Geology and Oceanography Professor

MiraCosta College geology and oceanography professor Dr. Keith Meldahl once traveled the 2,000-mile Gold Rush Trail and stood in the old wagon ruts cut into the dirt more than 150 years ago by pioneers heading to California in search of gold.

Today, his adventures can be read in numerous books and heard in his classrooms.

Originally a history major, Dr. Meldahl changed his focus after taking a geology class at University of Chicago.

“I’ve always been outdoor-oriented and interested in science, but I had never thought of majoring in geology because my family is not very scientific,” said Dr. Meldahl. “Then I learned geology is a great blend of history and science.

The transition was seamless. In 1983, he earned a bachelor’s degree in geology and went on to complete a master’s (1986) and a doctorate (1990) degree both in geology from the University of Arizona.

Dr. Meldahl was immediately offered a teaching position in the east coast, but soon found he missed the other side of the Rockies.

“I like the western part of the United States in general,” he said. “The rough desert landscapes, the wilderness, the great weather and all the opportunities out here are just amazing.”

In 1997, Dr. Meldahl began teaching geology and oceanography at MiraCosta College. As an instructor, he introduces students to scientific reasoning and shows how scientists look at mountains, rivers, waves, ocean currents and other phenomena.

“I tell my students, the world is more wonderful and beautiful when you understand how it works,” said Dr. Meldahl. “It’s also relevant and important to get educated about our planet. Not only because it’s very interesting to understand how the Earth works, but if we’re going to make informed decisions about how we treat our planet, we first need to understand it.”

Meldahl’s teaching style centers on taking students on field trips at various beaches and locations with interesting landscapes where they can physically connect the knowledge they have gained in the classroom to real life.

In addition to teaching, Dr. Meldahl has authored numerous chapters and books where he connects American history and geology, including "Hard Road West: History and Geology along the Gold Rush Trail" and "Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains."

His most recent book, “Surf, Sand, and Stone: How Waves, Earthquakes, and Other Forces Shape the Southern California Coast,” published in October 2015, tells the scientific story of our coastline: its beaches, coastal bluffs, surfing waves, islands, earthquakes, tsunamis and related phenomena.

“The books that I write are not textbooks,” he says. “I don’t tend to like textbooks myself because they’re so impersonal and they tend to be a little dry. When you’re writing a book just for the general audience, you can talk about what you want to talk about. You don’t have to feel obliged to cover the whole field and you can make it personal, irreverent—you can do whatever you want.”

After almost 20 years of teaching at MiraCosta, Dr. Meldahl says he has not tired of talking about geology and oceanography—and everything in between.

“I feel incredibly fortunate to be here at MiraCosta,” he says. “I can’t really think of another discipline that would be more fun to teach.”