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Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology

Get a brilliant introduction into a truly fascinating and relevant topic in this course that teaches you the fundamentals of geology.
Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 204.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from I now understand the basics of geology! After a road trip through Colorado and Utah that left me profoundly amazed at the natural beauty, I realized how clueless I was regarding the basics of geology. So, I bought this course to learn some basics. In short, the course gave me an understanding of the fundamentals of geology, from plate tectonics to mountain formation, groundwater to earthquakes, stream erosion to glacial erosion. The teaching skills and enthusiasm of professor Renton made the course enjoyable and left me with a confidence that I had a basic understanding of the broad topic of geology.
Date published: 2021-12-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great lecturer Well. John Renton is a most engaging lecturer. Plain speaking, just the right amount of humour. He explains his subject exceptionally well and enables a clear understanding of the geological processes. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2021-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional Lecture and Course Material This course contained an exceptional amount of details. It exceeded his objectives for how students can utilize the information. I found the information on water and soil to be especially well prepared, and useful. His approach far exceeded that of other lectures I've had on the topics. It was so clearly presented and easy to understand. He is an exceptional lecturer!!!
Date published: 2021-06-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Poor presentation, some good content There are numerous reviews that give excellent reviews, and also a large number that rate the course poorly. If you can get through the first approximately one third of the course then you will likely find stronger justification for the higher scores. The content improves considerably once one gets past the cosmological content, that is clearly outside the presenter's areas of expertise, and past what is often abstract theory. The quality of the presentation in these first lectures really is poor and fully deserves a low score. As an example, there are frequent times when the lecturer admits he does not know something. This lack of knowledge can be something as trivial as admitting that he does not know whether "Plinian" eruptions are named after Pliny the Elder or Pliny the Younger, or an incorrect guess at the centre of gravity of a cone, but it extends into much deeper levels of ignorance and error. Not knowing which Pliny is which is excusable, but there are far too many similar instances that the frequency is unacceptable. Why could he not be bothered to research his material more thoroughly beforehand? As another example of poor preparation, I lost count of how many times he said "I want you to picture in your mind ..." Well, no! Why can't you provide a simple graphic? The lack of images, photos, and examples in these early lectures makes much of the material here exceptionally dull, and those lectures sometimes degenerate into mindless listings. However, from about half-way through the section on volcanoes, the material becomes far more interesting, and the presentation improves considerably. The overall impression is that the lecturer was required to present a comprehensive course on geology, but only really cared about part of it. My recommendation - if you have any background at all in geology, don't put yourself through lectures 1-10; if you don't have any background, put lectures 1-10 on as fast a setting as you can to still comprehend.
Date published: 2021-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Useful and enjoyable Only half-way through the course and I was able to identify pillow lavas on the south coast of Anglesey. This course is going to add so much to my walks and other adventures (I live in Snowdonia in Wales....). I like the lecturer's friendly and accessible style, too.
Date published: 2021-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Foundational Course! After taking the, "Wonders of the National Parks: A Geology of North America," course I realized how little I actually knew about Geology. Professor Renton's Course, "The Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology," has filled in many gaps in my knowledge in through very clear lecture presentations. Professor Renton is also a teacher who uses great illustrations and humor in his presentations and are great fun to listen to. I will listen through this his course a second time and then listen through, "Wonders of the National Parks," a second time looking forward the understanding and appreciating that presentation by Ford Cochran in a deeper way!
Date published: 2021-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Time Well spent This is a practical, easy to absorb and useful course. Yes it may be a little outdated, however it also gives an insight into thinking, attitudes and options just a few years ago. I am better equipped to understand why the natural world looks like it does, and how rivers, etc. "work". The prof has a great, easy to listen to style.
Date published: 2021-03-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hold your Interest This course really holds the student's interest. The instructor has a quirky way of teaching that makes rocks interesting! He is the type of instructor that you would love to go on a field trip with. The course is loaded with practical examples from everyday life and the world around us. Some of the content is a little dated due to the fact that this course came out some time ago. Nevertheless it is a good buy. Thank you
Date published: 2020-12-17
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Geology is everywhere. Would you like to know how to read the rocks and landscape, and how to make sense of debates over natural resources? These 36 half-hour lectures introduce you to the study of minerals, rocks, soils, and the processes that operate on them through time. A science that is surprisingly intuitive, accessible, and concrete, geology has the excitement of a never-ending detective story, replete with clues to the complex past, and future, of our planet.


John J. Renton
John J. Renton

My goal as a teacher, be it in the classroom or by way of my Great Course, is to have my students develop an understanding and appreciation of the geology that surrounds them every day and wherever they may travel.


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 Section of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the Outstanding Teacher Award from the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, and the Outstanding Teacher Award from the West Virginia University Foundation. Professor Renton is the author of the textbook, Planet Earth. He has also authored or coauthored 45 papers and has been part of more than $4 million of coal-related research grants.

By This Professor

Origin of the Universe

01: 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....

31 min
Origin of the Solar System

02: 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....

30 min
Continental Drift

03: 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....

30 min
Plate Tectonics

04: 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....

30 min
The Formation of Minerals

05: 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....

30 min
Classification of Minerals

06: 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....

29 min
The Identification of Minerals

07: 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....

31 min
Kinds of Rocks

08: 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....

30 min
Sedimentary Rocks

09: 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....

31 min
Metamorphic Rocks

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....

31 min
Volcanic Activity

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....

29 min
Phases of Volcanic Activity

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....

30 min
The Hawaiian Islands and Yellowstone Park

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....

29 min
Mass Wasting-Gravity at Work

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....

29 min
Mass Wasting Processes

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....

30 min

16: Weathering

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....

31 min
Soils and the Clay Minerals

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....

29 min
Climate and the Type of Soils

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....

31 min
Streams-The Major Agent of Erosion

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)....

31 min
Sculpting of the Landscape

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....

29 min
Stream Erosion in Arid Regions

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....

30 min
Ice Sculpts the Final Scene

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....

31 min

23: Groundwater

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....

31 min
The Production of Groundwater

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....

28 min
Karst Topography

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....

31 min
Groundwater Contamination

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....

30 min
Rock Deformation

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....

30 min
The Geologic Structures

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....

31 min
Faults and Joints

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....

31 min

30: Earthquakes

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....

30 min
Damage from Earthquakes

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....

30 min

32: Seismology

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....

31 min
The Formation of Mountains

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....

30 min
Orogenic Styles

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....

31 min
Economic Geology of Coal

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....

29 min
Economic Geology of Petroleum

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....

32 min