List of Free Online Earth Science Courses and Classes
See our list of the top online Earth science courses. Learn about what courses are available, what topics they cover and whether you can use them to get college credit.
Online Earth Science Courses for Credit
Many free online Earth science courses don't require registration or tuition, but the majority of them also don't result in college credit. Students interested in earning credit can consider courses that charge a fee in exchange for access to online resources. Study.com offers this form of online learning via short, engaging video lessons and self-assessment quizzes available to registered members.
Students interested in learning about this subject can take the Earth Science 101: Earth Science course. Chapters cover these topics and more:
- Earth Science Basics - Review concepts like the metric system, experimental design in science, and the scientific method.
- Geologic Time - Learn about the geologic time scale, theories of geologic evolution, methods of geological dating, and related topics.
- Plate Tectonics - Identify the theory of Pangaea, evidence of continental drift, and the causes of tectonic plate movement.
- Minerals and Rocks - Explore the optical properties of minerals, mineral strength and density, the rock cycle, and more.
Free Online Non-Credited Earth Science Courses
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Students can download lecture notes in PDF form for all these courses, although some only offer notes from selected lectures. Textbooks and recommended readings may be required to fully learn from the courses, but are not available for free.
- Ecology I examines the Earth as one complex system. It's recommended that students have a background in biology prior to starting this course. Students examine how the geosphere, atmosphere, oceans and biosphere function together and support ecosystems. Assignments and exams with solutions are available, as well as examples of student papers.
- Geobiology is an undergraduate course that teaches students how the Earth's environment was created and how life developed. Topics include the history of the universe and solar system, molecular evolution, photosynthesis, biomineralization, climate change and genomics.
- Structure of Earth Materials explores the chemical bonds and crystalline structures that comprise various types of rocks. They also learn how structure influences rock properties. Students can view image galleries to help them identify different types of rocks.
- Essentials of Geophysics can be taken by both undergraduate and graduate students. Topics of study include gravity, geodynamics, the Earth's magnetic field and seismology.
- Environment of the Earth's Surface explores the forces that impact the Earth's surface, such as erosion, glaciers and precipitation. Charts and graphics are provided in the lecture notes. Exam questions, but not solutions, are available.
- General Circulation of the Earth's Atmosphere is a graduate-level course that covers topics like spectral analysis, kinetic energy budgets and numerical models.
- Turbulence in the Ocean and Atmosphere is also a graduate course. Students need a background in physics and math to understand the material taught in this course. Topics covered include convection, QG turbulence, 2D and 3D turbulence, wind-driven turbulence and topographic waves.
The Open University
These courses include transcripts of lessons along with activities and informative graphics. All information is presented within the lessons, and no textbooks or additional readings are required.
- Global Warming looks at temperature patterns and the causes of global warming. Students can read lessons on global warming, examine charts that depict data and review additional documents that discuss global warming.
- Climate Change teaches students about natural and manmade reasons for global warming and climate change. Study questions at the end of the course give students a chance to further explore the topics.
- The Frozen Planet looks at the Earth's polar regions, teaching how the Sun's energy reaches these areas and what the average temperatures are like throughout the year. The course discusses the habitats that characterize the Antarctic and the Arctic zones.
- Volcanic Hazards explores types of eruptions. Students can learn about the various hazards, like pyroclastic flows and volcanic ash clouds, that result from different types of eruptions. Images and text referring to real eruptions helps convey this information.
University of California - Irvine
- How Predictable is the Climate System: Droughts, Floods, and Extreme Events is an approximately 40-minute video of a lecture delivered by Professor Soroosh Sorooshian, who directs the Center for Hydrometeorology and Remote Sensing at the university. He discusses the planet's climate throughout its history and what is predicted for the future, based on past circumstances. No other course materials are provided.
- The Atmosphere, the Ocean and Environmental Change looks at the forces that dictate the weather and ocean currents. Topics include El Niño, global warming, air pollution and storms. They can download videos of 35 classroom lectures, along with four exams and the exam answers. Users can purchase the recommended textbook if they would like to fully benefit from the course.