Course: Geology and Biology of the Tibetan Plateau

HC 441H

Professor: Samantha Hopkins

Central Asia is home to the highest mountains in the world, and the elevation and relief of the Tibetan Plateau is unequalled anywhere else on Earth. Its impact on global climate traces back perhaps 65 million years, and continues through the present day. This remarkable structure affects a vast swath of the surrounding land and oceans; it is the origin of some of the planets largest rivers: the Yangtze, the Mekong, the Ganges, the Indus, and the Yellow River. Its ongoing uplift creates earthquakes in western China, Kyrgyzstan, India, Pakistan, and surrounding countries. This region is also home to a remarkable array of unusual plants and animals adapted to the high elevations and harsh conditions. Human history here has also been shaped by the geology of the area, where the Silk Road passed through rugged terrain in sustaining trade between East and West.

In this class, we will study the geologic origins of Central Asia's unusual geologic structures, and the implications of its unique geologic properties for ongoing geologic and biological processes. We'll take a look at why this area is so different from everywhere else on earth, and what we can learn about natural processes from the study of this extreme geology. We'll also tie the geological and biological features of this region to some of the sociopolitical implications of this dynamic area. Class activities will primarily feature discussion of primary literature, mostly in natural schience but with some forays into the social sciences. Grades will be based on class participation, written analysis of the papers we read, and a term project that includes both a research paper and a short in-class presentation.