Quantitative Skills > Teaching Resources > Activities > The Floating Lithosphere - Isostacy

The Floating Lithosphere - Isostasy

University of South Florida
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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
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Dec 4, 2009


This activity lays the mathematical underpinning for studying isostasy in the Earth. Students numerically and then analytically determine the relations governing the depth of compensation in a variety of situations including a block of ice floating in water. Students recreate spreadsheets shown in the PowerPoint module on their own with formulas that answer various pieces of the overall question. This modules is the first in a set of three exploring isostasy.

Learning Goals

Context for Use

This module was designed to be used in an undergraduate mathematical geology class where students are asked to look at geological questions mathematically and may spend more time on the math than on the geology.

Teaching Notes and Tips

These modules were developed as essentially self-paced, take-home lab assignments. Students are supposed to work through the modules, slide by slide, building their own worksheets as they go along, taking note of instructions and prompts, hints, and queries.

Students must have access to computers equipped with a spreadsheet program such as Excel.

Teaching Materials

This module is one of several developed by Dr. Vacher. The module presentation can be found at http://www.evergreen.edu/washcenter/modules/moduleList.asp

The Powerpoint file is considered to be the student version. There is also an instructor's version that has active spreadsheets in it. There are instructions for requesting this version on the website.


The easiest way to test student work on this module is to ask students to hand in a copy of their worksheets starting with a different set of input data. The module also ends with homework assignment questions.

References and Resources

Polya, 1957

Contact the Author

Please contact the author with questions or suggestions.

Controlled Vocabulary Terms

Subject: Mathematics, Physics, Geoscience:Geology:Geophysics, Tectonics
Resource Type: Activities:Lab Activity
Special Interest: Quantitative
Grade Level: College Upper (15-16), College Lower (13-14)
Quantitative Skills: Problem Solving, Arithmetic/Computation, Units and Unit Conversions
Ready for Use: Ready to Use
Topics: Solid Earth

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