Jurassic Quad Online Geologic Mapping Project

Dr. Andrew K Laskowski, Montana State University
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This is an online geologic mapping activity designed to mimic the experience of conducting a geologic mapping project over several days in a field area. Students download a physical topographic basemap and then plot structural data and interpret rock units and their placement on the map based on a collection of gigapan photos. Finally, students answer a series of questions based on the map pattern and some U-Pb analytical data to determine the chronology of deformation. The exercise requires students to integrate various fields of geology to piece together the geologic history of this hypothetical region, loosely based on the North American Cordillera.

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I use this activity in my 400-level Field Methods course as a culminating project. This activity is good preparation for both in-person and online field camps and/or structural geology courses.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should be comfortable describing rocks based on images, interpreting rock units from these descriptions, locating themselves on topographic maps, plotting geologic contacts using proper symbology, and should have a basic understanding of the Tectonics of western North America. A Geochronology background is desirable but not required.

How the activity is situated in the course

Culminating project or stand-along exercise

Activity Length

I usually allow students two weeks to complete this project and provide several sessions for feedback and question and answer during the period in which the project is assigned.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Geologic mapping, interpretation of geologic history, interpreting U-Pb analytical data, understanding crosscutting relationships and map patterns, describing rocks based on hand samples.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

This activity invites students to formulate hypotheses, synthesize knowledge from various fields in Geology, and critically evaluate competing hypotheses with field and analytical data.

Other skills goals for this activity

This activity requires students to manage data, manage their time, develop geologic mapping skills, and practice technical writing.

Description and Teaching Materials

The exercise is hosted at http://geologicmappingonline.site44.com/
Example completed map (Acrobat (PDF) 2.9MB May21 21)

Technology Needs

Computer with internet access, printer for base map (unless opting for digital mapping using a graphic editing program).

Teaching Notes and Tips


Students meet the goals of this activity if they submit a reasonable geologic map, construct a plausible geologic history informed by knowledge of Cordilleran tectonics, and effectively answer the questions.

References and Resources

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