Online course: Mountains 101

Dates: any time

Duration: 18 hours

Rating: 4.9 / 5.0 out of 1854 ratings (see top rating courses here)

Participating countries: any country

Apply hereApplication form

Organizer: University of Alberta at Coursera


  • FREE
  • $49 with sharable certificate

Mountains 101

Mountains 101­­ is a broad and integrated overview of the mountain world. This 12-lesson course covers an interdisciplinary field of study focusing on the physical, biological, and human dimensions of mountain places in Alberta, Canada, and around the world. Specifically, we’ll study the geological origins of mountains, how they’re built-up and worn-down over time; we’ll learn about their importance for biodiversity and water cycles, globally and locally; we’ll explore their cultural significance to societies around the globe, and how that relationship has evolved over time; and we’ll learn how mountains are used, how they’re protected, and how today they’re experiencing rapid change in a warming climate.

At the end of each lesson, Mountains 101 will also provide learners with some smart tricks — Tech Tips — to safely enjoy time in the high alpine environment: from how to pick the best footwear for hiking to making smart decisions in avalanche terrain. We’ll be delivering your online lessons from valley bottoms to mountaintops, from museums and labs, to alpine huts and other spectacular alpine sites, and we’ll do so with the help of a whole host of experts. We invite you to join us for this online adventure! The mountains are calling…




WEEK 1: 1 hour to complete

Lesson 1: Why Mountains Matter

In this introductory lesson, you will learn why mountain environments are relevant to people all around the globe. We’ll also define just what a “mountain” is in order to show why it is useful to think about mountains from various perspectives. TechTip: Your feet are your vehicle

1.1 Course Introduction
1.2 Why do Mountains Matter?
1.3 Defining a Mountain
Tech Tip 01: Your Feet are Your Vehicle
Instructional Staff
Your Mountain World Interactive Map – Lesson 1
Course notes and recomended reading

WEEK 2: 2 hours to complete

Lesson 2: Origins

In Lesson 2, we discuss why mountains are located where they are. How did they get there? We’ll explore the physical origins of mountains, theories of mountain building, and how our changing ideas about mountains and their genesis have shaped our engagement with them. TechTip: Dress for success

2.1 Mountains & Deep Time
2.2 Current Theories of Mountain Building
2.3 Types of Mountains
Tech Tip 02: Dress for Success
Your Mountain World Interactive Map
Course notes and recommended readings

WEEK 3: 1 hour to complete

Lesson 3: Climate

Mountains influence climate and weather at both global and local scales. In Lesson 3, we will examine how elevation affects atmospheric processes, and discuss an ecological manifestation of mountain climate: the alpine tree line. TechTip: What goes in your pack?

3.1 Global Climate Drivers
3.2 Local Climate Drivers
3.3 Alpine Environments
Tech Tip 03: What goes in your pack?
Your Mountain World Interactive Map
Course notes and recomended readings

WEEK 4: 1 hour to complete

Lesson 4: Bodies at Altitude

Lesson 4 explores some of the physiological responses that allow humans to visit higher altitudes, as well as the unique genetic adaptations that permit long-time exposure to the world’s high places. TechTip: Stay found – preparation

4.1 Atmospheric Pressure & Oxygen Partial Pressure
4.2 Acclimatization
4.3 Adaptation of High-Altitude Peoples
Tech Tip 04: Stay Found – Preparation
Your Mountain World Interactive Map

WEEK 5: 2 hours to complete

Lesson 5: Water Towers

Lesson 5 focuses on mountain hydrology. We’ll discuss the ways that water moves through the mountain landscape, how water shapes and changes mountain landscapes, and we’ll introduce some hazards associated with water, such as glacial lake outburst floods. TechTip: Stay found – in the field

5.1 Water Towers
5.2 Sources of Water in Mountains
5.3 Runoff
5.4 When Water Towers Malfunction
Tech Tip 05: Stay Found – In the Field

WEEK 6: 1 hour to complete

Lesson 6: Glaciers

Lesson 6 focuses exclusively on glaciers, their physical composition and processes, how they form and move, and how they modify the landscape. We’ll also examine how our changing understandings of glaciers have shaped the ways people have engaged with mountain landscapes over the past few centuries. TechTip: Stay safe – from falling

6.1 What are Glaciers?
6.2 Types of Glaciers
6.3 Glacier Dynamics
6.4 Glacier Features & Land Modifications
Tech Tip 06: Stay Safe (Fall or Fall In)

WEEK 7: 1 hour to complete

Lesson 7: Imagination

In Lesson 7, we examine some of the ways people have imagined mountains throughout time, and try to place those ideas and attitudes in their respective cultural contexts. Appreciating the diversity of views – their reception in oral traditions, art, literature, architecture, and other cultural forms – gives us some context for the more dominant ways we think about and celebrate mountains today. TechTip: Stay safe – winter challenges

7.1 Attitudes Towards Mountains
7.2 Western Romantic Enthusiasm
Tech Tip 07: Stay Safe – Winter Challenges

WEEK 8: 2 hours to complete

Lesson 8: Hazards

Mountain hazards are the focus of Lesson 8, specifically snow avalanches, landslides, and volcanoes. We will examine the physical processes that lead to instability in mountain landscapes and consider how risks associated with hazards can be managed. TechTip: Stay safe – avalanche safety (know before you go)

8.1 Avalanches
8.2 Landslides
8.3 Volcanoes
Tech Tip 08: Stay Safe – Avalanche Safety (Know Before You Go)

WEEK 9: 2 hours to complete

Lesson 9: Mountain Biodiversity and Adaptations of Plants
In this Lesson 9, we discuss the ecological and evolutionary processes that account for the remarkable biodiversity of species living in mountain environments. Then, we explore some of the unique adaptations that plants have for coping with extreme conditions, including cold, intense solar radiation, and short growing seasons. TechTip: Go farther – camping

9.1 Biodiversity in Mountains
9.2 Hotspots of Biodiversity
9.3 Adaptations of Conifer Trees
9.4 Adaptations of Alpine Plants
9.5 Reproduction of Alpine Plants
Tech Tip 09: Go Farther – Camping

WEEK 10: 1 hour to complete

Lesson 10: Animal Adaptations

Animals living in mountains have evolved morphological, behavioural, and physiological adaptations to survive under extreme conditions. In Lesson 10, we will focus on how several species deal with the cold and conclude with a peek at the adaptations of fish living in mountain lakes. TechTip: Go farther – cooking

10.1 Adaptations of Animals to Mountain Environments
10.2 Examples of Mountain Adapted Species
10.3 Freshwater Fish in Mountain Lakes
Tech Tip 10: Go Farther – Cooking

WEEK 11: 2 hours to complete

Lesson 11: Use and Preservation
How are mountains used? How are they preserved? In Lesson 11, we examine the often conflicting demands of using mountains, and preserving and managing the integrity of mountain environments, cultures and economies. TechTip: Go softly – mountain ethics

11.1 Use & Preservation
11.2 Preservation
11.3 Integrating Use & Preservation
Tech Tip 11: Go Softly – Mountain Ethics

WEEK 12: 2 hours to complete

Lesson 12: Future Mountains

In Lesson 12, we will look forward and consider some possible future scenarios for mountains. How is our changing climate affecting these places? What are the indicators of change? What lessons can we learn from the past and present to inform decisions for tomorrow?

12.1 Climate Change
12.2 Biodiversity
12.3 Into the Future