(ENVT019) Environmental Geology


Geology seen through a marble


Course start date: to be confirmed
Course end date: to be confirmed
Price £150

Lecturer(s): Dr John Merefield
Course Code: ENVT019
Level: Non-accredited, non-credit bearing
Assessments/Exams: None. Throughout the course you will be given ideas and questions to respond to in the online discussion area. Participation in online discussion is encouraged, but not compulsory.
Duration: 10 weeks
Estimated Student Study Time: 2 – 5 hours per week are recommended, but time spent is flexible and at your discretion.
Fee: £150.00
Pre-Requisites: No academic qualifications or experience of environmental geology are required, only a strong enthusiasm for the subject.
Delivery: Online Distance Learning
Late Entrants: If this course is not full by the start date then late entrants will be accepted for up to two weeks after the start of the course. As a late entrant you can choose to catch up on the material you have missed or you can skip the missed weeks and concentrate on the material at the point where you join the course, but unfortunately we cannot offer fee reductions or course extensions for late entrants.

Please note: All courses are subject to sufficient numbers of students registering before they are confirmed as running. Therefore, after booking your place you are advised not to purchase any texts until you have received confirmation that the course is running.

This course was previously taught by Dr John Merefield when it was offered by the University of Exeter*. If you studied it with the University of Exeter* you might not wish to study it again with Learn for Pleasure as although we have revised and updated our courses where necessary, it will likely be substantively the same.


There is now a greater interest in the environment than ever before and we face concerns about the environmental impacts of almost every aspect of our daily lives.

Water, soil, air and the biological environment can all be changed dramatically by the activities of industrial societies like our own, not least through mechanisms which are controlled by essentially geological processes.

Waste disposal, contamination of land by industry, the impacts of mining, water pollution and even air quality (through the dispersion of airborne mineral particles) are affected by geological mechanisms and phenomena controlled by the composition, distribution, structure and behaviour of the underlying rocks.

Everyday environmental problems are thus influenced to a greater or lesser extent by geology. This course provides a broad overview of these, providing a scientific framework for understanding key environmental issues.

Syllabus Plan

Week 1: Introduction, Geology and Environmental Geology

Week 2: Geological Controls of Pollutant Migration

Week 3: Geohazards: Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Associated Risks

Week 4: Earth Resources, including Fracking

Week 5: The Environmental Impact of Mining

Week 6: Contaminated Land

Week 7: The Radiation Environment

Week 8: Geology and Air Quality

Week 9: Urban Geology

Week 10: Applications

Course Content in Depth

Course Content in Depth: Environmental Geology

Week 01: Introduction to Environmental Geology

To begin, we will introduce you to the science of Geology and some of the pioneers in the field. We will then seek to define the term Environmental Geology and how we will address it during this Course.

Week 02: Geological Controls of Pollutant Migration

Next, we we look at the geological controls of pollutant migration through the Earth’s crust and consider what processes might operate to enhance or hinder the dispersion of pollutants in the geological environment.

Week 03: Geohazards: Earthquakes, Volcanoes And Associated Risks

In this Unit we explore the range of scale of natural disasters, the role of geology in initiating natural hazards, and the relative impacts of geohazards on vulnerable and developed communities.

Week 04: Fracking and Earth Resources

We now consider the essential resources provided by the Earth for human activities. Many of these resources, such as oil, minerals and coal, are obviously ‘geological’ both in their origin and in the impacts of their exploitation. Others, like groundwater resources, are strongly influenced in their distribution by geological factors and in the way they are affected by human activities.

Week 05: The Environmental Impact of Mining

Here we see how many resources, such as minerals and coal obtained through mining, have profound impacts on the environment. We will look closely at these impacts, concentrating on the physical, chemical and biological effects which we might observe at a mine site.

Week 06: Contaminated Land

Geo-exploitation activities, along with the very wide range of other industrial processes that have characterised the industrial world over the last century or two have left a legacy of land contamination. We will investigate this environmental damage which now forms the basis for a major industry in its own right – the assessment, remediation and redevelopment of contaminated land.

Week 07: The Radiation Environment

We begin this Unit by defining the term radiation in its widest sense. We explore the geological pathways for such contamination and assess some ways in which radioactive waste might be contained.

Week 08: Geology and Air Quality

This week we look back over the history of air quality in the United Kingdom. We gain an understanding of the key pollutants, along with nuisance and health issues with geological origins – and finally survey some aspects of air quality management.

Week 09: Urban Geology

In cities, people are exposed to a variety of environmental hazards, some natural, some man-made, many with a geological dimension. In our penultimate week, we study some of these geo-environmental aspects of urbanisation.

Week 10: Applications

Finally, through a set of five case studies, we see how professionals apply this geological know-how and with other information, manage to deal with geo-environmental problems.

Learning Outcomes

  • By the end of this course students should be conversant with the nomenclature as applied to Environmental Geology
  • They should be able to understand the key issues encompassing this branch of the Geological Sciences
  • They should be able to discuss and form scientific opinions on the human impacts arising from such issues