Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology

Course No. 1700
Professor John J. Renton, Ph.D.
West Virginia University
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Course No. 1700
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Probe the eye-opening origins of the universe and the solar system.
  • numbers Learn about the formation, classification and identification of minerals.
  • numbers Look at how groundwater is produced and contaminated, as well as its impact on geology.
  • numbers Study earthquakes, faults, joints, and the formation of mountain ranges.
  • numbers Study the economic geology of coal and petroleum.

Course Overview

The drama of geology is all around you. Have you ever been to Yellowstone National Park? If so, you have stood on a catastrophe in the making. The central region of the park is inside a collapsed volcanic crater that pulses with the hidden energy of magma deep below that will eventually explode in an eruption surpassing any in recorded history. Or have you ever driven in the rolling hills of the Piedmont region that extends from New Jersey to Alabama? Then you have crossed the core of an ancient mountain range that once rivaled the Himalayas. Now almost completely eroded away, these peaks were created 300 million years ago in the collision of tectonic plates that formed the supercontinent of Pangaea. Or have you ever noticed something as simple as tipped fence posts or leaning retaining walls? If so, then you have witnessed one of the most powerful and irresistible agents of geologic change, the ubiquitous force of gradual erosion called mass wasting.

A Science That Is Intuitive, Accessible, Concrete, and Exciting

Wherever you live or travel, geology is everywhere. Wouldn't you like to know how to read the rocks and landscape; how to make sense of debates over natural resources; and how to appreciate the "deep time" that governs a geologist's sweeping perspective?

These 36 half-hour lectures are your initiation into the geological world that lies just outside your door. The Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology introduces you to physical geology, the study of Earth's minerals, rocks, soils, and the processes that operate on them through time.

No other science deals more practically with the world on which we live, telling us where to dig a well; when to add lime to soil; how gold, oil, and other valuable minerals are formed and where to find them; what kinds of structures are safest in an earthquake zone; and why some active volcanoes are deadlier than others—far deadlier.

Geology also unlocks the history that lies hidden in the land all around us—in a piece of marble, a hillside, a handful of sand, the rock layers of a road cut, or the jagged peaks of a mountain range.

And for anyone who feels hesitant about the inherent complexity of sciences such as biology and physics, geology is surprisingly intuitive, accessible, and concrete. At the same time, it has the excitement of a never-ending detective story, replete with clues to the complex past of our planet.

Learn the Principles from a Master Educator

Geologists themselves are much like their subject matter: plainspoken, no-nonsense, rugged, and with a tinge of romanticism. This accurately describes your instructor for this course, Professor John J. Renton, an award-winning educator at West Virginia University, where he holds the Eberly Family Chair for Distinguished Teaching.

A widely respected expert on the geology of coal, Professor Renton's first love is teaching introductory geology, which he has pursued at West Virginia University with enthusiasm and creativity for more than 40 years. He recalls that as a young faculty member he set aside his lecture notes to try something that would encourage more involvement among his students. He decided to approach each class as an actor would a one-act play. Ever since, he prepares a script, rehearses it for hours, and then destroys it afterward to avoid using the same presentation year after year.

You will find Dr. Renton spontaneous, easy to follow, funny, and extremely well organized. He has a gift for picking simple analogies that make complicated concepts clear and memorable. For example:

  • The moving sidewalk: We have all heard of continental drift, but do the continents really move? Not exactly, says Professor Renton. They are like passengers on a moving sidewalk: the passengers don't move, but the sidewalk does. In the same way, the continents are being carried atop the slowly moving plates of Earth's crust.
  • The fish poacher: What makes Earth's plates move? A fish poacher—an elongated pot designed to fit over two burners on a stove—illustrates the principle in action. In a fish poacher, two heat sources produce alternating cells of rising and sinking water. Similarly, Earth's internal heat creates alternating cells of rising and sinking magma. Earth's plates are driven apart where the currents are rising, and they are forced together where the currents are sinking.
  • The bottle of champagne: A volcano erupts explosively for the same reason that a too-hastily-opened bottle of champagne spews out much of its contents. As magma nears the surface, built-up pressure is suddenly released, causing dissolved gases to come out of solution and expand explosively. In champagne, something similar happens when the cork is popped.

An Innovative Curriculum

As an old hand at teaching new students in geology, Professor Renton has developed an innovative and highly effective curriculum.

After beginning with an overview of Earth's place in the universe, you move directly to the most important unifying concept ever developed in the science of geology: plate tectonics. An understanding of this beautiful idea places other topics such as mountain building and seismology in crystal-clear perspective.

With this "big picture" introduction complete, you shift to the microworld of molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles to gain a basic understanding of minerals, which are the building blocks of rocks and soils. From there you move to the three types of rocks: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic.

Dr. Renton does not ignore terminology, and you will acquire a geological vocabulary that includes such terms as "mafic" and "felsic" (classifications of igneous rock), "lithification" (the process that turns sand into sandstone, for example), and "gneiss" (the most abundant of all metamorphic rocks).

He always explains and puts concepts into context so that you will genuinely understand why "granitic" magma very rarely rises to the surface, but when it does, it produces an eruption of unimaginable violence—and also why the marker for such an event having occurred in the past is a fine grained rock called "rhyolite."

Explore a Range of Topics in Geology

Equipped with knowledge of both the large and small scales, you then venture into the field to explore: volcanism, mass wasting, weathering and soils, the sculpting of the land, groundwater, rock deformation and geologic structures, earthquakes, mountains, and the economic geology of coal and petroleum.

Covering the bulk of the course, these lectures take you to some fascinating places—from the bituminous coal fields of Dr. Renton's home state of West Virginia to the mid-ocean ridges, the most prominent feature on our planet (if you drain away the water). But you also explore your own backyard in lectures that focus on soils and groundwater, two issues that are critically important to everyone.The ability of grain crops to flourish in some areas and not others will suddenly make sense, and so will the rising, falling, and sometimes puzzling behavior of the water table.

In this section of the course, you also put your knowledge of plate tectonics to work, addressing such questions as:

  • How do you recognize a killer volcano? Because of differing magma chemistry, volcanoes along the margin of colliding plates are much more dangerous than those where plates are pulling apart. The former include Mount St. Helens in the United States and Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, among many others. The latter include the numerous active volcanoes on Iceland, which rarely harm anyone.
  • What is the evidence that a collision formed the Appalachian Mountains? As you travel west across the Piedmont, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley, and the Appalachians, the crumpling of rock strata becomes increasingly less pronounced, showing that the energy that went into producing the folds came from the east—exactly what you would expect for a collision of continents occurring in what is now the Piedmont region.
  • Where is the colliding continent that produced the Appalachians? It's called Africa. The Atlas Mountains in northwest Africa are structurally a mirror image of the Appalachians. Africa separated from North America in the breakup of Pangaea that began about 180 million years ago.
  • What caused the bend in the Hawaiian Island–Emperor Seamount chain? The motion of the Pacific plate over a geologic hot spot created a chain of islands and underwater seamounts. In the middle of the chain is a sharp bend. Why? The bend coincides with the collision of India into Asia 45 million years ago, an event that produced the Himalayan Mountains and apparently knocked the Pacific plate off kilter.
  • Where are new mountain ranges likely to form? Given the present motion of the Earth's plates, future mountain building will occur when Africa runs into Europe and, after that, when Australia collides with China.

Lessons for a Lifetime

In his introductory lecture, Professor Renton reads an e-mail he received from a former student of more than 30 years ago who marvels: "Hardly a week passes that something doesn't cause me to think about your classes.

"Though I never became a geologist," the correspondent writes, "I often draw upon what you lectured about. I can explain to my daughter why this beach has sand and that beach has rocks, or how it is that rivers' courses are the way they are. Well, she thinks I'm pretty bright. But in fact, I'm just passing on what I got from Physical Geology."

"I think that really spells it out," says Professor Renton. "What I'd like you to get out of this course is information that you will take with you for the rest of your life, wherever you go in the world—I don't care whether it's a trip to the office or on vacation—so that you can look at the world that passes you by in a little bit different fashion, understanding it better, appreciating it better."

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Origin of the Universe
    In the beginning, there was no need for geology because there were no rocks, minerals, or Earth. This lecture takes a "big picture" look at the formation and early evolution of the universe. x
  • 2
    Origin of the Solar System
    The planets formed from a disc of cosmic dust rotating around the Sun. The composition of the planets varies. Those nearest the Sun are made of rock, while those most distant are made of gases. x
  • 3
    Continental Drift
    Until the 20th century, geologists believed that the size, shape, and location of the continents had been fixed in their present configuration for billions of years. Then the theory of plate tectonics changed everything. x
  • 4
    Plate Tectonics
    This lecture describes plate tectonics—the rifting of continents and spreading of the sea floor; the force that drives this process; and the cyclic creation, breaking up, and reformation of supercontinents. x
  • 5
    The Formation of Minerals
    A full understanding of Earth's origin, the evolution of its surface, and how processes shape the land requires knowledge of minerals, how they form, and their basic classification. x
  • 6
    Classification of Minerals
    Minerals are classified by their dominant, negatively charged grouping (anion). By far, the major rock-forming minerals are silicates built around the silicate anion. All other minerals are classified as non-silicates. x
  • 7
    The Identification of Minerals
    For the average geologist in the field, mineral identification is made based on a series of physical properties. Color streak, cleavage, acid reaction, and hardness are four such tests. x
  • 8
    Kinds of Rocks
    Of the three types of rock—igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic—igneous rocks constitute 80 percent of Earth's crust. They are classified and named based on their texture and mineral composition. x
  • 9
    Sedimentary Rocks
    Sedimentary rocks form from the products of weathering and cover 75 percent of Earth's land surface. As a result, they are the type of rock that is normally seen exposed at Earth's surface. x
  • 10
    Metamorphic Rocks
    A metamorphic rock is any rock that forms from a previously existing rock as the result of heat, pressure, and chemically active fluids. This process takes place only at great depth. x
  • 11
    Volcanic Activity
    This lecture introduces volcanism, which is associated with three types of sites: convergent plate margins, divergent plate margins, and hot spots. The composition of magma is crucial in determining the intensity of an eruption. x
  • 12
    Phases of Volcanic Activity
    The site of an eruption and the type of magma involved govern whether the resulting volcano will be a cinder cone, a shield volcano, or a strato- or composite volcano. Eruptions are further classified based on severity. x
  • 13
    The Hawaiian Islands and Yellowstone Park
    The Hawaiian Islands resulted from the movement of the Pacific plate over a volcanic hot spot. Yellowstone Park also sits over a hot spot that caused violent eruptions in prehistory. Another such eruption is likely. x
  • 14
    Mass Wasting—Gravity at Work
    Although mass wasting is one of the most important processes responsible for the evolution of the landscape, most people are unaware of its existence. The driving force of mass wasting is gravity. x
  • 15
    Mass Wasting Processes
    This lecture describes how mass wasting works and where to observe it. Although flows, slides, and falls account for the most dramatic forms of mass wasting, by far the greatest change is achieved by creep. x
  • 16
    Weathering is any process whereby rocks either disintegrate or decompose. The primary agent of physical weathering is the freezing and thawing of water, known as frost wedging. x
  • 17
    Soils and the Clay Minerals
    This lecture explores why soils are so critical to sustaining plant life. Clay minerals turn out to be the key component. Different climates have characteristic soil types, some of which are ideal for agriculture. x
  • 18
    Climate and the Type of Soils
    Soil is the end product of a complex series of factors, the most important of which is climate. The type of soil that forms is controlled by the combination of annual precipitation and temperature. x
  • 19
    Streams—The Major Agent of Erosion
    Despite holding only a tiny fraction of the world's fresh water, streams are the major agent of erosion wherever water can exist, including the desert. Streams are either interior (terminating inland) or exterior (ending in the ocean). x
  • 20
    Sculpting of the Landscape
    Surprisingly, there is no scientific consensus on the process of landscape evolution. One prominent theory, proposed by William Davis, sees land evolving through three stages of maturity due to stream erosion. x
  • 21
    Stream Erosion in Arid Regions
    With minor modifications, Davis's theory on the three stages of a stream's life holds true for arid regions as well as humid regions. Nevada is typical of the process of stream erosion in arid regions. x
  • 22
    Ice Sculpts the Final Scene
    Glaciers are second only to streams as an agent of erosion. In areas such as the Alps and Canadian Rockies, the combined effects of stream and glacial erosion have carved some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. x
  • 23
    Earth's largest readily available source of fresh water is groundwater. This lecture looks at the types of rock most suitable for storing groundwater. Those that produce water most easily are classified as aquifers. x
  • 24
    The Production of Groundwater
    Overproduction of an aquifer usually results in the lowering of the water table. Groundwater is not a renewable resource. It may take hundreds of thousands of years to replace a gallon of groundwater with a new gallon. x
  • 25
    Karst Topography
    One of the most spectacular results of groundwater in action is karst topography—irregular topography created by the surface and groundwater dissolution of underlying soluble rock, usually limestone. x
  • 26
    Groundwater Contamination
    Nearly every human activity, from fertilizing yards to parking cars, has the potential to contaminate groundwater. Poorly designed and built landfills rank high among potential contaminants. x
  • 27
    Rock Deformation
    Deformation is any process in which rock changes in size and/or shape. The three types of deformation are elastic, plastic, and brittle, corresponding to rocks that "bounce back," bend, and break. x
  • 28
    The Geologic Structures
    Rock structures form as a result of the application of stress beyond the strength of the rock. The three basic rock structures are folds, faults, and joints. This lecture focuses on folds, which are caused by compression. x
  • 29
    Faults and Joints
    Faults and joints comprise the two types of brittle deformation. Rocks move along faults. There is little or no movement along joints. One well-known fault is the San Andreas, a strike-slip fault. x
  • 30
    Earthquakes occur in the same regions as the most violent volcanoes. Both result from the activity of convergent plate or divergent plate margins. Convergent plate margins produce the most violent of both events. x
  • 31
    Damage from Earthquakes
    The intensity of an earthquake refers to the observed results of the quaking and the amount of damage. An earthquake's magnitude measures the amount of Earth movement. Tsunamis are an earthquake-generated phenomenon. x
  • 32
    Earthquakes have been detected for centuries with simple devices, but the ability to study the full impact of earthquakes awaited the invention of a seismograph that could not only detect but actually measure Earth movement. x
  • 33
    The Formation of Mountains
    Mountains are of four types: volcanic, domal, block-fault, and foldbelt. The most impressive are foldbelt mountains such as the Himalayas, which are created by colliding plates at zones of subduction. x
  • 34
    Orogenic Styles
    Orogeny refers to the processes that create foldbelt mountains. These form under three scenarios: ocean-continent collisions, ocean-island arc-continent collisions, and continent-continent collisions. x
  • 35
    Economic Geology of Coal
    Coal comes from wood that has been preserved in environments where oxygen and microbial activity is low. Coal is ranked by its carbon content, which varies widely in the abundant deposits in the United States. x
  • 36
    Economic Geology of Petroleum
    Petroleum is formed when marine material is buried in porous rock capped by an impermeable layer. Predictions about the inevitable decrease and disappearance of oil resources appear to be all too accurate. x

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Your professor

John J. Renton

About Your Professor

John J. Renton, Ph.D.
West Virginia University
Dr. John J. Renton is Professor of Geology at West Virginia University where he has been teaching for more than 40 years. He earned his bachelor's degree in Chemistry from Waynesburg College and went on to earn his master's degree and Ph.D. in Geology from West Virginia University. Professor Renton is the recipient of several awards for his success in teaching, including the Outstanding Educator Award from the Eastern...
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Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 189.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting course I think the course was quite good. It was a bit to "folksy." I would have liked a more analytical approach. To my surprise the course is over 10 years old, which was disappointing. I don't think I was informed of this when I made my purchase. In any case I think TGC has an obligation to the purchaser to clearly indicate the course release date.
Date published: 2017-05-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best yet After finishing this class and returning to watch parts a second time so much of the world has become more interesting. I can't drive down the road without stopping at road cuts. I've been online reading up on local geology. Flint is a sedimentary rock? Obsidian hydrates to form perlite? How cool is that? I didn't take geology or chemistry in college but will follow this with some chemistry. The instructor's style is very charming, I like the way he ascribes conscious intent to processes and minerals with a smile. Took this with the paleontology class, I recommend that combo.
Date published: 2017-04-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not a Rock Star I love geology. While good content and the basics are often included in the various lectures, it is more often buried within mundane rambling. Any time a speaker says "Let's talk about.......x ....", expect lots of words but not a lot of teaching. This course has not lived up to its "billing".
Date published: 2017-03-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Beware the physics I would assume that he knows his chemistry and geology, although I now have my doubts. His attempts at explaining the physics of geologic processes is at best simple-minded and in many cases just down right wrong. He implies Aristotelian physics when discussing mass wasting. Forces result in acceleration, not motion. Such statements produce doubts about other material. This course should be replaced with a more credible option.
Date published: 2017-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Beginning Course in Geology So far I have watched the first four lectures and am enjoying them greatly. The instructor is very enthusiastic about the material and presents it in a manner that is both entertaining and informative. He uses common real-life examples to illustrate geological principles, which helps to make understanding more intuitive. I have had a fair amount of exposure to geology in the past but I have learned some interesting new facts that make this course worthwhile.
Date published: 2017-02-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Gets better as it moves along I initially thought this course rather dry and dull. But persistence paid off. The lectures improved markedly as it went along so that there was a real excitement (echoed in the material and the presentation) of the last half. So much of the early material about rocks etc. was basic chemistry that if you weren't really hot on the chemistry the first section was often a bit of a slog. More my deficiency than that of the presenter, who knew his stuff and seemed to really try to give some energy to the material. Maybe the heavy plate tectonics of the last half was what energized everything. In any case I recommend the course, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors and want some sense of where the hills and forests and streams come from.
Date published: 2016-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nature of Earth: Introduction to Geology I"m about one-third of the way through this course and am enjoying it very much. The professor knows his subject academically and from experience. He knows how to present the material in an interesting and relaxed manner at just the right level for students who want to have a practical understanding of geology but don't intend to become professional geologists.
Date published: 2016-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Never Got to Take Earth Science For some reason, the smart kids at my school skipped Earth Sciences and went straight to biology. What?? Why? And how sad for us! I loved this course (all these years later) and couldn't believe what I'd been missing during all my travels, having only had very basic geology study in school. I also adored Dr. Renton, whose intelligent presentation of the material (not dramatic, not high tech, but regular lecture atmosphere) demonstrated his love for the sciences, the Earth, and the course content. If I could go back to school now, I might choose to study environmental sciences. Great course!
Date published: 2016-09-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! I have taken 8 other courses before this one, trying out the different areas of study. But Geology has always been one of my favorite subjects, so I was really looking forward to this one. And it did not disappoint. Professor Renton was thoroughly engaging, very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and humorous. I really enjoyed his speaking style, never once feeling he was just reading off a prompter. It's always more enjoyable to listen to someone who not only knows the subject, but loves the subject. Although somewhat familiar with the basics of Geology, I still learned something new or better understood something, in every lecture. With this course being over 10 years old, it could use some updates in the last lecture. But other than that, I felt the content was excellent, and it was presented in a clear and understandable way. Definitely left me wanting more. I hope someday he gives us a follow-up course to delve a little deeper into this fascinating subject. I loved this Intro to Geology, Professor Renton’s presentation, and would highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2016-08-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course I enjoyed this course and certainly learned a lot. His focus was a little different than I expected and I would like to have had more information to help me understand local geological features as opposed to some of the global topics he discussed, but it was without question an interesting and informative course. The presenter's style was a little different for sure, but once I got used to it I enjoyed the change of pace. Well worth the time and money I invested in it.
Date published: 2016-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome course! I love geology because it is hands on. The professor has a very down to earth approach for presenting the material. I love it.
Date published: 2016-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Course I am not quite finished with this course - I am slowing it down so I won't have to finish. Dr Renton is a great teacher. He makes his points clear with humor, examples and simple charts.
Date published: 2016-06-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A Huge Disappointment The poor students in professor Renton's classes - what a bust! His lectures are boring, the information content is minimal, there are precious few videos, pictures and graphs to supplement his lectures (I could image many not given). And he presents in a very non-scientific manner. How would you feel about a professor who explains things with "...they say..."? Who's "they"? If you can't do better at citing sources than "they say", you don't belong in this project regardless of your title. The Great Courses needs to find a replacement for Professor Renton and redo this "Introduction to Geology". This course pales in comparison to a course like Alex Filippenko's Introduction to Astronomy. One star = poor, but it deserves no stars = awful.
Date published: 2016-05-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Geology or Chemistry? Too much chemistry! I would not have bought this course had I known that it contained so much chemistry. We have enjoyed other “Great Courses” but have not been able to get even half way through this one. Is it possible to teach geology without such a strong emphasis on chemistry?
Date published: 2016-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course - Fun and Real Science I recently decided to spread my interest in natural things to rocks, minerals and gems. I wanted to understand the basic geology that underlies the formation and presentation of rocks and minerals instead of just memorizing the qualities of each mineral. Nothing I read could pull it all together for me in a way that made sense. John Renton does a fabulous job of presenting introductory geology principles in a way that is interesting, sometimes amusing, and best of all, understandable. Be prepared to understand how the landscape got to be the way it is, and why it continues to change; why electrons from some elements join to make certain minerals and how this all ties into the kinds of soil we have for growing grass; aquifers - what they are and how wells work; and so many more topics. The diagrams help with understanding the tougher content; and themes are repeated or show up in multiple lectures, building upon each other. The only thing that could have improved the course was to show real-world examples of every type of land mass or formation, almost every time it is introduced or referenced. Many of had pictures, but not all. It would also be helpful if some of the charts and diagrams where included in the course guide. However you can get all of them in John Renton's textbook which is included in suggested readings. I am already using some of the information from the course as I start to collect and search for rocks. I have found much of the information about aquifers, volcanos and earthquakes has helped me when we have world events. The last two classes are a sales pitch for increased use of coal. They are interesting, but they are already outdated because of the use of oil sands and fracking. I would recommend this course to anyone who has an interest in Geology.
Date published: 2016-02-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Worst course ever Not only is this not a college level course, it is so full of scientific inaccuracies as to be unbearable. Save your money and time.
Date published: 2016-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Impressive! I took "Beginning Geology" back in my first year in college and found it very interesting, but I did not pursue the subject any further and wish I had. Now I have this course to investigate what I liked so much then and find I am already enjoying it now. Love the professor and see why he received so many awards for his teaching.
Date published: 2016-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology Instructor was excellent, easy to follow and understand. I wish I had him for a class when I was in school...
Date published: 2016-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course I am up to lecture nine of this course and, thus far, have very much enjoyed them. The professor's presentation is excellent as is the content.
Date published: 2016-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Very Useful Refresher I bought this course as a refresher to my Intro Geology course from 1980. There was additional info on soils that I had never learned, or certainly didn't recall. Just a great presentation.
Date published: 2016-01-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pretty Good I enjoyed the course and I learned a great deal about geology that I didn't know. I liked his style.
Date published: 2016-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting I really enjoyed this course. The professor was very engaged in the material.
Date published: 2016-01-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Nature of the Earth Of the many Great Courses titles that I have, this is probably the most under-whelming. The Wysession course--How the Earth Works-- is a better and outstanding geology alternative.
Date published: 2015-11-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Stuff If You Stick With It If I buy a course, I watch the entire thing even it's terrible. After all, there's a chance it will get better. This course started with two of the worst lectures I've seen. It is clear that Renton is completely unable to explain how the universe and the solar system formed. At just about every opportunity, he gets things wrong. Really, really amazing. But, once he starts talking about geology in lecture 3, it gets much better and continues that way until the last two lectures. Lecture 35 is about the economics of coal. Frankly, I am much more interested in the geology of coal. The last lecture, on the economics of petroleum should also have been the geology of petroleum. Frankly, the course would be significantly improved without the first two and last two lectures. Many reviewers didn't like Renton's avuncular presentation style. I found it to be ok. What I didn't like was how much he used his hands to illustrate things when a picture or a graphic would have been much more understandable. I like the way Renton covered the water table and the effects of cutting through hills for roads and how wells work. I also like the detailed explanations of how the minerals form and then the conditions under which they change. There really is good stuff here - you just have to get to it! I watched this course immediately prior to watching Wysession's course How the Earth Works. (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. Renton'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 interest you most. 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 interest in plate tectonics and volcanoes.
Date published: 2015-10-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Professor Needs to Refresh His Memory Professor John Renton seems lost at times, and even admits that he doesn't know how some of the topics of the course work. He appears confused about astronomy. At one terrible point, he actually says that Meteor Crater in Arizona is 600 miles deep! How did nobody catch this?
Date published: 2015-09-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Hopefully a professor would know the subject well. After listening to the first three lectures I very nearly demanded my money back. The professor profoundly expressed his lack of knowledge about the formation of the solar system, and in fact made many inaccurate statements. Unfortunately, the professor made it a point time and again to express his own lack of knowledge of the subject, lecture after lecture. Repeating that phrase again and again, I started wanting a qualified expert on the field to step forward and present the rest of the lectures. Unfortunately I was disappointed. I buy The Great Courses to have access to people who can inform me on great ideas. Hearing the constant refrain that this professor doesn't know, but according to someone else "such and such" never instilled confidence in the material he was presenting. I'm thankful that having lived in places such as California's earthquake zone, Hawaii's volcanic zone, Virginia's Appalachian mountains, I was well-informed on much of the subject, and I did in fact learn significantly more detail, but I was left by the end of the course wishing that TGC had hired a different professor for this course.
Date published: 2015-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great basic overview Loved the course and hated being pulled away from the lectures. He started from the beginning of time and gave a great and simple explanation of how we got where we are and potential impact on where we are going. Constructive Criticism: The first 35 lectures were outstanding, with all being both timely and up to date. Lecture 36 desperately requires update due to the advent of the Shale Oil/Gas boom in the USA. Peak oil may still be relevant but the curve to determine when it will peak is in great question today. Likewise, shale is now a valuable reservoir and may make the USA mostly energy independent for decades. Ethanol as a fuel consumes food (corn) so with the resurgence of production of oil and gas in the USA.
Date published: 2015-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simple but enlightening explanations I have always found geology boring, but after several summers hiking in Alaska I had started to get more curious about the origins and ongoing changes in the mountain-scapes I've come to know. Professor Renton is an excellent teacher: his command of the material is obvious from (1) his logical organization of the material, (2) his ability to deliver hours of lectures without use of any notes, and (3) his explanatory style...he always uses the simplest, but most accurate, word in any given situation. He also has a subtle, dry sense of humor that keeps the lectures lively and engaging. I found myself unable to put this course down, watching 3-4 hours a day despite having plenty of other things to do. I've learned more than I expected to not only about "big-picture" topics like plate tectonics and mountain orogeny, but also more practical, day-to-day things such as why different types of plants flourish in different parts of the country and how to construct a retaining wall that will last many years.
Date published: 2015-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Introduction to Geology I have found Professor Renton's course to be really outstanding. Though I took Geology in college, it was a long time ago, and I remembered having difficulty with some of the topics. Professor Renton made each lecture and topic interesting and coherent; the graphs and charts were especially useful for me (I had the DVD version). I had to concentrate, and then was very pleased that I could understand references to earlier materials in later lectures. The casual presentation and lack of a rushed pace kept me focused throughout. Material I'd expected to find boring was actually fascinating (plate tectonics, etc.) when put into the larger context, as Renton does. I would not classify him as an "environmentalist", though he does emphasize the significance of groundwater as a non-renewable resource that we have been squandering due to lack of knowledge and motivation to conserve. Since he is based in West Virginia, and has worked for the coal industry, he does not give any particularly strong critiques of the use of fossil fuels. However, that information is readily available everywhere, and his non-critical approach just made me think more analytically about the gap between knowledge and action. Again, I came to really like Renton and to find him a knowledgable and engaging presenter who clearly loves his subject and enjoys making it come to life for us.
Date published: 2015-07-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wysession or Renton? Both are introductions to geology. Renton is about at a junior college level, Wysession somewhat higher. Renton has a folksy way of teaching which may sound ignorant at first, but it works well and makes the main points clear. Renton emphasizes practical things like soil and ground water while Wysession is more interested in plate tectonics. Snob appeal aside, you will learn about as much from one course as the other.
Date published: 2015-06-03
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