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Sea Floor Spreading II

Activity and Starting Point page by R.M. MacKay. Clark College, Physics and Meteorology.

This resource received an Accept or Accept with minor revisions rating from a Panel Peer Review process

These materials were reviewed using face-to-face NSF-style review panel of geoscience and geoscience education experts to review groups of resources addressing a single theme. Panelists wrote reviews that addressed the criteria:

  1. scientific accuracy and currency
  2. usability and
  3. pedagogical effectiveness
Reviewers rated the resources:
  1. Accept
  2. Accept with minor revisions
  3. Accept with major revisions, or
  4. Reject.
They also singled out those resources they considered particularly exemplary, which are given a gold star rating.

Following the panel meetings, the conveners wrote summaries of the panel discussion for each resource; these were transmitted to the creator, along with anonymous versions of the reviews. Relatively few resources were accepted as is. In most cases, the majority of the resources were either designated as 1) Reject or 2) Accept with major revisions. Resources were most often rejected for their lack of completeness to be used in a classroom or they contained scientific inaccuracies.

This page first made public: Sep 7, 2006

This material was originally created for Starting Point:Introductory Geology
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.


In this Activity students import ocean bathymetry data from either the Topex web site (more info) or text files. Students then graph these observations along with model predictions to assess the model's ability to simulate the observed topographic features of the North Atlantic.

Brief overview of Ocean Depth/ Sea Floor Spreading Model

Activity I is the first part of this activity for students completely unfamiliar with Excel.

Learning Goals

  • Use Excel to import and graph ocean bathymetery data.
  • Use Excel to compare model predictions with observations.
  • Use Excel to perform model sensitivity studies.

Context for Use

Use in introductory geoscience courses in which instructors wish to train students to use Excel for data downloads and graphing, and for which ocean topography is an appropriate topic.

Description and Teaching Materials

We provide the following resources with this module:

  • Activity Sheet (Acrobat (PDF) 1.2MB May23 03)
  • Answers Document (Excel 824kB Apr3 04) with several sheets representing different levels of completion. These Excel documents can be used for the following purposes:
    • Introducing concepts and ideas in interactive lectures.
    • Making transperancies or Power Point slides.
    • Checking student results.
  • Text files for North Atlantic depth cross-sections along 30deg N ( 28kB Apr3 04), 40deg N ( 47kB Apr3 04), and 50deg N ( 35kB Apr3 04) The data columns in these files are East Longitude, Latitude, and elevation in meters.
  • Sample images of what is in the Excel Answer Document and what students are expected to accomplish. (see Figures 1 and 2 below).

Figure 1. Shows how well the model fits to observations for the cross-section of the North Atlantic along 50° N shown in the Figure 2 below.

Figure 2. The cross-section of the North Atlantic along 50° N used for the observations of Figure 1 above. This also shows the true complexity of ocean floor topography.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity will take students about two hours to complete. Students unfamiliar with Excel should complete Acivity I before working through this activity as less detailed instructions are provided in this second activity. Students should be able to work through this activity at home or in a computer lab will no supervision. Students more familiar with Excel can work through this activity more quickly.


Grading the completed activity sheet provided can be used as an assessment of student understanding. The future success of students on other Excel related activities is also another useful assessment tool.

A link to an Excel Answers Document is provided above with several sheets representing different levels of completion for this activity. This can help instructors:

  • assess student success for this acivity;
  • answer student questions that come up;
  • quickly familiarize themselves with the activity.

References and Resources