Peter Ryan

Professor of Geology

 work(802) 443-2557
 Monday 10:30-11:30, Tuesday 11:30-12:30, Thursday 11-12
 McCardell Bicentennial Hall 429

As a member of the Geology Department and the Environmental Studies Program, I teach courses in both geology and ES and advise senior research projects in both areas. The focus of my teaching here at Middlebury is low-temperature geochemistry, including courses in hydrology, soils, sedimentary geology and interdisciplinary environmental science. Primary areas of research include (1) the mineralogy and geochemistry of soil evolution in the moist tropics of Costa Rica with a focus on reaction pathways, mechanisms, kinetics and geological implications, and (2) the relationships among trace metals and phyllosilicates (clay minerals) in soils and bedrock; recent projects have focused on origins of naturally-derived arsenic, uranium and other trace metals in bedrock water wells in Vermont. Please visit my website for more information.



Course List: 

Courses offered in the past four years.
indicates offered in the current term
indicates offered in the upcoming term[s]

ENVS 0112 - Natural Science & Environment      

Natural Science and the Environment
We will explore in detail a series of current environmental issues in order to learn how principles of biology, chemistry, geology, and physics, as well as interdisciplinary scientific approaches, help us to identify and understand challenges to environmental sustainability. In lecture, we will examine global environmental issues, including climate change, water and energy resources, biodiversity and ecosystem services, human population growth, and world food production, as well as the application of science in forging effective, sustainable solutions. In the laboratory and field, we will explore local manifestations of global issues via experiential and hands-on approaches. 3 hrs. lect., 3 hrs. lab. SCI

Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Spring 2020

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ENVS 0500 - Independent Study      

Independent Study
In this course, students (non-seniors) carry out an independent research or creative project on a topic pertinent to the relationship between humans and the environment. The project, carried out under the supervision of a faculty member with related expertise who is appointed in or affiliated with the Environmental Studies Program, must involve a significant amount of independent research and analysis. The expectations and any associated final products will be defined in consultation with the faculty advisor. Students may enroll in ENVS 0500 no more than twice for a given project. (Approval only)

Fall 2015, Winter 2016, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Winter 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Winter 2018, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Winter 2019, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Winter 2020, Spring 2020

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ENVS 0700 - Senior Independent Study      

Senior Independent Study
In this course, seniors complete an independent research or creative project on a topic pertinent to the relationship between humans and the environment. During the term prior to enrolling in ENVS 0700, a student must discuss and agree upon a project topic with a faculty advisor who is appointed in or affiliated with the Environmental Studies Program and submit a brief project proposal to the Director of Environmental Studies for Approval. The expectations and any associated final products will be defined in consultation with the faculty advisor. Students may enroll in ENVS 0700 as a one-term independent study OR up to twice as part of a multi-term project, including as a lead-up to ENVS 0701 (ES Senior Thesis). (Senior standing; Approval only)

Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020

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GEOL 0170 - The Dynamic Earth      

The Dynamic Earth
Sea-floor spreading and continental drift, earthquakes and volcanoes, origin and evolution of mountain systems, and concepts of plate tectonics are viewed in light of the geology of ocean basins and continents. Modern processes such as river, coastal, wind, and glaciers will be studied and their effect on shaping the geologic landscape. Laboratory: field problems in Vermont geology; interpretation of geologic maps, regional tectonic synthesis. 3 hrs. lect./3 hrs. lab/field trips SCI

Fall 2019

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GEOL 0202 - Climate and Earth's History      

Climate and Earth's History
In this course we will discuss how external forces and internal feedbacks within the Earth system govern climate. Specific topics will include orbital variability, changes in ocean circulation, CO2 uptake in terrestrial ecosystems, and molecular vibrational controls on infrared absorption and Earth's heat budget. We will then examine climate change through Earth's history as evidenced by a number of geologic proxies including the sedimentary record, ice cores, isotopic records, glaciers, soils, and tree rings. Ultimately our improved understanding of past climates will provide a context within which to discuss future changes to come. (one Geology course) SCI

Spring 2017

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GEOL 0241 - Sedimentary Rocks      

Sedimentary Rocks
This course will provide an overview of the tools used in determining depositional environments and tectonic settings of sedimentary rocks. Lectures will cover depositional systems and facies relationships, stratigraphic principles, origin of sedimentary structures and textures. Labs and field trips will include methods in sedimentary basin analysis, and sedimentary petrology. (formerly GEOL 0321) (Any 0100-level geology course or by waiver) 3 hrs. lect., 3 hrs. lab/field trips SCI

Spring 2017

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GEOL 0255 / GEOG 0255 - Water Resources Hydrogeology      

Surface and Ground Water
Fresh water is the most fundamental resource sustaining life on the continents. This course is an introduction to the study of water and its interactions with the geologic environment. Basic hydrological processes such as precipitation, stream flow, and the subsurface flow of ground water are analyzed by quantitative methods. Climatic and human-induced changes in the hydrological cycle are examined, and current issues and policies are discussed in light of the increasing demands and impacts of a technological society on water resources and associated natural systems. (ENVS 0112 or any 0100-level Geology course) 3 hrs. lect./3 hrs. lab DED SCI

Spring 2016, Spring 2018, Spring 2020

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GEOL 0323 - Environmental Geochemistry      

Environmental Geochemistry
This course will address the origin, transport, fate, and analysis of chemicals in the environment. Topics will include aquatic chemistry, rock weathering, elemental cycles, atmospheric processes, and energy resources. Both naturally occurring and anthropogenic compounds/elements will be considered. The course will introduce students to a variety of analytical and instrumental techniques, including ultraviolet-visible-spectrophotometry, atomic absorption spectrometry, and high-performance liquid chromatography. The labs willbe project oriented. Major ions, nutrients, trace metals, and organic compounds will be studied in a variety of systems, including natural waters, soils, and air (One GEOL course and CHEM 0104 or by waiver) 3 hrs. lect. SCI

Fall 2015, Spring 2018

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GEOL 0500 - Readings And Research      

Readings and Research
Individual or group independent study, laboratory or field research projects, readings and discussion of timely topics in earth and environmental science. (Approval only)

Fall 2015, Winter 2016, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Winter 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Winter 2018, Spring 2018, Winter 2019, Fall 2019, Winter 2020, Spring 2020

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GEOL 0700 - Senior Thesis Research      

Upon completion of GEOL 0400, all senior geology majors will continue their independent senior thesis research by taking one unit of GEOL 0700. This research will culminate in a written thesis which must be orally defended. (Approval only)

Fall 2015, Winter 2016, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Winter 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Winter 2018, Spring 2018, Fall 2019, Spring 2020

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GEOL 1035 - Field Geology Active Tectonics      

Field Geology in Active Tectonic Environments
In this off-campus course students will gain experience through field-based exercises designed to emphasize observation, sample and data collection, and interpretation of geologic phenomena. By carrying out field work in diverse tectonic environments, students will be exposed to geologic processes complementary to those found in New England. Students will gain a broader understanding of topics including tectonics, volcanism, stratigraphy, soil formation, hydrology, structural analyses, field mapping, geomorphology and hazard assessment. The four-week course consists of three weeks off-campus followed by one week on-campus, culminating with small group research projects and reports emphasizing integration of field observations with instrumental analysis in on-campus laboratories. Approval Only (any two 200-level courses in GEOL; priority to Juniors and Seniors) WTR

Winter 2018

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Recent Publications

  1. Ryan, P.C., Kim, J., Wall, A.J.*, Moen, J.C.*, Corenthal, L.G.*, Chow, D.R., Sullivan, C.M.*, Bright, K.S.*, 2011, Ultramafic-derived arsenic in a fractured bedrock aquifer. Applied Geochemistry 26, 444-457.

  2. Kim, J., Klepeis, K., Ryan, P., Gale, M., McNiff, C., Ruksznis, A., and Webber, J., 2011, A bedrock transect across the Champlain and Hinesburg thrusts in west-central Vermont: integration of tectonics with hydrogeology and groundwater chemistry, in West, D.P., Jr., editor, Guidebook for Field Trips in Vermont and Adjacent New York: New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference Guidebook, C5-1-23.

  3. Ryan P.C., Huertas, F.J., 2009. The temporal evolution of pedogenic Fe-smectite to Fe-kaolin via interstratified kaolin-smectite in a moist tropical soil chronosequence. Geoderma 151, 1-15.

  4. Ryan P.C., Hillier S, Wall A.J.*, 2008, Stepwise effects of the BCR sequential chemical extraction procedure on dissolution and metal release from common ferromagnesian clay minerals: a combined solution chemistry and X-ray powder diffraction study. Science of the Total Environment 407, 603-614.

Program in Environmental Studies

Franklin Environmental Center at Hillcrest
531 College Street
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753