The World's Greatest Geological Wonders

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent introductoin to geology I am one of those people who always wants the window seat on the plane and will spend most of the trip with my head glued to the window because I am fascinated by all of the landscapes. I always wonder what could have caused them. This course does a great job of explaining the basic forces that shape our world and answering those questions. I was really only expecting to see some amazing sites from around the world, but professor Wysession uses them to teach about the science of geology and the earth's history. Fascinating!
Date published: 2020-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Filled with Surprises Dr. Wysession packs an amazing amount of information into each brief lecture, and the lectures add up to a course that is beautifully organized, lucid, and well-illustrated. It takes a special kind of teacher to make such complex material "beginner-friendly," but this is what he has done. I began the course expecting an interesting bit of armchair travel and hoping not to be snowed under by geological jargon; I finished with horizons expanded and mental appetites whetted. I was particularly delighted by the lecture on auroras, the inclusion of out-of-this-world marvels, and the mini-wonders.
Date published: 2020-09-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An adventure Good presentation kept me interested, pleasant lecturer only a little political correctness. Good use of illustrations and images.
Date published: 2020-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So far the best course I followed. The course is as exciting as the universe we live in, The professor is very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and modest. I simply adored him and the course.
Date published: 2020-08-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What an amazing planet! Top scores for this fascinating course. Prof. Wysession has put together thirty-six of the most entertaining and fact-filled lectures that I have ever sat through. His excellent choices of photography, animations and bench demonstrations provide clear explanations of plate tectonics, volcanism, glaciation, erosion and the many physical and chemical processes that create features on the planet’s surface. His speaking style is perfect for this subject material. My wife and I have enjoyed about a dozen of the Great Courses ---number theory, differential equations, European painting, Irish history, thermodynamics, organic chemistry, etc. This was the most enjoyable of the lot. Concerning Prof. Wysession’s collection of neckties, I will not comment. HWF, Mesa AZ
Date published: 2020-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really loved this course. Roggerio’s commentary wasn’t stuffy at all. Just a joy to learn insider information about art I’ve always loved. There’s mystery behind most art so that’s what makes art history interesting. Thanks so much ❤️
Date published: 2020-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating I purchased this course just a few weeks ago and have found it to be a wonderful surprise. This is a subject that I normally do not have a lot of interest in, but I saw the ratings and decided to take something outside of my normal areas of interest. I am so glad I did. I found Mr Wysession to be a terrific instructor, well prepared and with infectious enthusiasm. The visuals are outstanding. I've taken a lot of courses via the "Great Courses", and this certainly ranks up there with the very best.
Date published: 2020-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Geological Wonders Great series of lectures on absolutely unbelievable wonders that we can at least see and hear about from an expert
Date published: 2020-08-20
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The World's Greatest Geological Wonders
Course Trailer
Santorini-Impact of Volcanic Eruptions
1: Santorini-Impact of Volcanic Eruptions

Learn Professor Wysession's criteria for choosing more than 200 different geologic wonders in nearly 120 countries. Then explore the first on his list: the beautiful Greek island of Santorini, which is the relic of a volcanic eruption that had a profound effect on the ancient Mediterranean world.

33 min
Mount Fuji-Sleeping Power
2: Mount Fuji-Sleeping Power

Turn from eruptions to volcanoes themselves-in particular, Mount Fuji in Japan, a sacred site whose nearly perfect cone shape is a popular subject in Japanese art. Investigate the origin of volcanoes such as Mount Fuji and the special conditions that produce their sturdy symmetrical cones.

33 min
Galapagos Rift-Wonders of Mid-Ocean Ridges
3: Galapagos Rift-Wonders of Mid-Ocean Ridges

Continue your study of phenomena associated with plate tectonics by visiting the Galapagos Islands, made famous by Charles Darwin. This magnificent archipelago is on a volcanic hotspot near a mid-ocean ridge, formed by moving tectonic plates. Natural wonders abound in the region, both above and below water.

32 min
African Rift Valley-Cracks into the Earth
4: African Rift Valley-Cracks into the Earth

Visit the African Rift Valley, a mid-ocean ridge in the making. From the Red Sea to Mount Kilimanjaro, tectonic forces are splitting Africa apart, forming a new ocean in the process. This impressive valley is also the site of many fossil discoveries relating to early humans.

29 min
Erta Ale-Compact Fury of Lava Lakes
5: Erta Ale-Compact Fury of Lava Lakes

Zoom in on a remarkable feature of the African Rift Valley: the lava lake at Erta Ale in Ethiopia. This seething cauldron of molten rock is the oldest of the world's five active lava lakes, and it replicates on a small scale the complex process of plate tectonics.

27 min
Burgess Shale-Rocks and the Keys to Life
6: Burgess Shale-Rocks and the Keys to Life

Chart the evolution of life revealed in the extraordinary fossils of the Burgess Shale in British Columbia. This mountainside quarry records the proliferation of new organisms-both familiar and bizarre-that followed a mass extinction half a billion years ago.

31 min
The Grand Canyon-Earth's Layers
7: The Grand Canyon-Earth's Layers

Read the incredible story told in the mile-deep layers of the Grand Canyon. Investigate the canyon's formation and its connection to the opening of the Gulf of California and the birth of the San Andreas Fault. Also consider what gives the canyon its extraordinary visual effect.

31 min
The Himalayas-Mountains at Earth's Roof
8: The Himalayas-Mountains at Earth's Roof

What makes the highest mountains in the world so high? Follow the events that created Mount Everest and the rest of the Himalayan range on the vast Tibetan Plateau. Learn the role of the plateau in cooling the entire planet over the last 60 million years.

30 min
The Ganges Delta-Earth's Fertile Lands
9: The Ganges Delta-Earth's Fertile Lands

Much of the rock eroded from the Himalayas ends up in the Ganges River delta, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. Learn how a delta forms and how the Ganges is both life-sustaining and destructive-qualities that give it a religious significance for millions of people.

30 min
The Amazon Basin-Lungs of the Planet
10: The Amazon Basin-Lungs of the Planet

The Amazon River collects rainfall from a huge region, called the Amazon basin. Trace the basin's extensive network of tributaries, which produce 20% of the fresh water that flows into the ocean. Furthermore, the basin's lush vegetation is responsible for 20% of all oxygen in the atmosphere.

31 min
Iguazu Falls-Thundering Waterfalls
11: Iguazu Falls-Thundering Waterfalls

Waterfalls are among nature's most beautiful spectacles, and the most impressive falls form under unusual geological conditions. Along the border of Brazil and Argentina, tour thundering Iguazu Falls, a display of 275 separate falls over a 1.5-mile span with individual falls up to 270 feet high. Learn their close connection to a hotspot on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

28 min
Mammoth Cave-Worlds Underground
12: Mammoth Cave-Worlds Underground

Water doesn't just flow on the surface; it also flows underground, carving caves in the process. The largest cave system in the world is Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Discover how groundwater excavated this network of passages that extends for at least 390 miles.

31 min
Cave of Crystals-Exquisite Caves
13: Cave of Crystals-Exquisite Caves

Focus on the spectacular shapes, such as stalagmites, stalactites, flowstones, and other cave features formed by minerals slowly precipitating from water. Then visit the recently discovered Cave of Crystals in Mexico, a science-fiction-like world with individual crystals up to 35 feet long.

30 min
Great Blue Hole-Coastal Symmetry in Sinkholes
14: Great Blue Hole-Coastal Symmetry in Sinkholes

Probe the mystery of the Great Blue Hole, an enormous submerged sinkhole ringed by a coral reef off the coast of Belize. Study the processes that create sinkholes, and investigate the nature of karst topography, which is produced by the erosion of limestone.

32 min
Ha Long Bay-Dramatic Karst Landscapes
15: Ha Long Bay-Dramatic Karst Landscapes

The picturesque limestone islands in Vietnam's Ha Long Bay are an example of mature karst topography. Discover how the bay's cone-shaped towers are related to the sinkholes in Lecture 14. The key to understanding their puzzling geology is to focus not on the rock that's there, but what's missing.

30 min
Bryce Canyon-Creative Carvings of Erosion
16: Bryce Canyon-Creative Carvings of Erosion

Continue your study of erosional features with Utah's Bryce Canyon, the densest display of weathered rock pinnacles, called hoodoos, anywhere in the world. Learn that Bryce Canyon isn't really a canyon because it hasn't been formed by a river. But then what created the hoodoos?

31 min
Uluru/Ayers Rock-Sacred Nature of Rocks
17: Uluru/Ayers Rock-Sacred Nature of Rocks

Go to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in Australia to inspect two popular attractions shaped by erosion: Ayres Rock, known locally as Uluru, and the Kata Tjuta rock domes. Trace the history of moving plates, rising and receding seas, and constant weathering that created these impressive structures.

32 min
Devils Tower-Igneous Enigmas
18: Devils Tower-Igneous Enigmas

Famous as the landing pad for aliens in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Devils Tower in Wyoming is an otherworldly geological formation. Discover how this massive tower of igneous columns developed. Along the way, investigate why nature loves hexagons.

31 min
Antarctica-A World of Ice
19: Antarctica-A World of Ice

Head south to a pristine, unearthly continent: Antarctica. Explore the varied geology and the complex behavior of the giant ice sheets that flow relentlessly toward the ocean. Among its attractions, Antarctica is a superb place to test techniques for exploring cold, dry environments such as Mars.

32 min
Columbia Glacier-Unusual Glacier Cycles
20: Columbia Glacier-Unusual Glacier Cycles

Witness the power of glaciers, which carry a continuous stream of ice and rock from the tops of mountain ranges down to the base-often to the sea, such as at Columbia Glacier in Alaska. Chart the rapid retreat of Columbia Glacier since 1980, which has been triggered by climate change.

30 min
Fiordland National Park-Majestic Fjords
21: Fiordland National Park-Majestic Fjords

Visit the stunning fjords of Fiordland National Park in New Zealand, focusing on the most famous of these flooded glacial valleys, Milford Sound. The drama of the landscape is matched by tumultuous tectonic forces that are slowly ripping New Zealand apart.

32 min
Rock of Gibraltar-Catastrophic Floods
22: Rock of Gibraltar-Catastrophic Floods

The Rock of Gibraltar marks the gateway from the Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean-a connection that has been closed on and off through recent geologic time. Explore the currents, catastrophic floods, and drastic sea-level changes that have occurred at the strait of Gibraltar and throughout the Mediterranean basin.

32 min
Bay of Fundy-Inexorable Cycle of Tides
23: Bay of Fundy-Inexorable Cycle of Tides

Why are the tides in Canada's Bay of Fundy exceptionally high? Probe the principles of tides-what causes them, why the times of high and low tide vary from day to day, and the peculiar geometry between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick that results in an extraordinary tidal range.

31 min
Hawaii-Volcanic Island Beauty
24: Hawaii-Volcanic Island Beauty

The Hawaiian Islands are part of the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Chain, which stretches 3,600 miles across the western Pacific Ocean. This feature is mostly straight, except for a curious sharp bend. Investigate the origin of the chain and the special qualities of its easternmost element: the big island of Hawaii.

31 min
Yellowstone-Geysers and Hot Springs
25: Yellowstone-Geysers and Hot Springs

What happens when a hotspot is beneath a continent? The answer is Yellowstone National Park, a wonderland of geysers and hot springs nestled in the gigantic caldera of a supervolcano. Tour the attractions of Yellowstone, and ponder the history and future of the hotspot that fuels it.

32 min
Kawah Ijen-World's Most Acid Lake
26: Kawah Ijen-World's Most Acid Lake

Imagine a place where steam is so acidic that it burns your lungs, where flaming, liquid sulfur condenses from that steam, and a turquoise-colored lake is filled with the equivalent of battery acid. This hellish place is the crater lake of Kawah Ijen on the island of Java in Indonesia.

32 min
Iceland-Where Fire Meets Ice
27: Iceland-Where Fire Meets Ice

Visit Iceland, a geologist's paradise where you can walk along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland is a hotspot that sits atop the plate boundary that divides North and South America from Europe and Africa. Here, volcanoes and glaciers-fire and ice-coexist.

28 min
The Maldives-Geologic Paradox
28: The Maldives-Geologic Paradox

Home to some of the world's most beautiful beaches, the Maldives in the Indian Ocean show the tranquil end-stage of ocean islands built on hotspots. The volcanoes beneath this coral reef archipelago are long since dormant, and the islands themselves barely rise above sea level.

27 min
The Dead Sea-Sinking and Salinity
29: The Dead Sea-Sinking and Salinity

Begin a series of lectures on desert regions by exploring the Dead Sea. Learn why this body of water on the border between Israel and Jordan is almost nine times saltier than the ocean and has the lowest elevation of any place on Earth.

31 min
Salar de Uyuni-Flattest Place on Earth
30: Salar de Uyuni-Flattest Place on Earth

Travel to the world's largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. Almost the size of Connecticut, Uyuni is the flattest place on the planet. When it gets a very thin layer of water, it becomes the world's largest mirror. Uyuni contains the world's largest reserve of lithium-should it be mined?

30 min
Namib/Kalahari Deserts-Sand Mountains
31: Namib/Kalahari Deserts-Sand Mountains

Contrast two of the world's most fascinating deserts, the Namib and Kalahari deserts in southern Africa. The Atlantic shoreline of the Namib Desert has been aptly named the Skeleton Coast. The Kalahari Desert includes the mighty Okavango River, which empties into the arid landscape and then disappears.

32 min
Siwa Oasis-Paradise amidst Desolation
32: Siwa Oasis-Paradise amidst Desolation

Located in the eastern Sahara Desert, Siwa is an island of water in a giant sea of sand. Investigate how an oasis with 1,000 springs can exist in one of the driest places on Earth. One clue is that the water beneath Siwa soaked into the ground more than 20 million years ago.

29 min
Auroras-Light Shows on the Edge of Space
33: Auroras-Light Shows on the Edge of Space

Investigate a stunning atmospheric phenomenon caused by events both inside Earth and in outer space. The shimmering colors of auroras result when particles from the solar wind are accelerated in Earth's magnetic field, which is generated by Earth's churning iron core.

32 min
Arizona Meteor Crater-Visitors from Outer Space
34: Arizona Meteor Crater-Visitors from Outer Space

Meteor Crater in Arizona is the best preserved of Earth's few remaining impact craters. Why does the moon have more than 500,000 craters at least as large? Explore what happens when extraterrestrial debris strikes Earth at escape-velocity speeds. A relatively small object can do a surprising amount of damage.

30 min
A Montage of Geologic Mini-Wonders
35: A Montage of Geologic Mini-Wonders

In an entertaining change of pace, watch a countdown of 10 geological wonders that are hard to classify, from number 10-the White Cliffs of Dover-to number 1-a geological mystery in Death Valley that would seem like a hoax if it weren't true.

31 min
Planetary Wonders-Out of This World
36: Planetary Wonders-Out of This World

Tour some of the amazing geological features beyond Earth, among them planet-circling lava flows on Venus and the solar system's largest volcano and canyon on Mars. Close with the hydrocarbon lakes on Saturn's moon Titan, proving that there is no end to geological wonders throughout the cosmos.

39 min
Michael E. Wysession

The more you know and understand the natural world, the greater will be your love and appreciation for it.


Northwestern University


Washington University in St. Louis

About Michael E. Wysession

Dr. Michael E. Wysession is the Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. Professor Wysession earned his Sc.B. in Geophysics from Brown University and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University. An established leader in seismology and geophysical education, Professor Wysession is noted for his development of a new way to create three-dimensional images of Earth's interior from seismic waves. These images have provided scientists with insights into the makeup of Earth and its evolution throughout history. Professor Wysession is the coauthor of An Introduction to Seismology, Earthquakes, and Earth Structure; the lead author of Physical Science: Concepts in Action; and the primary writer for the texts Earth Science, Earth's Interior, Earth's Changing Surface, and Earth's Waters. Professor Wysession received a Science and Engineering Fellowship from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, a National Science Foundation Presidential Faculty Fellowship, and fellowships from the Kemper and Lily Foundations. He has received the Innovation Award of the St. Louis Science Academy and the Distinguished Faculty Award of Washington University. In 2005, Professor Wysession had a Distinguished Lectureship with the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology and the Seismological Society of America. In 2014, Wysession received the inaugural Ambassador Award of the American Geophysical Union.

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