Where rocks are housed.

Earth and Physical Sciences Building
Office Location
2119 Earth and Physical Sciences Building (EPHSCI or EPS)
Office Phone
(530) 752-0350

For the geology of Davis itself see, Geology. You're normally free to work and learn here without fear of Velociraptors.

The UC Davis Geology Department is part of the College of Letters and Science and has diverse faculty researching and teaching many different facets of geology. Important leaders in the geological world have worked out of UC Davis and they include Eldridge Moores (emeritus; famous structural geologist) and Howard Day. The department focuses heavily on field experience and mapping.

In the first week of September 2009 the geology department began moving to the new Earth and Physical Sciences Building from the then Physics/Geology building. According to an email from the department, the department's office moved on September 14th to 2119C.

The cores and boulders (rock samples) outside the new building come from the GRANITE corporation. An alumni working for GRANITE has been helping the department collect a wide variety of specimens from all across California. These samples are often used as part of the geology curriculum.

Due to budget cuts, the department’s website may be shut down as it is currently hosted on its own server. Because of that, the department is trying to embrace SmartSite for class use.

Geology department is a Velociraptor-Free work place, thus you need not fear your life within its halls (except on Picnic Day).


The department offers BA, BS, MS and PhD degrees in Geology as well as minors including:

  • Geology
  • Geochemistry
  • Geophysics
  • Engineering Geology
  • Environmental Geology
  • Oceanography
  • Paleobiology

The department also offers a BS in Natural Sciences, a scientifically broad degree designed for people who want to be science teachers.

The BS in Geology is intended for those that expect to do primarily geological field work or research in their careers. The BA was developed to allow students to seek breadth based on their interests and who may expect geology to be ancillary to their careers. Both are seen as quite acceptable for graduate school. However, geology graduate students with a BA from UC Davis may be required to make up petrology courses.


Geology courses use the GEL prefix. Here are some of the courses in the department. Most of these are major required for more info check out the department site.

There are two informal "tracks" to be taken, each requiring one year (or one total if you're insane).

Petrology: 60+62 (Fall) => 105 (Winter) => 106 (Spring)

Structure: 50 (previous year) => 100 (Fall) => 101 (Winter) => 103 (Spring) => 110 (Summer)* * the structure series may change for Fall 2011, see class descriptions for details

Important note: If you want to properly learn GIS and avoid serious frustration during GEL 100/101 and 103, think about enrolling in LDA 150 or ABT 180 (whenever it is offered again) in the Fall. Both courses teach important concepts of GIS and the basic methods of using a GIS. With a 4 unit gap due to changes in the Structure series, you may be able to convince your advisor to accept a introductory GIS course as a replacement.

Lower Division

The Geology Department rocks Picnic Day! GEL 1-The Earth (All Quarters)

  • 3 hour Lecture
  • This is the basic intro class to geology, it covers a broad variety of topics but not in much depth. Good class to just take to check out the department.

GEL 3-History of Life (Winter Quarter)

  • 3 hour lecture
  • A good intro to the development of life on this planet covers the various genera and various ideeas about the mechanisms of evolution to cause morphology.
    • GEL 3L is the 3 hour lab component of this class. If you are a geology major, you HAVE to take it. Lots of drawing of fossils.
    • GEL 3G is the 1 hour discussion component and what you need to take to get GE Credit.

GEL 35-Rivers (Spring Quarter)

  • 3 hour lecture
  • Goes over the processes found in rivers and their formation and movement. This class has several optional river rafting field trips that are for some the best reason for this class.

GEL 50-Physical Geology (Fall and Winter Quarters)

  • 3 hour lecture
  • This is the entry level class for geology majors, more in depth than GEL001, but an interesting and sometimes fun class. Optional field trip.
    • There is an optional 3 hour lab that is required for majors (which also makes the field trip mandatory).

GEL 60-Earth Materials (Fall Quarter)

  • 3 hours lecture and 3 hour lab
  • This is entry level mineralogy. A rather technical overview of how and why minerals form. This includes basic crystallography, crystal chemistry, physical properties of minerals, identifying minerals within the standard categories, the use of X-ray defraction, and more. Be prepared to learn how to identify minerals and all their properties in lab as well as their chemical formulas.

GEL 62-Introduction to Optical Mineralogy (Fall Quarter)

  • 1 hour lecture and 3 hour lab (2 units)
  • Companion Course to GEL 60. This is where you learn how to use a Polarizing Petrographic Microscope to identify minerals in thin section. It its most basic level, it is how plane polarized light (PPL) and cross-polarized light interacts with isotropic, uniaxial, and biaxial minerals in thin section. It also covers basic principles of identifying crystallographic orientation of minerals using optical properties. GEL 62 is a very practical course with the bulk of your knowledge being tested using the microscopes. Take this course concurrently with GEL 60 as they overlap very well, or you will be stuck waiting until the next year. Love it or hate it, learn it if you want to do well in the BS major, as the petrology classes hinge on your ability identify minerals with the microscope. Even if you're going for the BA, being familiar with the polarizing microscope may be useful.

Upper Division

Note: the structure series will very likely change for the 2011/2012 academic year. GEL 100/100L will no longer be offered starting Fall 2011. This will create a 4-unit gap for all Geology majors, which at the moment may be filled by taking electives in consultation with academic advisors. Rumor is that a geophysics course may be required in the future. This change for the 2011/2012 Academic year is currently undergoing the approval process.

GEL 101-Tectonics (Winter Quarter)

  • 3 hour lecture and 2 3-hour labs
  • Begins the structure series as of Winter 2012 (GEL 100 is planned to be discontinued). This course will combine elements from the original GEL 100 with the original GEL 101 into a streamlined structural geology foundation. Thus this course will explore structure and small (e.g., foliations) and large scales (e.g., folds and orogenies) as well as stress and strain (strain ellipses, Mohr circles). The combined course will avoid duplication of materials taught in GEL 50/50L, thus that course (or eligible transferred coursework) is a strict prerequisite. Students must fill in the 4-unit gap from the discontinued GEL100 by taking electives in consultation with major advisors. This change for the 2012 Academic year is currently undergoing the approval process.
  • The lab may have several field trips to map in locations outside of the valley. During Winter quarter 2011, the lab had one three night trip to Rainbow Basin during Martin Luther King weekend. The field trip involves, and is not limited to, finding and mapping faults, taking and mapping many strike and dips, tracking and recording lithologic contacts, and mapping any fold axes. You will be expected to write down your findings in a field book and attempting to record observations neatly on a basemap. Since GEL 100 is discontinued, trips from it may make an appearance in this course (see discontinued courses below).
    • The mapping assignment in 101 is the first BIG assignment for majors. It seems expected that students won't be particularly accurate. However, you may map on a 1 m LIDAR basemap. But realize for GEL 103, LIDAR will be replaced with low spatial resolution USGS topographic maps.
    • Here is a list of supplies you may need for this course:
      • Color pencils (erasable is highly recommended)
      • Mechanical pencils; 0.3 and 0.5mm (highly recommended)
      • Inking pens (this means the expensive black Microns or similar; 0.1, 0.3, and 0.5mm nibs are most useful)
      • Protractor and ruler (see engineering section at the bookstore for handy transparent all-in-ones; buy two!)
      • map board
      • At least 8.5x11" tracing paper for stereonet labs
      • 8.5x11" piece of cardboard (not too thick!) for stereonets
      • A tack for said cardboard and stereonet
      • Grid paper (any dimension)
      • Drafting Compass — to draw Mohr circles
      • More supplies will be added to this list as they are discovered

GEL 103-Spring Field (Spring Quarter)

  • 3 hour lecture on Fridays
  • You're finally issued a Brunton AND a bottle of HCl for entire course. It includes three all-weekend field trips. Trips depends on your instructor's interests. The trip to Potrero hills might be replaced by a different locale as the area is being taken over by a garbage dump and private land owners. The following are general locations for past field map areas:
    • Potrero Hills, north of Antioch, CA
    • Little Poleta, near Bishop, CA
      • This is a prelude to Big Poleta for those taking Summer Field (GEL 110); so pay attention!
    • Black Canyon, north of Rainbow Basin and Barstow, CA
    • East Bay Regional Wilderness
      • Beware of Ticks and annoying annual grass seeds (gaiters might be your best friend).
    • Varying locations in the Sierra Nevada or the Mojave Desert
  • Mapping projects need to be produced in ArcGIS 9.2 (waiting on the update to 9.3), meaning that there is a large time committment to create a quality final product if you've never used a GIS before. Illustrator is not encouraged for mapping anymore, as the industry is moving towards GIS. However, Illustrator is recommended for finishing maps exported from Arc and drafting cross sections. It is recommended to start learning how to use Illustrator in GEL 100. GEL 103 is not the time to learn Illustrator.
  • Basemaps tend to be 1:24000 USGS Topographic maps blown up to a larger scale (e.g., 1:10000). Compared to the use of LiDAR basemaps in previous courses, this greatly tests your ability to use topographic features to find your position. Keep in mind that contours on these USGS maps have error. That is, the elevation of 90% of tested points must be within half a contour interval1.
  • Charged a $55 course material fee for Spring 2011

GEL 105-Igneous Petrology (Winter Quarter)

  • 2 hour lecture and 2 3-hour labs
  • Follow-up to GEL060. Introduction to the creation of rocks by volcanism and plutonism.
  • The lab is the hardest portion of the class, requiring a large amount of extra time to finish the "in-lab" assignments.
  • The class AND lab both have midterms and finals. Tests may have a minimum duration of two hours each.
  • Learn to love/hate the Polarizing Petrographic Microscope.

GEL 106-Metamorphic Petrology (Spring Quarter)

  • 2 hour lecture and 2 3-hour labs
  • Continuation of the petrology series. Introduction to the alteration of rocks by heat and pressure.
  • Lab is again the hardest portion of the class, requiring a large amount of extra time to finish the "in-lab" assignments.
  • Only one midterm in both the lab and class.
  • Still loving/hating the Polarizing Petrographic Microscope.

GEL 107-Paleobiology (Fall and Spring Quarters)

  • 3 Hour Lecture
  • Very similar in subject matter to GEL 3, but with more in depth detail about particular concepts.
    • There is a 6 hour lab (GEL 107L) that is required for ALL geology majors. It is optional for everyone else. More sketching of fossils

GEL 108-Paleoclimates (Spring Quarter)

  • 3 Hour Lecture
  • Explores how scientists can understand climate in geological time and implications for modeling future climate. There is a lot of introductory physical geography involved, particularly on climate in general. This might be an interesting class if you're a graduate student in the Geography Graduate Group.

GEL 109-Sediments and Strata (Winter Quarter)

  • 2 Hour Lecture
  • Take with GEL 109L, 6 hours lab if it is your major or you need GE credit. The class explores how sediments are deposited, how those deposits physically manifest, and how deposits relate to the surrounding environment. Sedimentology can tell a geologist a lot about the geologic history for area under study.
  • The lab may involve up to two trips with one trip over two nights. For Winter quarter 2010, the lab went to Point Reyes for a day and then to Ridge Basin for the overnight trip. Ridge Basin is in the Pyramid Lake area just over the Grapevine on I-5 (before Santa Clarita). It is very cool. Literally. For Winter quarter 2011, the class went on a few day trips to Cache Creek over Presidents' Day weekend. Either way, you will be learning to use a Jacob's Staff to directly find the thickness of bedding. You'll also be recording sedimentary structures (such as rip-up clasts) and putting Walther's Law to good use. Several stratigraphic columns will need to be produced.

GEL 110-Summer Field Geology (Summer)

  • Six week, 8 unit course based at White Mountain Research Station outside of Bishop, CA.
    • Sleep on bunks with a few to several students per room. Reports indicate some rooms are better than others.
    • Breakfast and dinners have been provided in the past.
    • Sandwich making supplies have been available during breakfast to make lunches (?)
  • Intensive field work in varying disciplines including Structure, Neotectonics, Volcanology, and Geophysics.
  • Physically demanding course since it is strictly fieldwork in the summer in the desert.
  • Historically starts with a 10-day mapping project of the Poleta Folds ("Big Poleta").
    • It is unclear if students will be primarily hand-drafting maps or using a GIS for Summer 2011.
  • Typically only taken by students working towards their BS since it is required for the degree.
  • The department tries to subsidize as much of summer field as possible.
  • Students tend to romanticize their Summer field experience.

GEL 134-Environmental Geology and Land Use Planning (Winter)

  • 3 Hour Lecture
  • Usually an elective for undergraduates and appears to be popular with non-geology majors.

GEL 146 - Isotopic Geochemistry (Fall, alternate years, last offered 2009)

  • 3 Hour Lecture
  • Generally taken as an elective by undergraduates and graduate students.
  • Explores the principles of nuclear physics as applied to geological problems. Isotopes can be used to date rocks or even be used as tracers to explore geological and environmental change (such as climate change). The class takes a look at many different isotope systems such as 238U/235U. It definitely requires basic knowledge of calculus and chemistry. Elementary nuclear physics as explored in lower division physics coursework (Physics 9D) is definitely a plus. Those that love having especially challenging problems to solve will enjoy this class.

GEL 150B - Geologic Oceanography / Marine Geology (Winter)

  • 3 Hour Lecture
  • Usually an elective but can be associated with the oceanography minor
  • This is the less quantitative version (thus much less math) of GEL150A. It explores the geology and topography of the seafloor. Specifically, the course looks at the development and implications of oceanic crust.

GEL 163 - Planetary Geology (Spring)

  • 3 Hour Lecture
  • An elective but required for the geophysics tract
  • Explores the genesis of our solar system and all the processes that came out of it. Physics majors seem to like this course.

Discontinued Courses

GEL 100-Structure (Fall Quarter)

  • 3 hour lecture and one 3-hour lab
  • The upper div follow-up to GEL050. Emphasis on broad scale geologic processes that control mountain building, continent deformation, and crustal properties.
  • Ridiculously hard; though understanding classical mechanics from physics can take you a long way.
  • In that past, there were several trips to the Bay Area (Antioch and such) for mapping Black Diamond (pre-2004). 2004 and later classes have ventured as far as Nevada for mapping. The Fall 2010 class has gone to the Jordan Shear Zone on the South Fork Yuba River near Lang Crossing off of highway 20. The other field location for 2010 was Carrizo Plain National Monument and was a dry camping overnighter. An alternate field location for 2010 was Kehoe Beach at Point Reyes. As mentioned, you will camp at least one night: so you may want to invest in camping supplies or be prepared to rent or share a tent and other equipment. Basemaps in the past have been based on 1 m LIDAR data, which makes finding yourself either really confusing or really easy.
  • The lab charged a $42 materials fee in 2010 — likely to cover the field trips.

Camping Trips

Some upper division courses require field trips. These include GEL 101, 103, and 109 (see above). One or all of those field trips might be overnighters. Sometimes camping involves dry camping. Dry camping is when you camp at an authorized location that does not have running water and possibly does not have chemical latrines.

The weekend camping trips involves every eligible member of the class being assigned one or two camp jobs. This is intended to help streamline things a bit before camp, at camp, and after camp.

The geology department will not provide basic camping equipment such as tarps/tent pads, tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads. You must buy, rent, or share such equipment.

The geology department will provide kitchen kits. They are color coded containers full of camp kitchen equipment. They are checked out to groups of students. They are responsible for that equipment. This means that students must agree on what food to bring and ensure everyone is equally liable for the costs. The camp kitchen includes a two burner stove, pots and pans and some utensils. Plates and cups may not be included. Gas is provided by large tanks that can hook up two camp stoves and one light. It is unknown if student(s) can avoid the group cooking experience (after a long day, it can be fun or simply frustrating). Water is provided, of course. Finally, if applicable, a Brunton compass will be issued to each student, each pair of students, or each group of students. It all depends on how many students there are.


  • Geology Club. This student club offer barbecues, movie nights, trivia nights, trips, and more. See their website for additional details.
  • Oceanography Club. This student club supports those with interest in the subject (or minoring) with trips and other activities. See their website.


1. http://egsc.usgs.gov/isb/pubs/factsheets/fs17199.html