Paleontology and Stratigraphy
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs
This course introduces the major groups of modern and fossil invertebrates and the fundamental concepts of stratigraphy. Students will develop and employ a variety of field and laboratory skills while investigating elements of earth history and changes in the tectonic setting of eastern North America through geologic time. The course includes two multi-day field trips focused on correlation of strata and paleoecological analysis.
Resource Type: Course Information
Grade Level: College Upper (15-16)
This is an intermediate-level majors course, meaning that students may take it immediately after one of the geology department's general education courses or introductory physical geology. Usually one-half to two-thirds of the students have already taken a facies models course, but that is not a formal prerequisite. The majority of the students are geology or environmental science majors, but there is the occasional biologist and education students pursuing an earth science concentration. The course has a required three-hour laboratory and two required weekend field trips.
–Students should be able to interpret depositional environment and paleogeographic/paleoecological setting based on both lithological and paleontological characteristics of rocks.
–Students should be able to collect stratigraphic and paleontologic data in the field, construct and interpret stratigraphic sections, and correlate their sections with those of other researchers.
–Students should be able to synthesize geological and biological information to interpret local and regional geologic history.
How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:
The entire course is structured around combining both the geological and biological aspects of paleontology to gain a complete picture of ancient environments. The course begins with primarily biological issues (basic evolutionary theory, functional morphology, and overview of major invertebrate groups and their ecologies), with related geological concepts (fossil preservation, taphonomic bias, in situ vs. transported assemblages). The course then adds larger geological principles to the biological foundation (stratigraphy, effects of sedimentary processes and sedimentation rates on interpretation of evolution in the fossil record). We then focus specifically on settings and time periods that the students will encounter on our field trips, emphasizing the combined use of sedimentological characteristics and fossil content for interpreting paleoenvironments and facies changes.
Assessment is through a combination of in-class exams and lab/field exercises. Lab exercises include fossil identification and ecological interpretations based on fossil morphology, as well as lithostratigraphic and biostratigraphic correlation. In the field, students describe and measure sections, and record data on fossil assemblages. Follow-up exercises after the field trips include construction of stratigraphic columns based on student-collected data, interpretation of environmental changes recorded in the examined sections, correlation of their sections with published data, and synthesis of their data with the big-picture Paleozoic and Early Mesozoic geologic history of the Mid-Atlantic region. Exam short essay questions are specifically designed to test relationships between concepts, following and building on information covered in class, laboratory, and field.