle ages. It is an impressive work. Dr. Wysession himself is not a dynamic teacher, but he progresses steadily through the material and does a pretty good job of explaining everything. There are lots of helpful maps and diagrams, though there could have been a few more for some topics that are hard to fully grasp with just a verbal description. He even has several live demonstrations, such as layers of differently colored clay that he then distorts to illustrate how various geological features can arise. All in all it is worthy of being called a Great Course.
Date published: 2015-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from New eyes... Thank you, Dr. Wysession, for giving me new eyes to see the Earth and why it holds what may be a unique place in the Cosmos and for priming my heart and mind to appreciate and better understand why being alive, sentient, and rational is truly a "miracle".
Date published: 2015-10-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Good Geology Plus Other Stuff I purchased this course based solely on Wysession's other course, The World's Greatest Geological Wonders, which I enjoyed immensely. How The Earth Works was recorded earlier and Wysession is not nearly as good a presenter in this course: lots of ums and he says "interesting" or "interestingly" quite a bit. So, only 3 stars for presentation. Up through lecture 38, I though he did an excellent job of teaching geology. Lectures 39-45 could have been left out as they were about climate change and energy and all the nasty things we are doing to the planet. While interesting at times, these lectures were not about geology. (Yes, it is true that climate affects erosion, but he'd already covered erosion and acid rain and other such topics in previous lectures.) Lecture 46 on evolution definitely should have been left out - I learned nothing about geology in this lecture and the topic of evolution is handled much better in several other courses. Lecture 47 on the geology of the other planets was good. Finally, lecture 48 was kind of silly: guessing the odds of finding life on other planets based on wild guesses. While the Fermi Paradox asks a great question, the Drake equation is pretty useless. There were a few errors, such as Hoover dam is downriver from The Grand Canyon, not upriver. And I've never heard "saguaro" pronounced that way and, living in Arizona, I've heard the word many times. But, his explanations were usually clear, he had lots of demos in the studio, and the graphics were good. I watched this DVD immediately following John Reston's course The Nature of Earth. (See the link below.) It is interesting how similar the two courses are! Wysession's course does a far better job on plate tectonics, which is his area of research and, including volcanoes, is the bulk of the course. Reston's course does a much better job on minerals, the water cycle, different types of rocks, and folding. If you are only going to buy one of these courses, I'd suggest basing the decision on the topics which most interest you. While I'm happy to have watched both, if I had to pick one, I'd pick Wysession's course because I have a greater interesting in plate tectonics and volcanoes.
Date published: 2015-10-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highest Recommendation Professor Wysession is a first rate teacher. His lecturing style is entertaining, and reflects very careful preparation. After listening to his "Geological Wonders" course (which I also recommend), I immediately bought "How the Earth Works", and my wife and I watched it - and we were delighted. After watching you could easily start right over from lecture 1 and never be bored. Presentation: the professor's years of teaching experience were evident in his relaxed and entertaining style, and his great mastery of the subject is always evident - clearly we receive the tip of the iceberg of his knowledge! Content: beginner in the field or experienced student, I'm sure it would offer a great deal to anyone. The course made me aware of how many subjects the researchers, such as Professor Wysession, must know at a professional level - mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy - but the course also gives a real grounding in the subject for someone who is not such an expert. I must also mention personal qualities the professor conveys, such as a wonderful inspiring optimism about our potential human (and biological) future - in the final lecture he challenges us to care for the Earth without blaming ourselves for past mistakes. This course should be recommended for anyone who lives on the best planet we know of!
Date published: 2015-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One Great Course Since retiring in 2001 I have pursued a long held interest in the wonders of the universe, the creation of earth, and life on our planet, both through reading and several of the Great Courses. ‘How the Earth Works’by Michael Wyession ranks among what I believe is one of the best courses in Science offered in The Great Courses selection. Virtually every lecture contains new information on the formation and evolution of earth and how life on earth began and flourished. The movement of continents through time, the rise of mountains, and the formation of volcanoes are explained through an outstanding discussion of plate tectonics. Lectures include the role of oceans in the formation and changes of the planet, earthquakes, erosion, hotspots and other factors. Interestingly, as Wyession often says, one is able to grasp how and why it has taken 4.5 billion years for earth to become the planet as we know it. While other reviewers have mentioned shortcomings of the course, they are minor compared to the information presented. This is an outstanding course for anyone interested in the evolution of the earth.
Date published: 2015-05-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Rocks rock! Who knew just how dynamic "solid" earth is and what a complicated life cycle rocks live! I thought this was a very inspiring class in terms of appreciating the geology that makes our beautiful world - and us - possible. I didn't find the course as entertaining as many others presented by the Teaching Company, but it was fact filled and very worth while. Regarding the professor's style: yes, he used a few pet phrases too repetitively but I liked his enthusiasm for his subject - he communicated real excitement about the material - and he spoke directly to the viewer without noticeable reliance on the teleprompter. I thought some of his graphics were hard to understand and he sometimes belabored understandable points while glossing over more complicated concepts too quickly. Still, in the end I judge a course on whether or not I'm sorry when it's over and in this case I certainly was. This course makes an excellent companion to his other course on wonders of the world.
Date published: 2015-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Eye Opener The course was an eye opener for me. The excellent presentation style of the professor and the completeness of the amazing facts presented made the course very enjoyable. I learned much more than expected about the intimate connection and history humans have with mother earth and the universe.
Date published: 2015-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The title fully describes the content. As a geologist who's experience extends from oil & gas exploration in Alaska, California and offshore East Coast to groundwater studies for water supply, wastewater discharge and wetland preservation, I found this course to be quite valuable. Anyone with an interest in how our earth formed and evolved will learn from this course. The subjects are expertly explained and timely in their content. A comprehensive treatment of our planet.
Date published: 2015-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Course Worthy of Your Attention Dozens of The Great Courses are in my collection; and, in the past, when I have rated any of them as excellent, words like informative, fascinating, innovational, and practical have come especially to mind. For this present excellent course, I think the right key word is important. How the Earth Works integrates and explains such important material, and such a wealth of it, that I truly wish all of my friends and many other people from all sectors of society would view it and take its messages to heart. Dr. Wysession, though speaking principally as a geologist, draws insightfully from the fields of chemistry, physics, biology, oceanography, meteorology, climatology, archaeology, astronomy, cosmology, and even history and philosophy. Somehow, he manages to “connect all the dots” and deliver an inspiring view of how special our planet is, a view that “pulls no punches” with regard to the serious challenges that confront our human species, and yet a view that is optimistic and deeply appreciative of the Earth. Because I want to be an honest reviewer, I will also mention two aspects in which this excellent course might have been even better. For one thing, it would have been helpful if fairly frequent slips of the tongue or imprecise statements by the professor had been corrected, possibly by over-dubbing after his lectures were recorded. Some of these errors were easy to discount, such as when the professor said in Lecture 38 that the precession of Earth's axis could complete half its cycle in a “dozen years or so,” though it was obvious from context and earlier information in the same lecture that he surely meant 12,000 years. Other slips left me confused a considerable while before I sorted them out, as, for example, in Lecture 30, when a discussion of how the rising and cooling of warm, moist air typically causes precipitation included the incorrect information that the East side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains was “quite green,” while the Mojave Desert was on the West side. Also, though Dr. Wysession used manual gestures to illustrate many geologic processes, the diagrams, graphs, and filmed or animated material that were plentiful in the course could usefully have been even more plentiful. Dr. Wysession is still one of my favourite presenters of The Great Courses. His obviously broad range of knowledge and his passion for his subject matter are impressive. I consider this professor a modern Renaissance man.
Date published: 2015-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from After Some Thought - Entertaining and Informative This one of those Great Courses offerings that grows on the viewer. For me, it took practically all 48 lectures to understand the tapestry Dr. Wysession was trying to weave. He stated in the in the very first lecture that this course, How the Earth Works, "Is not a geology course. I mean, of course, it IS a geology course in the original sense of the word - geo-ology, study of the earth." At that point I was starting to wonder what I was getting for my $130. But Wysession spoke further that over the past couple of decades the term geology has assumed a more narrow meaning and many universities are changing their department names to, as an example, Earth and Planetary Sciences. Most researchers now are geophysicists, geochemists, and geobiologists. So it is only fair that the focus of the material is on the earth and all its constituent parts, not on the nuts of bolts of what is in the ground, and that's what this course does. It may seem a bit overlong at 48 lectures and it's true that some chapters are more informative and entertaining than others. For me, the most enlightening sections were on plate tectonics, earthquakes, and volcanoes. There are sections that focus more closely on traditional geology topics such as mineralogy and rock cycles. The final series of lectures focus on the impact of climate change and the effect humans have had on climate, energy sources, and geologic change. Finally, it's impossible to evaluate this course without a least a cursory nod to its predecessor: The Nature of the Earth: An Introduction to Geology by John Renton which I also purchased and evaluated some years ago. That is more of a traditional geology course and, while it is certainly more tedious, it stands on its on merits. In fact, I think both courses are complimentary to each other and I recommend both for a comprehensive overall of geology and earth sciences.
Date published: 2015-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Oops! I am working my way through this course and am really enjoying it and learning. I am in Lesson 34 and believe that there is an error. The Professor talks about the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers below the Hoover Dam. I believe that he meant below the Glen Canyon Dam.
Date published: 2014-12-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Basic Geology course This is a basic course for those who have no geology background. It is well-done for basic entry geology in college or high school level. I bought this course after Dr. Wysession's absolutely superb "World's Greatest Geological Wonders" -- one of the Great Courses BEST. Dr. Wysession is an excellent teacher and presenter, for that you will not be disappointed. However, those of us who took Nature of Earth: An Intro to Geology by Dr. Renton, had all the basics. "How the Earth Works" was only slightly more informative, but had few pictures or graphics just like Dr. Renton's course. Keep in mind, this is an older course, and not as visually dynamic or well-done as more recent courses. This was not the fault of Dr. Wysession.
Date published: 2014-10-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from More science and less speculation How the Earth Works, by Michael Wysession. I have never had a geology class, but I have had courses that have been related or had components of what could be considered geology. To me the general subject matter of this course was very interesting. But having said that, I was frustrated throughout the course by the instructor’s tendency to speculate and lend scientific credence to his speculations. He also often used hand movements to explain a concept when a graphic would have been much more efficient. The course was taught at a low level, more what I would except from a TV Discovery program rather than a university level course. He also made a significant number of errors that should have been caught in the editing and re-taped. For example in Chapter 24 he miss-located Hoover Dam, and he repeated the mistake a few minutes later. Also I think some fundamentals were left out. For example, there was almost no discussion of basic mineralogy and the associated chemistry. Perhaps by cutting the lecture lengths to 30 minutes from a standard 50 minute lecture, he cut the substance and left much chafe.
Date published: 2014-08-19
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