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The World's Greatest Geological Wonders

Tour Earth's great diversity and beauty in this awe-inspiring course that visits the most amazing natural wonders in the world and explains the geology that underlies them.
The World's Greatest Geological Wonders is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 380.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Fun, but a lot of off topic After the first disk the presentation diverges into human issues - flooding, global warming, flooding deaths - it would be better would it stay on topic
Date published: 2023-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Great Course I LOVED every minute of it! ********************************
Date published: 2023-02-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great illustrations As the course progressed, I became more and more delighted with learning how geology had created the beautiful sights we see. The examples, charts, pictures and experiments enhanced my understanding. It was a journey around the world well worth taking.
Date published: 2023-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quite an eye opener! This course is not an armchair tour of geological wonders. For each of the sites he has selected, Dr. Wysession explains the geological forces which have created the formation or phenomenon, and then relates them to forces which have created one or more of the other sites covered in the course. Each of his lectures ends with a list and brief discussion of his "top five" similar sites around the world. His bibliography of non-technical books is also very helpful for branching off into further study. This course really gives you a feeling for the diversity of the geology of our wonderful planet Earth!
Date published: 2023-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Series I loved each and every lecture. I wish he could do another 36.
Date published: 2023-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Global and Topical Perspective This is a phenomenal course that serves multiple purposes. First, Dr. Wysession combines his command of geology with his enthusiasm for the geologic wonders covered in the course. The end result is a course that seeks to explain the origins, site, and situation of the wonder while providing the basic science required to understand how the geologic wonder formed. Throughout the course, Dr. Wysession often uses simple demonstrations that illustrate the science. Second, each lesson focuses on a unique wonder but includes a “Top 5” that identifies similar wonders across the globe. Third, it would be a disservice to label the course as a geology course because it encompasses the broader field of geoscience. When necessary, the description of a given geologic wonder include ideas from geography, meteorology, climatology, oceanography, or astronomy. Indeed, the last lecture is devoted to planetary wonders. Finally, one might consider the course as a source for a bucket list of places to visit in real time or virtually. I made some additions and revisions to my own bucket list. As with any Great Course or any course in general, it is important to consider the scope of the course as designed. This is an excellent course within its defined scope. For example, this course is not an introduction to geology even though it includes topics that might be covered in an introduction to geology course. If you are looking for detailed petrology and mineralogy (rocks and minerals) you will not find it here. It is also worth noting that the course is not a “great tour” of the geologic wonders that includes extensive videos ala other courses or those found on popular cable networks or streaming channels. That said, a quick search often leads to a video that will do that as a supplement to the lecture. There is a major error in the Bay of Fundy lecture. It first appears on a map in the lecture linking the Bay of Fundy to Newfoundland. The associated provinces are New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and not Newfoundland. I thought that this might be a graphics error at first because Newfoundland does not appear in the Guidebook for this lecture, but Dr. Wysession refers to Newfoundland in the lecture when he means Nova Scotia. This annoyed me more than it would have because I have ancestral ties to Nova Scotia and to this area of Nova Scotia specifically. I looked for errors in place identification in other lectures and did not find anything this dramatic. We can always debate esoteric details. Nova Scotia as Newfoundland is not an esoteric detail, but I think that I think it has more to do with the graphic than it does with the Dr. Wysession thinking that Newfoundland is Nova Scotia. There is too much to enjoy about this course for this error to lower five stars to four stars. We all have a moment when lecturing. It happens.
Date published: 2023-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Presentation I can't say enough good things about this course. I wasn't even aware of some of these places. Dr. Wysession does an wonderful job of presenting information on a subject he loves and can create this love in his audience.
Date published: 2022-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Pace and Fantastic Pictures Great combination of science, pictures, and narration that kept it very relavent and interesting
Date published: 2022-11-27
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Geological wonders are like great works of art. They are impressive, beautiful, mysterious, and surprising. Whether you are planning your next vacation or exploring the world from home, you owe it to your planet to know the places that make it exceptional throughout the solar system. The World's Greatest Geological Wonders: 36 Spectacular Sites is your gateway to an unrivaled adventure. In 36 lavishly illustrated lectures that are suitable for nonscientists and geology enthusiasts alike, Professor Michael E. Wysession of Washington University in St. Louis introduces you to Earth's most outstanding geological destinations. By the time you complete this course, you will have experienced more than 200 different geological wonders in nearly 120 countries.


Michael E. Wysession

The more you know and understand the natural world, the greater will be your love and appreciation for it.


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 waves. These images have provided scientists with insights into the makeup of Earth and its evolution throughout history. Professor Wysession is the coauthor of An Introduction to Seismology, Earthquakes, and Earth Structure; the lead author of Physical Science: Concepts in Action; and the primary writer for the texts Earth Science, Earth's Interior, Earth's Changing Surface, and Earth's Waters. Professor Wysession received a Science and Engineering Fellowship from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, a National Science Foundation Presidential Faculty Fellowship, and fellowships from the Kemper and Lily Foundations. He has received the Innovation Award of the St. Louis Science Academy and the Distinguished Faculty Award of Washington University. In 2005, Professor Wysession had a Distinguished Lectureship with the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology and the Seismological Society of America. In 2014, Wysession received the inaugural Ambassador Award of the American Geophysical Union.

By This Professor

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The World's Greatest Geological Wonders


Santorini-Impact of Volcanic Eruptions

01: Santorini-Impact of Volcanic Eruptions

Learn Professor Wysession's criteria for choosing more than 200 different geologic wonders in nearly 120 countries. Then explore the first on his list: the beautiful Greek island of Santorini, which is the relic of a volcanic eruption that had a profound effect on the ancient Mediterranean world.

33 min
Mount Fuji-Sleeping Power

02: Mount Fuji-Sleeping Power

Turn from eruptions to volcanoes themselves-in particular, Mount Fuji in Japan, a sacred site whose nearly perfect cone shape is a popular subject in Japanese art. Investigate the origin of volcanoes such as Mount Fuji and the special conditions that produce their sturdy symmetrical cones.

33 min
Galapagos Rift-Wonders of Mid-Ocean Ridges

03: Galapagos Rift-Wonders of Mid-Ocean Ridges

Continue your study of phenomena associated with plate tectonics by visiting the Galapagos Islands, made famous by Charles Darwin. This magnificent archipelago is on a volcanic hotspot near a mid-ocean ridge, formed by moving tectonic plates. Natural wonders abound in the region, both above and below water.

32 min
African Rift Valley-Cracks into the Earth

04: African Rift Valley-Cracks into the Earth

Visit the African Rift Valley, a mid-ocean ridge in the making. From the Red Sea to Mount Kilimanjaro, tectonic forces are splitting Africa apart, forming a new ocean in the process. This impressive valley is also the site of many fossil discoveries relating to early humans.

29 min
Erta Ale-Compact Fury of Lava Lakes

05: Erta Ale-Compact Fury of Lava Lakes

Zoom in on a remarkable feature of the African Rift Valley: the lava lake at Erta Ale in Ethiopia. This seething cauldron of molten rock is the oldest of the world's five active lava lakes, and it replicates on a small scale the complex process of plate tectonics.

27 min
Burgess Shale-Rocks and the Keys to Life

06: Burgess Shale-Rocks and the Keys to Life

Chart the evolution of life revealed in the extraordinary fossils of the Burgess Shale in British Columbia. This mountainside quarry records the proliferation of new organisms-both familiar and bizarre-that followed a mass extinction half a billion years ago.

31 min
The Grand Canyon-Earth's Layers

07: The Grand Canyon-Earth's Layers

Read the incredible story told in the mile-deep layers of the Grand Canyon. Investigate the canyon's formation and its connection to the opening of the Gulf of California and the birth of the San Andreas Fault. Also consider what gives the canyon its extraordinary visual effect.

31 min
The Himalayas-Mountains at Earth's Roof

08: The Himalayas-Mountains at Earth's Roof

What makes the highest mountains in the world so high? Follow the events that created Mount Everest and the rest of the Himalayan range on the vast Tibetan Plateau. Learn the role of the plateau in cooling the entire planet over the last 60 million years.

30 min
The Ganges Delta-Earth's Fertile Lands

09: The Ganges Delta-Earth's Fertile Lands

Much of the rock eroded from the Himalayas ends up in the Ganges River delta, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. Learn how a delta forms and how the Ganges is both life-sustaining and destructive-qualities that give it a religious significance for millions of people.

30 min
The Amazon Basin-Lungs of the Planet

10: The Amazon Basin-Lungs of the Planet

The Amazon River collects rainfall from a huge region, called the Amazon basin. Trace the basin's extensive network of tributaries, which produce 20% of the fresh water that flows into the ocean. Furthermore, the basin's lush vegetation is responsible for 20% of all oxygen in the atmosphere.

31 min
Iguazu Falls-Thundering Waterfalls

11: Iguazu Falls-Thundering Waterfalls

Waterfalls are among nature's most beautiful spectacles, and the most impressive falls form under unusual geological conditions. Along the border of Brazil and Argentina, tour thundering Iguazu Falls, a display of 275 separate falls over a 1.5-mile span with individual falls up to 270 feet high. Learn their close connection to a hotspot on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

28 min
Mammoth Cave-Worlds Underground

12: Mammoth Cave-Worlds Underground

Water doesn't just flow on the surface; it also flows underground, carving caves in the process. The largest cave system in the world is Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Discover how groundwater excavated this network of passages that extends for at least 390 miles.

31 min
Cave of Crystals-Exquisite Caves

13: Cave of Crystals-Exquisite Caves

Focus on the spectacular shapes, such as stalagmites, stalactites, flowstones, and other cave features formed by minerals slowly precipitating from water. Then visit the recently discovered Cave of Crystals in Mexico, a science-fiction-like world with individual crystals up to 35 feet long.

30 min
Great Blue Hole-Coastal Symmetry in Sinkholes

14: Great Blue Hole-Coastal Symmetry in Sinkholes

Probe the mystery of the Great Blue Hole, an enormous submerged sinkhole ringed by a coral reef off the coast of Belize. Study the processes that create sinkholes, and investigate the nature of karst topography, which is produced by the erosion of limestone.

32 min
Ha Long Bay-Dramatic Karst Landscapes

15: Ha Long Bay-Dramatic Karst Landscapes

The picturesque limestone islands in Vietnam's Ha Long Bay are an example of mature karst topography. Discover how the bay's cone-shaped towers are related to the sinkholes in Lecture 14. The key to understanding their puzzling geology is to focus not on the rock that's there, but what's missing.

30 min
Bryce Canyon-Creative Carvings of Erosion

16: Bryce Canyon-Creative Carvings of Erosion

Continue your study of erosional features with Utah's Bryce Canyon, the densest display of weathered rock pinnacles, called hoodoos, anywhere in the world. Learn that Bryce Canyon isn't really a canyon because it hasn't been formed by a river. But then what created the hoodoos?

31 min
Uluru/Ayers Rock-Sacred Nature of Rocks

17: Uluru/Ayers Rock-Sacred Nature of Rocks

Go to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in Australia to inspect two popular attractions shaped by erosion: Ayres Rock, known locally as Uluru, and the Kata Tjuta rock domes. Trace the history of moving plates, rising and receding seas, and constant weathering that created these impressive structures.

32 min
Devils Tower-Igneous Enigmas

18: Devils Tower-Igneous Enigmas

Famous as the landing pad for aliens in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Devils Tower in Wyoming is an otherworldly geological formation. Discover how this massive tower of igneous columns developed. Along the way, investigate why nature loves hexagons.

31 min
Antarctica-A World of Ice

19: Antarctica-A World of Ice

Head south to a pristine, unearthly continent: Antarctica. Explore the varied geology and the complex behavior of the giant ice sheets that flow relentlessly toward the ocean. Among its attractions, Antarctica is a superb place to test techniques for exploring cold, dry environments such as Mars.

32 min
Columbia Glacier-Unusual Glacier Cycles

20: Columbia Glacier-Unusual Glacier Cycles

Witness the power of glaciers, which carry a continuous stream of ice and rock from the tops of mountain ranges down to the base-often to the sea, such as at Columbia Glacier in Alaska. Chart the rapid retreat of Columbia Glacier since 1980, which has been triggered by climate change.

30 min
Fiordland National Park-Majestic Fjords

21: Fiordland National Park-Majestic Fjords

Visit the stunning fjords of Fiordland National Park in New Zealand, focusing on the most famous of these flooded glacial valleys, Milford Sound. The drama of the landscape is matched by tumultuous tectonic forces that are slowly ripping New Zealand apart.

32 min
Rock of Gibraltar-Catastrophic Floods

22: Rock of Gibraltar-Catastrophic Floods

The Rock of Gibraltar marks the gateway from the Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean-a connection that has been closed on and off through recent geologic time. Explore the currents, catastrophic floods, and drastic sea-level changes that have occurred at the strait of Gibraltar and throughout the Mediterranean basin.

32 min
Bay of Fundy-Inexorable Cycle of Tides

23: Bay of Fundy-Inexorable Cycle of Tides

Why are the tides in Canada's Bay of Fundy exceptionally high? Probe the principles of tides-what causes them, why the times of high and low tide vary from day to day, and the peculiar geometry between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick that results in an extraordinary tidal range.

31 min
Hawaii-Volcanic Island Beauty

24: Hawaii-Volcanic Island Beauty

The Hawaiian Islands are part of the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Chain, which stretches 3,600 miles across the western Pacific Ocean. This feature is mostly straight, except for a curious sharp bend. Investigate the origin of the chain and the special qualities of its easternmost element: the big island of Hawaii.

31 min
Yellowstone-Geysers and Hot Springs

25: Yellowstone-Geysers and Hot Springs

What happens when a hotspot is beneath a continent? The answer is Yellowstone National Park, a wonderland of geysers and hot springs nestled in the gigantic caldera of a supervolcano. Tour the attractions of Yellowstone, and ponder the history and future of the hotspot that fuels it.

32 min
Kawah Ijen-World's Most Acid Lake

26: Kawah Ijen-World's Most Acid Lake

Imagine a place where steam is so acidic that it burns your lungs, where flaming, liquid sulfur condenses from that steam, and a turquoise-colored lake is filled with the equivalent of battery acid. This hellish place is the crater lake of Kawah Ijen on the island of Java in Indonesia.

32 min
Iceland-Where Fire Meets Ice

27: Iceland-Where Fire Meets Ice

Visit Iceland, a geologist's paradise where you can walk along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland is a hotspot that sits atop the plate boundary that divides North and South America from Europe and Africa. Here, volcanoes and glaciers-fire and ice-coexist.

28 min
The Maldives-Geologic Paradox

28: The Maldives-Geologic Paradox

Home to some of the world's most beautiful beaches, the Maldives in the Indian Ocean show the tranquil end-stage of ocean islands built on hotspots. The volcanoes beneath this coral reef archipelago are long since dormant, and the islands themselves barely rise above sea level.

27 min
The Dead Sea-Sinking and Salinity

29: The Dead Sea-Sinking and Salinity

Begin a series of lectures on desert regions by exploring the Dead Sea. Learn why this body of water on the border between Israel and Jordan is almost nine times saltier than the ocean and has the lowest elevation of any place on Earth.

31 min
Salar de Uyuni-Flattest Place on Earth

30: Salar de Uyuni-Flattest Place on Earth

Travel to the world's largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. Almost the size of Connecticut, Uyuni is the flattest place on the planet. When it gets a very thin layer of water, it becomes the world's largest mirror. Uyuni contains the world's largest reserve of lithium-should it be mined?

30 min
Namib/Kalahari Deserts-Sand Mountains

31: Namib/Kalahari Deserts-Sand Mountains

Contrast two of the world's most fascinating deserts, the Namib and Kalahari deserts in southern Africa. The Atlantic shoreline of the Namib Desert has been aptly named the Skeleton Coast. The Kalahari Desert includes the mighty Okavango River, which empties into the arid landscape and then disappears.

32 min
Siwa Oasis-Paradise amidst Desolation

32: Siwa Oasis-Paradise amidst Desolation

Located in the eastern Sahara Desert, Siwa is an island of water in a giant sea of sand. Investigate how an oasis with 1,000 springs can exist in one of the driest places on Earth. One clue is that the water beneath Siwa soaked into the ground more than 20 million years ago.

29 min
Auroras-Light Shows on the Edge of Space

33: Auroras-Light Shows on the Edge of Space

Investigate a stunning atmospheric phenomenon caused by events both inside Earth and in outer space. The shimmering colors of auroras result when particles from the solar wind are accelerated in Earth's magnetic field, which is generated by Earth's churning iron core.

32 min
Arizona Meteor Crater-Visitors from Outer Space

34: Arizona Meteor Crater-Visitors from Outer Space

Meteor Crater in Arizona is the best preserved of Earth's few remaining impact craters. Why does the moon have more than 500,000 craters at least as large? Explore what happens when extraterrestrial debris strikes Earth at escape-velocity speeds. A relatively small object can do a surprising amount of damage.

30 min
A Montage of Geologic Mini-Wonders

35: A Montage of Geologic Mini-Wonders

In an entertaining change of pace, watch a countdown of 10 geological wonders that are hard to classify, from number 10-the White Cliffs of Dover-to number 1-a geological mystery in Death Valley that would seem like a hoax if it weren't true.

31 min
Planetary Wonders-Out of This World

36: Planetary Wonders-Out of This World

Tour some of the amazing geological features beyond Earth, among them planet-circling lava flows on Venus and the solar system's largest volcano and canyon on Mars. Close with the hydrocarbon lakes on Saturn's moon Titan, proving that there is no end to geological wonders throughout the cosmos.

39 min