Prior Course Offerings @ Colby College

The Geology Department’s mission states that we desire our students to graduate with: a demonstrable proficiency in their chosen discipline; an acquired proficiency in critical assessment and core science, mathematical, and computing concepts; an ability to design and execute investigations, and formulate solutions to significant problems; experience working with a multi-disciplinary approach to large global problems and grand challenges; the skills to effectively analyze data, write effectively, and communication their findings to both professional and general audiences; and a maturation to work independently and in teams on significant projects.  Professor Gastaldo’s courses focus on developing student skills, and research results from class projects are presented at national professional meetings, where appropriate.


Extinction:Earth's LessonsExtinctions is a writing intensive course designed for first-year students with an interest in science. The course satisfies the English Composition (115) and Natural Science, non-laboratory distribution requirements for graduation.

Students develop an understanding of and the ability to transfer acquired scientific knowledge through writing of a critical issue facing society – extinction.  Topics explored include: (1) fossilization; (2) evolutionary and ecological theory; (3) the application of paleontological data to understand ecological response to climate change, perturbation, and extinction mechanisms; and (4) how these deep time lessons scale to a planet dominated by man.  Exercises are designed to  (1) gain a conceptual framework on how science works, (2) increase a student’s abilities in written and oral communication, (3) develop constructive critical thinking and argumentation skills, and (4) learn the fundamentals of discovery, evaluation, and use of appropriate resources.


Kentani Rondavaal, Eastern Cape Province, South AfricaDeep Time Africa is a project-based curriculum designed to accomplish, simultaneously, several objectives.  Students increase their understanding of, and sophistication in, geological problem-solving by using textbook and pertinent primary resources to study the effects of Witwateraand gold, mass extinction, diamonds, and human evolution on resource and environmental aspects of South African society.

After completing the four projects in this course, engaged students have developed an understanding for processes controlling Earth Systems, the products or results of these processes, the impact(s) and influence(s) that these products or processes have had in deep time and at the present, and what lessons these teach society.  The problem-solving nature of the course uses data drawn from diverse scientific disciplines, requiring students to communicate their solutions effectively in both an oral and written form.

 GE142 — Deep Time Planet Earth (formerly: Deciphering Earth History)

Denver Museum of Natural History, Creataceous SwampThe conceptual foundations for understanding Earth’s history including deep time, sedimentary systems, fossils, and evolutionary theory, are applied to the principal intervals of the geological record.  Case studies that include primary literature discussions are used to gain insight into the interrelated nature of the biological, chemical, and physical world, and the way in which the planet has changed and operated since its formation over the past 4.6 billion years.  Students will leave with both theoretical and practical experiences in the classroom, laboratory, and field components of the course.

GE256 — Sedimentology & Stratigraphy (formerly GE356)

Middle Permian stratigraphy @ Oudberg Pass, South AfricaThis upper division elective course uses a workshop approach that is hierarchically designed to teach students how to apply sedimentary rocks in their interpretation of Earth’s stratigraphic record. The course focuses on the development of a fundamental conceptual understanding of the sediments and resulting rock types found in Earth’s sedimentary successions. These classification schemes are used to build a knowledge of process-based models that reflect the features found in common environments in which these sediment types occur. Once developed, these models are applied to select examples in the stratigraphic record in which both physical and remote-sensed (petrophysical) data are introduced and used to propose interpretations of past Earth conditions. Students leave the course with the ability to evaluate the sedimentary rock record over space and time using presently accepted approaches and models.

Student-project presentations from this course at professional meetings include:

  • Allen, J.P., Lansdale, A.L., Bierwirth, M.S., Dushman, B.E., Kaferle, A.M., Nesbeda, R., Ossolinski, J.E., Selover, R.W., and Gastaldo, R.A., 2003, Sediment Characteristics of Messalonskee Lake, Belgrade Lakes Region, Central Maine: Geological Society of America, Abstracts with Program, v. 35, no. 3, p. 72.


GE298 - Altered States LogoA course designed to understand that Earth has experienced different climate states over its 4.6 billion year history, and the current trend towards a warmer planet is not without precedent.   Historical climate states are evalulated through paleobiological, geochemical, and sedimentological proxies, and deep time trends up to the Pliocene are explored using primary literature, grand syntheses, and group projects.   Subsequently, the focus shifts to the Pleistocene (2 Ma) and Holocene (10 ka) where climate states between glacial and interglacial intervals are studied.  Reading and writing assignments are integral to this lecture and discussion-based course. A version of this course was taught to the 2013 Honours students as the first module in their program at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.

GE351 — Record of Life (formerly GE251)

Chinese Cretaceous CarnivoreOne of Geology’s core-curriculum courses, Record of Life uses original research as an educational platform during which students learn how to acquire and assess scientific data, reference and synthesize primary literature, and justify their arguments and conclusions in both written and oral forms. Students leave the course with a greater understanding of the processes responsible for a fossil record, its classification, the use of these data in evolutionary theory, the dynamics of individuals and populations or organisms over space and time, and the application of paleontological data to understand ecological response to climate change, perturbation, and extinction mechanisms.

Student-project presentations from this course at professional meetings include:

  • Larsen, D.J., Goss, J.M., Humphreys, A.E., Russoniello, C.J., Weeks, S.S., and Gastaldo, R.A., 2005, The Paleoecology and Depositional Setting of a Silurian Mixed Siliciclastic System: Ripogenus Dam, Maine: GSA Abstracts with Program, v. 37, no. 1, p. 15.
  • Colin, E.D., Daly, R.G., Delano, C.L., Grocke, S.B., Hunt, C.G., Kilian, T.M., Newbury, S.S., Smith, A.M., and Gastaldo, R.A., 2008, Taphonomic and paleoecologic aspects of the Early Devonian (Pragian) Tarrantine Formation near Jackman, Maine: Geological Society Abstracts with Program, Abstract 249-6.
  • Charsky, A.M., Beltran, J.O., Knight, C.L., Lanphier, H.W., Malick, G.T., Mathes, S.B., McCarthy, A.L., Oakes, J. A. , Schwarz, J.J., and Gastaldo, R.A., 2009, Middle Devonian (Emsian-Eifelian) mixed terrestrial, estuarine, and marine-invertebrate assemblages from the Trout Valley Formation, Baxter State Park, Maine: Geological Society of America, Abstracts with Program, v. 41, n. 7, p. 102.

GE 391 — GeoSeminar

Geology SeminarInvited guests from academia, industry, and government present lectures on topics of current interest in all areas of the geosciences.  Seminars  expose students to the wealth of geological knowledge about all aspects of planet Earth, provide them with career-path models, and begin their professional network with former Colby students, their employers, and potential future colleagues.

 GE491/492 — Readings in Karoo Basin Geology

Karoo Basin Permian-Triassic stratigraphyUndergraduates engaged in Professor Gastaldo’s research group focused on the Permian-Triassic extinction in South Africa enroll in a one-semester readings course where selected literature from primary sources are presented and discussed in preparation for their senior capstone project.


 GE493 — SENIOR SEMINAR: Out of the Icehouse: Into the Greenhouse

Carboniferous_GlaciationAs part of Colby’s Writing Initiative, the Department of Geology now offers a culminating writing intensive course for all majors.  Dr. Gastaldo’s course focuses on the only other time in Earth history–the Carboniferous to Permian–when the planet was covered in polar ice caps and underwent climate state transitions from a Mississippian-aged Greenhouse to a Pennsylvanian-aged Icehouse with a subsequent return to a Permian-aged Greenhouse, which leads up to the largest Mass Extinction: the End Permian Event. This readings intensive course involves group projects focused on the Earth Systems that operated under one of these climate states, in an attempt to integrate published research into a coherent understanding of how the cryosphere (ice), hydrosphere (water), atmosphere (gasses), lithosphere (continents), and biosphere (life) interacted during this critical interval in time.


Independent Research in the Karoo BasinAll Geology majors undertake a culminating research intensive experience, choosing either to pursue an Capstone Independent Study project or Honors Thesis.  Here, students apply skills learned in both field- and laboratory-based course work to solve an original problem in some aspect of a geosciences problem at various scales.  A final written report  and formal presentation in a professional context result in the successful completion of this course. Honors Theses require students to engage in an original project with the expectation that results will be of significantly high caliber to warrant publication after review by committee.

Student projects and outcomes are presented in the PAST STUDENT RESEARCH page.