Minerals and Rocks in the Environment – EPSc 336  (Spring 2018)


Course Description:  This is a combined rock and mineral course with focus on environmental issues and applications. We will introduce and discuss mineralogic and petrologic concepts relevant to environmental geoscience topics.  The course will provide fundamentals of mineralogy and crystallography, key mineral groups, and foundations of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rock systems. We will address the mineralogy of environmental systems such as soils, marine environments, mines, and radioactive wastes. The course will also provide an overview and lab demo of analysis methods used for environmental geoscience applications.  We will plan a full-day field trip for one day in early April, schedules permitting.


Note for EES students: This course or Earth Materials (EPS 352) is one of the requirements for EES majors and is one of the possible electives for minors.  Please note that only one or the other (336 or 352) can be taken for credit toward the major/minor.  EPSc 336 is designed at a more introductory level than Environmental Mineralogy (EPS 430).  For those students intending to take EPS 430, Earth Materials (EPS 352) is prerequisite.


Pre-requisites: EPSc 201 Earth and the Environment, Chem 111A or AP Chem score of 4; or permission of instructor.


Class time: Two 1.5-hour class periods per week with several of the regularly scheduled class periods spent doing labs (mineral and rock identification, analysis methods).  Class will be divided between lecture, lab, and case studies involving environmental issues.


Main Textbook: Earth Materials, Hefferan and O’Brien, 2010


Supplemental materials: We will use a “course pack” that draws upon recent, relevant issues, primarily using articles from the journal “Elements” supplemented by extracts from the following books: Environmental Mineralogy, Mineralogical Society Series, 2000; Environmental Mineralogy II (Vaughan and Wogelius, Ed.) EMU Notes in Mineralogy 13, 2013; Soil Mineralogy with Environmental Applications, SSSA Book Series 7 (Dixon and Shulze, Ed.), 2002; Minerals, Their Constitution and Origin, Wenk and Bulakh, 2004; and Geology and the Environment, Pipkin & Trent.


Term Project/Case Study: Topic to be agreed upon by student and professor.  Students will research a specific topic and write a short (~10 page) paper, to be presented in class during the semester.


Exams: 3, 15% each

Homework Assignments: 25%  (~ 5 assignments, 5% each)

Term Project: 15% 

 In class brief: 5%

Class Participation: 10%


Example Syllabus from a previous semester


Course Outline: Minerals and Rocks in the Environment








Importance of mineralogy in the environment, chemical classification, bonding, simple structures

Homework 1


Crystal structures and morphologies, crystal chemical principles

Assign Paper Topics


Isotopes, Crystal growth and aggregations, solid solutions, phase transitions

Homework 2


Crystallography, crystal systems, analytical methods for environmental mineralogy

Lab: examples – X-ray Diff., E-Probe, Las. Raman Spec.


Physical and optical properties of minerals, mineral identification

Mineral Lab

Exam 1


Systematic mineralogy: rock-forming silicates and oxides

Homework 3


Systematic mineralogy:  The “-ides” and “-ates”, clay minerals, zeolites, and native elements



Igneous rocks, volcanic systems, landforms, and deposits, and hazards

Homework 4


Sedimentary rocks, sedimentary environments and cycles, sediment dispersal and deposition



Weathering, sediment production, soil processes

Exam 2


Mineralogy of key environmental systems – soils, marine sediments, aerosols

Homework 5


Metamorphism, ore forming processes, industrial minerals and rocks



Applied mineralogy & petrology – economic deposits, cements, mining wastes, remediation



Case studies: minerals, rocks, & environmental issues

Student presentation briefs


Geologic systems and containment of environmental contaminants from landfills, radioactive wastes

Term Paper due


Exam Week

Exam 3


Term paper topics, examples


Water, hydrated minerals, and water-mineral interactions in soils

Zeolites, ion exchange, and their use in waste control

Phyllosilicate clays and their role in the environment

Radionuclide waste containment

Sulfide mining and acid mine wastes

Phosphate-induced metal stabilization

Shale-hosted gas and hydraulic fracturing

Tar sand mining and remediation

Clathrate hydrates and storage of greenhouse gases

Acid neutralization in the environment (carbonates)

Coal power: mining, processing, aerosols, contamination issues

Volcanic materials and associated environmental issues

Mineralogical controls on chemical mobility during weathering

Sand: Are we using it all up?

Environmental indicators in martian mineralogy