Italy: Earth and Environment
Bounded on the north by the majestic Alps, held up by the sublime yet geologically complex Apennine Mountains, and surrounded by the deep blue Mediterranean Sea, Italy captures the hearts and imaginations of most who are lucky enough to pass through its spectacular landscape. Perhaps better known for its deep cultural and intellectual history, Italy has played a profound role in shaping our understanding of Earth’s considerably deeper natural history. The nearly continuous, 250 million year geologic record locked into the rocks of Italy is unmatched anywhere on the planet, and reveals an astonishing story of radically different worlds, from the tropical carbonate platforms supporting an abundance of marine life in the ancient Tethys Ocean to the so-called Messinian salinity crisis around 5.5 million years ago when the Mediterranean Sea dried up almost completely. Indeed, it is in the rocks of Italy near the home base of this program where Walter Alvarez (University of California, Berkeley) and others found the iridium anomaly at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary marking the end of the age of dinosaurs thanks to the impact of a 10 km comet or meteorite.
In addition to the history written in stone, the landscape and cultural artifacts of Italy record a long history of humans interacting with their environment. From the Etruscans of the 6th century B.C., through the Roman Empire, and continuing today, the geology and landscape have shaped the cultural evolution of Italians as much as Italians have left their mark on the environment and landscapes of Italy. From visiting the world’s first geothermal plant to investigating the influence of the landscape on the unfolding of Italy’s long human history, we will keep a continual eye on the ways in which the physical form and geologic evolution of the Italian peninsula have influenced the course of Italian history as well as modern day Italian lifestyles.
The Earth and Environment in Italy program is designed for students who are looking for a rigorous program built around field-based projects that focus on the interactions between the major earth systems: the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere (including humans). Based out of the Osservatorio Geologico di Coldigioco, we take advantage of our central location in the Marche region of Italy to take extended field trips to study the Dolomites in the Italian Alps, the famous Carrara marbles of Tuscany and the rugged coastal settlements of neighboring Croatia. Students have additional opportunities to travel throughout Italy and neighboring countries as part of their independent research projects and on days off from the academic program.