EARTH 326: Data Analysis for Earth and Planetary Sciences

Course Details

Class Lectures: Tues Thurs 12:30-1:50 PM, Tech F285

Professors: Seth Stein

The Earth is a messy and complicated system that we study with data that are imprecise, inaccurate, inconsistent, and insufficient. As a result, our ideas about how the earth works and what it will do in the future have considerable uncertainties. This course introduces some approaches from statistics and probability that are used to address issues of uncertainty and forecasting in the geosciences including natural hazards, climate change, and how the planet works. Grading is based on homework, in-class problems, a project, and write-ups of several department seminars.

Required Texts

An Introduction to Error Analysis: The Study of Uncertainties in Physical Measurements (Paperback) by John R. Taylor, University Science Books, 1997

Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can’t Predict the Future by Orrin H. Pilkey & Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, Columbia U. Press, 2007

Class handouts (downloadable pdf)

Excel file of data for sloss room table

Fortran function for Gaussian

Fortran subroutine for linear least squares 

Forsyth & Uyeda table for problem set 6 (xls)

Handout on using GPS data in teaching data analysis (pdf)

GPS data for problem set 9 (xls)


30%: Homework problems
30%: 2-page writeups of three department seminars, discussing the accuracy, precision, consistancy, and adequacy of the data used, due within one week of the seminar
30%: Term project
10%: In-class problems

Portable electronic devices may not be used in class. You may discuss homework with each other, but are expected to work and do your writeups independently. Problem sets are due one week after being assigned, unless prior arrangements have been made. Class question make-ups are only allowed by advance arrangements. Late work will be penalized no less than 50%. As per university policy, class attendance is expected and required.


Optional supplementary reading:

Statistical Treatment of Experimental Data: An Introduction to Statistical Methods by Hugh D. Young

Data Reduction and Error Analysis for the Physical Sciences (Paperback) by Philip R. Bevington and D.Keith Robinson

Lady Luck: The Theory of Probability by Warren Weaver, Dover, 1963

Understanding Probability: Chance Rules in Everyday Life by Henk Tijms, Cambridge, 2007

Chance: A Guide to Gambling, Love, the Stock Market and Just About Everything Else by Amir D. Aczel, Thunder Mountain, 2004

Statistics and Data Analysis in Geology by John C. Davis, Wiley, 2002

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Random House, 2007

Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Random House, 2004

When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management by Roger Lowenstein, Random House, 2000

The Future of Everything: The Science of Prediction by David Orrell, Thunder’s Mouth, 2007

Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? by David M. Raup, Norton, 1991

Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast by David Archer, Willey-Blackwell, 2006

Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don’t Want You to Know by Patrick Michaels and Robert Balling, Cato Institute, 2009