Quantitative Skills > Teaching Resources > Activities > BotEC: Depth of Buried Metamorphic Rock

Back-of-the-Envelope Calculations: Depth of Buried Metamorphic Rock

Barbara Tewksbury

Hamilton College
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
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This page first made public: May 18, 2005



In many high-grade metamorphic belts around the world, rocks were buried 20-30 km beneath the surface during deformation and metamorphism. How deep is that relative to the cruising altitude of a typical commercial airplane flying across the country?



A typical transcontinental airliner flies at 30-35,000 feet, or roughly 10,000 meters (10 km) above sea level. Rocks in many orogenic belts were deformed and metamorphosed at depths equivalent to two to three times the distance above the surface that a transcontinental airliner flies! And all of that rock had to be removed by erosion in order for us to see those rocks exposed now at the surface of the Earth.

References and Resources

This SERC page describes the use of Back of the Envelope Calculations

A View from the Back of the Envelope (more info) : This site has a good number of easy simulations and visualizations of back of the envelope calculations.

The Back of the Envelope : This page outlines one of the essays in the book "Programming Pearls" (ISBN 0-201-65788-0). The book is written for computer science faculty and students, but this portion speaks very well to back of the envelope calculations in general.

Controlled Vocabulary Terms

Subject: Geoscience:Geology:Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology:Metamorphic Processes
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity:Short Activity
Special Interest: Quantitative
Grade Level: High School (9-12), College Lower (13-14)
Quantitative Skills: Estimation
Ready for Use: Ready to Use
Topics: Solid Earth
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Petrology

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