Tracking Sea Level and Paleoenvironments with Fossils
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
- Interpret a diagram of the geologic time scale and distinguish eons, eras, and periods.
- Generally associate sedimentary rocks with depositional environments. For instance, shale is deposited in low energy environments like the deep ocean and extremely poorly sorted and angular clasts are associated with glacial environments. For more detail, see: https://www.geol.umd.edu/~jmerck/geol100/lectures/14.html
- Recognize that some organisms require specific habitats, so by seeing the spatial distribution of these organisms at a specific time, we can interpret the environmental conditions at that time. Changes in the spatial distribution of these organisms show changes in environmental conditions.
- Calculate rate of change (specifically sea level rise) and convert common units of length. For additional help with these types of calculations, see: http://serc.carleton.edu/mathyouneed/index.html
How the activity is situated in the course
Content/concepts goals for this activity
- Identify coastal/near-shore depositional environments.
- Create paleogeographic reconstructions for the Cretaceous, Paleogene, and Neogene Periods of southeastern North America.
- Describe the extent and rate of sea level change within an area over a specific time frame, based on observation of changes in the fossil record.
- Predict causal mechanisms for sea level change within a specified time and area.
- Predict additional organisms that could be used to identify sea level change in other areas and use the PBDB Navigator to test these predictions.
- Determine suitable and desirable characteristics of organisms that lead to understanding the water-depth of their habitat.
- Interpret environmental changes for an area based on the spatial and temporal change of its fossils.
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
- Create maps showing the spatial and temporal distribution of specific fossils.
- Develop a testable prediction of which fossils may be useful for determining changes in sea level.
- Test predictions/hypotheses by collecting data from the Paleobiology Database.
Other skills goals for this activity
Description of the activity/assignment
In addition to computer access, students will need handouts of blank maps for each group of organisms (three total, provided in the activity) and colored pencils.
Determining whether students have met the goals
Summative assessment: the numbered questions, sketches, and three maps are key summative assessment points. In particular, question 3 can be used on an test/quiz/exam for students to demonstrate their spatial understanding of depositional environments. Additionally, question 10 could be modified with different values on a problem set, homework, or test/quiz to assess students' quantitative reasoning ability.
Teaching materials and tips
- Activity Description/Assignment: Tracking Sea Level and Paleoenvironments with Fossils (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 130kB Jul4 17)
- PDF version of Tracking Sea Level activity (Acrobat (PDF) 632kB Jul4 17)
Potentially useful links for depositional environments:
Help with math/quantitative reasoning skills: