Structural Geology > Structure, Geophysics, and Tectonics 2012 > Courses > Active Tectonics and Urban Geology Field Trip

Active Tectonics Field Trip

Author Profile
George H. Davis

The University of Arizona
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


Teaching of Active Tectonics provides context for examining contemporary deformation of the earth's crust as seen in regional examples and in the context of data and information drawn from regional tectonics, plate tectonics, earthquake seismology, paleoseismology, and geodesy. Applications abound in efforts to mitigate loss of life and property. One of main objectives is to use active tectonics as a way to understand how individual structures and systems of structures form, and thus this represents a complement to traditional experimental and numerical analysis and study of no-longer-active geologic structures in the field.

Course URL:
Subject: Geoscience:Geology:Tectonics, Geophysics, Structural Geology
Resource Type: Course Information
Grade Level: Graduate/Professional, College Upper (15-16)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Plate Tectonics, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Structural Geology, Geophysics
Course Size:


Course Context:

This has worked well as an upper division (seniors and graduate students) 'lecture' course approached via a combination of presentations and seminar-like discussions. For geology majors primarily, but attracts students from other disciplines (lunar planetary; engineering). Attaching an active tectonics field trip experience adds immeasurable value to the course experience. Attached is a brief description of the active tectonics field trip that Susan Beck and I led within Los Angeles and environs. 1337819592 (Microsoft Word 26kB May23 12)

Course Goals:

I will begin here with a link to my Active Tectonics Syllabus, that includes goals, topics, grading protocols, and readings. Syllabus for Active Tectonics ( 79kB May23 12)

Learn how to 'manage' the reality of the voluminous active tectonic literature that crosses a wide swath of disciplines: structural geology, plate tectonics, regional tectonics, earthquake seismology, paleoseismology, and geodesy, not to mention the abundant literature related to public policy and natural hazards.

Bring into vision for students a whole 'new' career area they may not have imagined or though about in a serious way: mitigating loss of life and property in relation to the interplay of active tectonics and society.

Judgment and decision making in writing scientific papers and in presenting results of inquiry.

Transform 'static' knowledge about faults and folds and place same into a dynamic context of continuous, multifaceted deformation over time.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Providing a reading list that is huge by normal standards and helping to demonstrate during the semester that such a literature can be managed through 'knowing' when to browse, when to read in depth, and how to connect parts to a whole. I have found it helpful to provide students at the 'end' of a given topical session with my own written synopses of what I happened to think is relevant, at this point in time. Part of the opportunity is to extend to students a certain 'intellectual freedom' in developing his/her own individual mind set in regard to choices of what to study more closely in relation to personal professional interests and needs. There is a parallel here with the staggering task of preparing for PhD comprehensive exams.

Editing student papers and returning them to students BEFORE grading, so that all of editorial comments can be considered in the revised version, handed in for grading as a final product.

Clearly stating goals (see syllabus) that are held for undergraduates versus graduate students. Commonly the distinction is blurred or ignored, which has the result of reducing the effectiveness of courses that bridge undergraduate and graduate participation.

Making as certain as possible that the readings bear both a general and specific relation to what will be seen and learned on the associated active tectonics field trip.

Skills Goals

Critical reading

Critical writing

Critical observation

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Require two power point presentations and one poster session, ...conveying results of independent research on a given structural system or subregion. Expect and evaluate participation in class discussions.

Attitudinal Goals

Underscoring the relevance of active tectonics research to mitigating loss of life and property.

Challenging students to embrace synthesis across disciplines in ways that are commonly part of undergraduate education at a liberal arts college, but which can be overtaken by overspecialization starting in grad school.

Have 'geology' majors develop confidence and ownership in matters of geophysics. Have 'geophysics' majors develop confidence and ownership in matters of geology.

In the 3rd Edition of Structural Geology of Rocks and Regions (Davis, Reynolds, Kluth) I wrote a 'capstone' chapter on Active Tectonics, which attempts to lay out a mindset for using active tectonic dynamics as a way of better understanding how individual structures and systems of structures form. The 'mindset' part is expressed in so-called "Lessons Learned," which are interspersed bold-faced conclusions reached regarding how what has just been learned (for example, through studying the Walker Lane) can be applied when mapping and analyzing no-longer-active, 'ancient' systems of structures. I would exploit this more fully next time I teach active tectonics.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

In class, an efficient if not rapid pace of movement from topic to topic provides a sense of urgency. Calling attention and discussing 'breaking' earthquake events that occur helps tie the course even more closely to present realities. Holding high expectations for quality of presentations can raise the bar for class preparation. Yet foremost in my experience is 'running' the active tectonics field trips. Particularly our field trip to Los Angeles was an exemplar, for we witnessed firsthand the interconnectedness between fundamental geology and geophysics to such diverse topics as highways, insurance, hospitals, and schools.


Papers and presentations.

Participation in class discussion.

Preparation of materials for field trip.


Active Tectonics ( 79kB Apr30 12)

See more Courses »