Geography 141: The Natural Environment; Fall, 2016

Instructor: Daniel Gavin (
Office: 110 Condon Hall; Phone: 346-5787
Office Hours: Mondays 9:30 to 11, in 110 Condon, or by appointment.

GTFs & weekly lab sections (all in 206 Condon)
Ollie Gaskell (
Tuesdays 9, 10 ,and 11
Office Hours: Thursday 12:00-2:00 in 246 Columbia
Geoffrey Johnson (
Thursdays 9, 10 and 11
Office Hours: Mondays 11:00-12:00 in 217 Pacific
Schyler Reis (
Wednesday 9, Friday 10 and 11
Office Hours: Mondays 10:00-11:00 in 247 Columbia

Lecture: Monday, Wednesday: 2:00 – 3:20 in 177 Lawrence.
Required Materials:
  1. Physical Geography, 5th Edition by Mason, Burt, Muller, and de Blij. Available in the UO Bookstore. Also available to rent or own as an eBook through RedShelf.
  2. iClicker2 remote. Do NOT purchase i>clicker REEF polling for your will need the physical device. You will likely need one for other classes at some point at UO.
  3. Google Earth desktop application, version 6 or higher. It will be difficult to use Google Earth on iPads or phones...please plan on using Google Earth on laptop or desktop computer. See detailed syllabus.
  4. Other material will be made available on
Grades will be posted on Canvas. Canvas automatically calculates your current grade by weighting of assignments according to rules described below.

Objectives of the course
  1. Using readings, lectures, and laboratories to develop an understanding and appreciation of natural processes that occur every day or over every year.  The basics of meteorology (study of the atmosphere and weather), climatology (longer-term trends in weather and its variation over the earth), biogeography (distribution of life on earth) and geomorphology(processes that shape the surface of the earth).

  2. Students will understand the important properties of maps and students will use maps and digital mapping tools to explore spatial patterns on earth. 

  3. Topics in meterology will range from why weather changes daily to the causes of global patterns of climate. Students will be able to interpret patterns, and explain causes, of maps of various weather elements (temperature, air pressure, humidity, wind).  

  4. In climatology, students will study the causes of seasonal patterns of temperature and rainfall in different locations on earth.  Students will be able to link the causes of these seasonal patterns to patterns in atmospheric circulation, and the role of various other factors such as elevation and location within continents.  Last, students will be able to roughly locate climatic data (presented as a graph) to actual locations on earth.

  5. In biogeography, students will be able to explain why climates produce major biome types on earth, including the causes of the changes in vegetation in Oregon.

  6. In geomorphology, students will understand the pathways of water from precipitation to ocean and atmosphere, and how rivers sculpt the surface of the earth.  Students will be able to identify mass-wasting and glacial features from topographic maps, and be able to create and explain the patterns in longitudinal profiles of rivers.

General guidelines for this course
  1. To do well in this course, you will need to come to lecture and keep pace with the readings. The information being taught is cumulative: you will not understand material if you skip sections. There will be examples provided during lecture that are not in the text but will nevertheless be on the exams.

  2. Readings
  • The Physical Geography textbook is a common book and available from many other sellers and as an ebook (see above): be sure you are getting the 5th edition. You will need the book from the start of class. Note that all the material in each chapter assigned is required reading. Also note that we will not cover this entire book. If a topic interests you, please feel free to read on! Climatology, hydrology, biogeography, and geomorphology are all 300-level Geography courses where you can pursue these topics in more detail.

  • The Lab instructions will be made available in advance of each lab via Canvas. General information about the lab assignment and activity will be posted at least one week before the lab. The actual questions for each lab will become available at 4 pm two days before the lab. See below for details.

  1. During lecture please be respectful of everyone's learning experience. This includes:
  • No talking amongst each other.  Please leave your social conversations for outside the classroom.  However, questions during lectures are encouraged.  If you have a question, raise your hand or catch me after class.
  • Please don't leave in the middle of lecture. It is distracting for many people, including me. If you need to leave, then let me know before the lecture starts, then sit near an exit. Obvious exceptions exist, i.e., you are feeling very ill.
  • Do not surf the internet during lecture..  Please keep your laptops closed. If you wish to take notes on a computer, then please sit near the front of the room. Other use of the laptop during lecture is extemely distracting to the people around you!
  1. Cheating. Cheating, such as copying material from other students on tests or lab assignments will result in failing the test at a minimum and may require involvement from the Dean of Students.  While we encourage you to talk about the lecture material and lab material outside of class, copying other's work is not allowed and electronic submission of the lab material makes detecting such cases not difficult. In serious cases, you will flunk the class or be expelled from the university.

  2. Plagiarizing.  Plagiarizing occurs when you copy materials from other sources without citing the source (i.e., taking credit for someone else’s work), or copy someone else’s lab.  All students should be familiar with the material in this guide on avoiding plagiarism.

  3. Take time right away during week 1 to familiarize yourself with the technology that will be used in the course.  Information on Canvas, i>clickers, and Google Earth for GEOG 141 is available on this web page.


Your class grade will be based on your two tests  (40% of the total grade), in-class participation (5% of the total), quizzes (online with Canvas) (30% of total grade), and lab assignments (25% of the total grade). Grades are rounded to integers.  Grades are not curved, but the grading scale reflects the breadth and depth of material covered. Lower grade boundaries are:
A+:>98; A:92; A-:88; B+:84; B:80; B-:76; C+:72; C:68; C-:64; D+:60; D:56; D-:52
You must receive a passing grade in the lab section of the course in order to pass the class.

Labs:  The weekly one-hour labs provide you with the opportunity to apply some of the concepts you have learned in class and in readings, to ask questions about points that interest or confuse you, and to get to know your classmates better.  Attendance at each lab is required to receive a grade for that lab.  Labs begin during week 1. The following time-line is repeated for each of the nine weeks with labs and quizzes.

  • At least one week before the lab session: Introductory material for each assignment is posted in a "module" in Canvas.
  • On Fridays at 4:00 pm: The lab assignment and the quiz are released within the Canvas module. Each week's lab/discussion section has two graded parts. The first is a "lab" which you will begin during your lab section and complete on your time. The "quiz" is the other part. You have three attempts to complete the quiz, each time with slightly different versions of the same question (drawn from a question bank). The highest score will be the one used for grading.
  • It is definitely to your benefit to view the contents of the lab (but don't submit answers!), and make one attempt on the quiz, before your lab section meets. This will allow you to ask questions during the lab period about any parts of the assignment that cannot be finished in the 50 minute session. You will not finish the lab during the lab period, so you will have to put some time outside the 50 minute period into completing the lab.
  • NOTE: It is usually helpful to bring a laptop to the lab session. If you do not have one, it should be fine, as you can view a neighbor's computer if needed.
  • Individual labs and quizzes are due on Mondays at 8:00 pm. Thus, the lab questions are available to everyone for the same amount of time. If you have a discussion on Tuesday, you have a short amount of time to preview the lab material but a longer period to complete the work for submission. If your discussion section meets on Fridays, you have a long period to preview the material, attend lectures that help with the material, before attending the lab session, but then a shorter time to complete the assignment.
    • Lab assignments (25% of the total grade)
      • If you don't attend your lab/discussion section, you will receive a zero for that week's lab.
      • The difficulty of the lab assignments generally increases through the term, but your chances for a good overall grade on the lab assignments is much better if you complete all the assignments.
      • The lowest lab score for the entire term will be dropped when final grades are computed.
      • Late submissions: You have three additional days to submit a late lab. Each day after the due date results in a reduction of 20% of the grade. Exceptions exist for labs 4 and 9, as answers must be made available before exams.
      • Answers to questions on the labs are released Thursdays at 4:00, three days after the lab is due. Lab 4 and Lab 9 answers will be released sooner, before the exams. However, it may be several days before the assignment is completely graded by your GTF.
      • If your average grade for the labs (after dropping the lowest lab grade) is not a passing grade (>60%), you will not pass the course.
    • Quizzes (30% of the total grade).
      • You may log in to Canvas and answer questions up to three times. You must finish each attempt within 60 minutes. You will be shown the correct answers after each attempt. Each attempt will have some variation in the questions, being drawn randomly from a question pool. Your highest-scoring attempt will be used for your grade.
      • It is definitely to your advantage to get high scores on all the quizzes. You will need to reserve enough time before the due date & time to allow you to finish your third attempt (if needed).
      • Note that ALL quiz scores will be included in your final grade.
      • Late submissions: No late submissions for the quizzes are accepted.

Tests (40% of the total grade): There will be two tests, each worth 20% of your final grade.  No makeup tests are given.  Students who miss a test without a documented excuse will receive a score of ZERO for that test.   Except in the case of true emergencies, you must contact me prior to the exam if you are going to miss the test; otherwise you will receive a grade of zero.

Tests are approximately 75% based on multiple choice questions (about 50 questions), and the remainder are fill-in-the-blank or short essay questions.

Please note that the lab assignment on week 10 is due during exam week.

In-class participation (5% of the total grade): "Puzzles" will be presented on-screen at the end of each lecture or throughout each lecture.  These will be answered with i>clickers.  Question content will be based on materials in the reading and, sometimes, materials presented earlier in the same or previous lectures. Some questions will be answered in colloboration with your neighbor.  You may refer to your text book or to your notes.

Please register your i>clicker on Canvas. This takes a few steps. Please follow the instructions on this link.

Lecture Schedule
Week Date Topic and readings 
Unit  Lab topic
1 Sep 26
Introduction: Geography and Planet Earth 1,2 Map skills (units, scales, projections, locations, isolines)
Sep 28
Mapping Earth's surface, Earth-Sun relationships 3,4
2 Oct 3 Radiation and the heat balance; the Greenhouse Effect; Composition of the Atmosphere 5,6 Earth-Sun relationships
Oct 5
Temperatures of the lower atmosphere 7
3 Oct 10 Atmospheric Pressure: Winds; small scale wind systems 8,9
Oct 12
Global air pressure gradients, Coriolis forces and geostrophic winds; Ocean currents
4 Oct 17 Atmospheric moisture and the water balance 11 Global circulation, humidity, and adiabatic processes
Oct 19 Weather: Air masses, lapse rates, clouds, precipitation processes, atmospheric stability. 12
5 Oct 24 Some review.  Practice exam questions. Climate classification
14 Describing global climates
Oct 26
Midterm Exam
All readings except unit 14; lab materials for weeks 1-4
6 Oct 31 Climates of the world 15,16,17 Global biomes & climate change
Nov 2
Natural climate change and human impacts on climate 18,19
7 Nov 7 Biogeochemical cycles (carbon and nitrogen); Biogeographic processes 20,24 Topographic maps, air photos, and mapping vegetation.
Nov 9 Phytogeography (distribution of plants) and Zoogeography (distribution of animals) 25,26
8 Nov 14
Weathering: physical and chemical; Mass wasting: landslides and debris flows 35,36,37 Landforms and mass wasting
Nov 16
Ground water 38
9 Nov 21 River systems: slopes and streams 39 NO LAB
Nov 23
No class  
10 Nov 28 Landscapes shaped by streams 40,41 Stream processes
Nov 30
Glacial erosion; continental and alpine glaciation. selections from: 43,44,45

Dec 05 Final Exam 2:45 PM in 177 Lawrence.
On lectures and labs for weeks 5-10.

Department of Geography, University of Oregon
Modified Aug 24, 2016