California Institute of Technology
Seismological Laboratory Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences



On this page you will find the Geophysics course list with short descriptions. Also, some classes will have a class website you can view.

Always check with the Option Representative for course changes and announcements. Consult the Caltech Catalog for a complete listing of courses.

Geophysics Option Courses/Course Websites 2015-2016

Ge 10. Frontiers in Geological and Planetary Sciences

2 units (2-0-0); second term. The course may be taken multiple times. Weekly seminar by a member of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences or a visitor to discuss a topic of his or her current research at an introductory level. The course is designed to introduce students to research and research opportunities in the division and to help students find faculty sponsors for individual research projects. Graded pass/fail. Instructors: Farley, Clayton.

Ge 11 abcd. Introduction to Earth and Planetary Sciences

9 units each term. Comprehensive, integrated overview of Earth and planets. Although designed as a sequence, any one term can be taken as a standalone course. Biologists are particularly welcome in Ge 11 b, as are physicists and astronomers in Ge/Ay 11 c.

  • a. Earth as a Planet. 9 units (3-3-3); first term. Systematic introduction to the physical and chemical processes that have shaped Earth as a planet over geological time, and the observable products of these processes—rock materials, minerals, land forms. Geophysics of Earth. Plate tectonics; earthquakes; igneous activity. Metamorphism and metamorphic rocks. Rock deformation and mountain building. Weathering, erosion, and sedimentary rocks. Evolution of land forms in response to wind, water, ice, and tectonic processes. The causes and recent history of climate change. The course includes one three-day field trip and a weekly laboratory section focused on the identification of rocks and minerals and the interpretation of topographic and geological maps. Instructor: Eiler.
  • b. Earth and the Biosphere. 9 units (3-3-3); second term. Prerequisite: Ch 1 a. Systematic introduction to the origin and evolution of life and its impact on the oceans, atmosphere, and climate of Earth. Topics covered include ancient Earth surface environments and the rise of atmospheric oxygen. Microbial and molecular evolution, photosynthesis, genes as fossils. Banded iron stones, microbial mats, stromatolites, and global glaciation. Biological fractionation of stable isotopes. Numerical calibration of the geological timescale, the Cambrian explosion, mass extinctions, and human evolution. The course usually includes one major field trip and laboratory studies of rocks, fossils, and geological processes. Instructors: Fischer, Kirschvink.
  • Ge/Ay 11 c. Planetary Sciences. 9 units (3-0-6); third term. Prerequisites: Ma 1 ab, Ph 1 ab. A broad introduction to the present state and early history of the solar system, including terrestrial planets, giant planets, moons, asteroids, comets, and rings. Earth-based observations, observations by planetary spacecraft, study of meteorites, and observations of extrasolar planets are used to constrain models of the dynamics and chemical processes. Instructor: Ingersoll.
  • d. Geophysics. 9 units (3-0-6); second term. Prerequisites: Ch 1, Ma 2 a, Ph 2 a. An introduction to the geophysics of the solid earth; formation of planets; structure and composition of Earth; interactions between crust, mantle, and core; surface and internal dynamics; mantle convection; imaging of the interior; seismic tomography.Although Ge11 abcd is designed as a sequence, any one term can be taken as standalone course.Instructors: Clayton, Gurnis

FS/Ge 16. Freshman Seminar: Earthquakes

6 units (2-0-4); first term. We all live with earthquakes, but despite ongoing scientific efforts, scientists have not been able to predict them. What have they tried, and why hasn’t it worked? During this freshman seminar, participants will review our current understanding of the earthquake process, the efforts that have been made in earthquake prediction, real-time response to earthquakes, and advances in earthquake preparation in Southern California. We will go on a 1-day trip off campus to visit local faults. Freshmen only; limited enrollment. Instructor: Stock.

Ge 102. Introduction to Geophysics

9 units (3-0-6); second term. Prerequisites: Ma 2, Ph 2, or Ge 108, or equivalents. An introduction to the physics of the earth. The present internal structure and dynamics of the earth are considered in light of constraints from the gravitational and magnetic fields, seismology, and mineral physics. The fundamentals of wave propagation in earth materials are developed and applied to inferring Earth structure. The earthquake source is described in terms of seismic and geodetic signals. The following are also considered: the contributions that heat-flow, gravity, paleomagnetic, and earthquake mechanism data have made to our understanding of plate tectonics, the driving mechanism of plate tectonics, and the energy sources of mantle convection and the geodynamo. Instructor: Simons.

Ge 106. Introduction to Structural Geology

9 units (3-0-6); second term. Prerequisite: Ge 11 ab. Description and origin of main classes of deformational structures. Introduction to continuum mechanics and its application to rock deformation. Interpretation of the record of deformation of the earth's crust and upper mantle on microscopic, mesoscopic, and megascopic scales. Introduction to the tectonics of mountain belts.

Ge 110. Geographic Information System for Geology and Planetary Sciences

3 units (0-3-0); first term. Formal introduction to modern computer-based geospatial analysis. Covers methods and applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in Earth and planetary sciences in the form of practical lab exercises using the ArcGIS software package and a variety of geo-referenced data (Digital Elevation Models, geodetic measurements, satellite images, geological maps). Instructor: Staff.

Ge 111 ab. Applied Geophysics Seminar and Field Course

6 units (3-3-0); second term. Prerequisite: instructor's permission. 9 units (0-3-6);spring break, thrid term. Prerequisite: Ge 111 a. An introduction to the theory and application of basic geophysical field techniques consisting of a comprehensive survey of a particular field area using a variety of methods (e.g., gravity, magnetic, electrical, GPS, seismic studies, and satellite remote sensing). The course will consist of a seminar that will discuss the scientific background for the chosen field area, along with the theoretical basis and implementation of the various measurement techniques. The 4-5-day field component will be held in spring break, and the data analysis component is covered in Ge 111 b. May be repeated for credit with an instructor's permission. Instructors: Clayton, Simons.

Ge 116. Analytical Techniques Laboratory.

6 units (1-4-1); second term. Prerequisites: Ge 114 a or instructor’s permisson. Methods of quantitative laboratory analysis of rocks, minerals, and fluids in geological and planetary sciences. Consists of five intensive two-week modules covering scanning electron microscopy (imaging, energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, electron backscatter diffraction); the electron microprobe (wavelength-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy); X-ray powder diffraction; optical, infrared, and Raman spectroscopy; and plasma source mass spectrometry for elemental and radiogenic isotope analysis. Satisfies the Institute core requirement for an additional introductory laboratory course. Instructors: Asimow, Jackson, Rossman.

Ge/ESE 118. Methods in Data Analysis

9 units (3-0-6); first term. Prerequisites: Ma 1 or equivalent. Introduction to methods in data analysis. Course will be an overview of different ways that one can quantitatively analyze data, and will not focus on any one methodology. Topics will include linear regression, least squares inversion, Fourier analysis, principal component analysis, and Bayesian methods. Emphasis will be on both a theoretical understanding of these methods and on practical applications. Exercises will include using numerical software to analyze real data. Instructor: Tsai.

Ge 120 a. Field Geology: Introduction to Field Geology.

6 units (1-5-0); third term. Prerequisite: Ge 11 ab, Ge 106 (may be taken concurrently with Ge 106). A comprehensive introduction to methods of geological field mapping through laboratory exercises in preparation for summer field camp. Laboratory exercises introduce geometrical and graphical techniques in the analysis of geologic maps. Field trips introduce methods of geological mapping. Instructor: Saleeby. Given in alternate years; offered 2016–17.

Ge 120 b. Field Geology: Summer Field Camp.

18 units (0-18-0); summer. Prerequisite: Ge 120 a or instructor’s permission. Intensive three-week field course in a well-exposed area of the southwestern United States covering techniques of geologic field observation, documentation, and analysis. Field work begins immediately following Commencement Day in June. Instructor: Wernicke. Given in alternate years; offered 2016–17.

Ge 121 abc Advanced Field and Structural Geology

12 units (0-9-3); first, second, third terms. Prerequisites: Ge 120 or equivalent, or instructor’s permission. Field mapping and supporting laboratory studies in topical problems related to the geology of the southwestern United States. Course provides a breadth of experience in igneous, metamorphic, or sedimentary rocks or geomorphology. Multiple terms of 121 may be taken more than once for credit if taught by different instructors. Instructors: Avouac (a), Kirschvink (b), Wernicke (c).

Ge 122 a Field Geology Seminar

6 (1-3-2); first, second, or third term. Prerequisites: Ge 11ab or Ge 101, or instructor's permission. Each term, a different field topic in Southern California will be examined in both seminar and field format. Relevant readings will be discussed in a weekly class meeting. During the 3-day weekend field trip we will examine field localities relevant to the topic, to permit detailed discussion of the observations. Class can be taken more than once because the content is different each time. Graded pass/fail. Instructor: Stock.

Ge 136AbC Regional Field Geology of the Southwestern United States.

3 units (1-0-2); first, second, or third terms, by announcement. Prerequisites: Ge 11 ab or Ge 101, or instructor's permission. Includes approximately three days of weekend field trips into areas displaying highly varied geology. Each student is assigned the major responsibility of being the resident expert on a pertinent subject for each trip. Graded pass/fail. Instructor: Kirschvink.

Ge 161. Plate Tectonics

9 units (3-0-6); first term. Prerequisite: Ge 11 ab or equivalent. Geophysical and geological observations related to plate tectonic theory. Instantaneous and finite motion of rigid plates on a sphere; marine magnetic and paleomagnetic measurements; seismicity and tectonics of plate boundaries; reference frames and absolute plate motions. Interpretations of geologic data in the context of plate tectonics; plate tectonic evolution of the ocean basins. Instructor: Stock.

Ge 162. Seismology

9 units (3-0-6); second term. Prerequisite: ACM 95/100 abc or equivalent. Review of concepts in classical seismology. Topics to be covered: basic theories of wave propagation in the earth, instrumentation, Earth's structure and tomography, theory of the seismic source, physics of earthquakes, and seismic risk. Emphasis will be placed on how quantitative mathematical and physical methods are used to understand complex natural processes, such as earthquakes. Instructor: Clayton, Tsai, Zhan.

Ge 163. Geodynamics

9 units (3-0-6); third term. Prerequisite: Ae/Ge/ME 160 ab. Quantitative introduction to the dynamics of the earth, including core, mantle, lithosphere, and crust. Mechanical models are developed for each of these regions and compared to a variety of data sets. Potential theory applied to the gravitational and geomagnetic fields. Special attention is given to the dynamics of plate tectonics and the earthquake cycle. Instructor: Gurnis.

Ge 164. Mineral Physics

9 units (3-0-6); second term. Prerequisites: Ge 11 ad or equivalent, or instructor’s permission. Introduction to the mineral physics of Earth’s interior. Topics covered: mineralogy and phase transitions at high pressures and temperatures; elasticity and equations of state; vibrational, electronic, and transport properties; application of mineral physics data to Earth and planetary interiors. Instructor: Jackson.

Ge 165. Geophysical Data Analysis

9 units (3-0-6); first term. Prerequisites: basic linear algebra and Fourier transforms. Introduction to modern digital analysis: discrete Fourier transforms, Z-transforms, filters, deconvolution, auto-regressive models, spectral estimation, basic statistics, 1-D wavelets, model fitting via singular valued decomposition. Not offered 2016-2017.Instructor: Clayton.

Ge 166. Hydrology

9 units (3-0-6); third term. Prerequisites: Math 1 or equivalent. Introduction to hydrology. Focus will be on how water moves on earth, including in groundwater, rivers, oceans, glaciers, and the atmosphere. Class will be based in fluid mechanics, which will be covered. Specific topics will include the Navier-Stokes equation, Darcy’s law, aquifer flow, contaminant transport, turbulent flow, gravity waves, tsunami propagation, geostrophic currents, Ekman transport, glacier flow laws, and the Hadley circulation. Given in alternate years, not offered 2016–17. Instructor: Tsai.

Ge 167. Tectonic Geodesy

9 units (3-0-6); third term. An introduction to the use of modern geodetic observations (e.g., GPS and InSAR) to constrain crustal deformation models. Secular velocity fields, coseismic and time-dependent processes; volcano deformation and seasonal loading phenomena. Basic inverse approaches for parameter estimation and basic temporal filtering algorithms. Given in alternate years, not offered 2016–17. Instructor: Simons.

Ge 168. Crustal Geophysics

9 units (3-0-6); second term. Prerequisite: ACM 95/100 or equivalent, or instructor's permission. The analysis of geophysical data related to crust processes. Topics include reflection and refraction seismology, tomography, receiver functions, surface waves, and gravity. Not offered 2016-2017. Instructor: Clayton.

Ge 169 abc. Readings in Geophysics

6 units (3-0-3); first, second, third terms. Reading courses are offered to teach students to read critically the work of others and to broaden their knowledge about specific topics. Each student will be required to write a short summary of each paper that summarizes the main goals of the paper, to give an assessment of how well the author achieved those goals, and to point out related issues not discussed in the paper. Each student will be expected to lead the discussion on one or more papers. The leader will summarize the discussion on the paper(s) in writing. A list of topics offered each year will be posted on the Web. Individual terms may be taken for credit multiple times without regard to sequence. Instructor: Staff.

ME/CE/GE174 Mechanics of Rocks

The course will be a combination of lectures and presentations/discussions led by students. The lectures will cover basics of the mechanics of rocks. Several homework sets will be assigned. The presentations/discussions will focus on related research of current interest, with assigned reading to the entire class. For the presentations, the students will study a subtopic in depth (by reading several related papers), present it in class, and write a final report on the subject. The grade will be assigned as follows: 30% homework sets, 30% presentation, 30% final report, 10% classroom participation. Not offered 2016-2017. Instructor: Lapusta.

Ge 177. Active Tectonics

12 units (3-3-6); third term. Prerequisites: Ge 112 and Ge 106 or equivalent. Introduction to techniques for identifying and quantifying active tectonic processes. Geomorphology, stratigraphy, structural geology, and geodesy applied to the study of active faults and folds in a variety of tectonic settings. Relation of seismicity and geodetic measurements to geologic structure and active tectonics processes. Review of case studies of selected earthquakes. Given in alternate years; offered 2016-17. Instructor: Avouac.

Ge 179 abc. Seismological Laboratory Seminar

1 unit; first, second, third terms. Presentation of current research in geophysics by students, staff, and visitors. Graded pass/fail. Instructor: Helmberger.

Ge 192. Special Topics in the Geological Sciences

Units to be arranged. Offered by announcement only. Advanced-level discussions of problems of current interest in the geological sciences. Students may enroll for any or all terms of this course without regard to sequence. Instructor: Staff.

GE 193 Special Topics in Geophysics

Units to be arranged. Advanced-level discussions of problems of current interest in geophysics. Students may enroll for any or all terms of this course without regard to sequence. Instructor: Staff.

Ge 211. Applied Geophysics II

Units to be arranged. Prerequisite: instructor's permission. Intensive geophysical field experience in either marine or continental settings. Marine option will include participation in a student training cruise, with several weeks aboard a geophysical research vessel, conducting geophysical measurements (multibeam bathymetry, gravity, magnetics, and seismics), and processing and interpreting the data. Supporting lectures and problem sets on the theoretical basis of the relevant geophysical techniques and the tectonic background of the survey area will occur before and during the training cruise. The course might be offered in a similar format in other isolated situations. The course will be scheduled only when opportunities arise and this usually means that only six months' notice can be given. Auditing not permitted. Class may be taken more than once. Instructors: Stock, Clayton, Gurnis.

CE/Ge/ME 222. Earthquake Source Processes, Debris Flows, and Soil Liquefaction: Physics-based Modeling of Failure in Granular Media

6 units (2-0-4); third term. A seminar-style course focusing on granular dynamics and instabilities as they relate to geophysical hazards such as fault mechanics, debris flows, and liquefaction. The course will consist of student-led presentations of active research at Caltech and discussions of recent literature. Not offered in 2016-17. Instructor: Lapusta.

Ge 261. Advanced Seismology

9 units (3-0-6); third term. Continuation of Ge 162 with special emphasis on particular complex problems; includes generalizations of analytical methods to handle nonplanar structures and methods of interfacing numerical-analytical codes in two and three dimensions; construction of Earth models using tomographic methods and synthetics. Requires a class project. Instructor: Helmberger, Zhan.

Ge 263. Computational Geophysics

9 units (3-0-6); second term. Prerequisites: introductory class in geophysics, class in partial differential equations, some programming experience. Finite-difference, pseudo- spectral, finite-element, and spectral-element methods will be presented and applied to a number of geophysical problems including heat flow, deformation, and wave propagation. Students will program simple versions of methods. Instructors: Clayton, Gurnis, Ampuero. Given in alternate years; not offered 2016–17.


9 Units (3-0-6); second term. Prerequiaite: Ae/AM/CE/ME 102a or Ae/Ge/ME 160a or instructor's permission. Introduction to elastodynamics. Dynamic fracture, theory, energy concepts, cohesive zone models. Friction laws, nucleation of frictional instabilities, dynamic rupture of frictional interfaces. Radiation from moving cracks. Thermal effects during dynamic fracture and faulting. Applications to engineering phenomena and physics and mechanics of earthquakes. Instructor: Lapusta.

Ge 277. Active Tectonics Seminar

6 units (2-0-4); second term. Discussion of key issues in active tectonics based on a review of the literature. The topic of the seminar is adjusted every year based on students' interest and recent literature. Instructor: Avouac.

Ge 299. Thesis Research

Original investigation, designed to give training in methods of research, to serve as theses for higher degrees, and to yield contributions to scientific knowledge.