Geoscientists are debating whether we are living in the Anthropocene, defined as a period during which humans are having a significant effect on atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, and biospheric earth system processes. There is considerable discussion whether we are indeed affecting the biosphere to such an extent that life on Earth will suffer an extinction similar in magnitude to these that have occurred during earth history. Studies of the fossil record provide unique evidence that is used to evaluate the large extinctions of the past and compare them to ongoing extinction processes, extinctions rates and patterns, and magnitude. Organisms with hard skeletons are most easily and most abundantly preserved in the rock record. Many of these are invertebrates that lived in the oceans (e.g., clams, sea urchins, corals). In the first part of this course, students will become familiar with the nature of the fossil record, the most common marine animals in the fossil record, and their evolution and diversification. Lectures will be combined with studying fossils. In the second part of the course, possible causes for mass extinction will be considered, together with their specific effects on environments and biota, and these predicted effects will be compared to what has been observed. Potential causes include asteroid and comet impacts, large volcanic eruptions, "hypercanes," and "methane ocean eruptions," and more exotic processes. Students will present in class on these topics, and we will compare rates and magnitude of environmental change with severity and patterns of extinction.