Mid-Atlantic Appalachian Orogen Traverse – Field Trip 1

Lynn Fichter and Steve Whitmeyer, James Madison University
Author Profile
Initial Publication Date: June 16, 2021 | Reviewed: August 4, 2022


The Mid-Atlantic Appalachian Orogen Traverse is a series of 4 virtual field trips that cross the Blue Ridge and Valley and Ridge geologic provinces in northwestern Virginia and northeastern West Virginia. This field trip is a virtual version of the first field trip that is typically a component of a semester-long project for an upper-level undergraduate Stratigraphy, Structure, Tectonics (SST) class at James Madison University. The standard project includes a full-day, on-location field excursion, during which students visit sedimentary rocks and lithologies of the Valley and Ridge Geologic Province in central Virginia. Students primarily collect data on stratigraphic and sedimentological features, while also noting structural features. Students use the data they collect on the field trip to write a synthesis report that includes stratigraphic interpretations, basin analyses, and a tectonic summary of the region that encompasses events in the early to middle Paleozoic.

The objectives of this virtual field trip exercise are similar to the standard on-location trip: synthesize stratigraphic and structural field data to determine depositional environments, interpret flow regimes and possible depositional basins, and deduce tectonic settings. However, instead of personally collecting the data in the field, students are provided with a web-based Google Earth virtual field trip that covers the standard field locations. The web GE presentation allows students to virtually investigate the field data at each location via text descriptions, outcrop and sample images, and at some sites, 360Ëš Street View imagery. Field data includes lithologic, mineralogic, and textural data, orientation measurements, and annotated outcrop photos and interpretations.

Note that this is the first field trip in a series of 4 virtual field trip that encompass the Mid-Atlantic Appalachian Orogen Traverse project. The project components include:
Field Trip 1: This field trip
Field Trip 2: Virtual Field Trip to the Blue Ridge Province
Field Trip 3: Rt. 211/259 transect
Field Trip 4: Rt. 33 transect

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



This exercise is used as a component of a semester-long tectonic synthesis project for the upper-level Stratigraphy, Structure, Tectonics course at James Madison University.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should be familiar with describing sedimentary rocks and sedimentary structures. They should also have familiarity with depositional environments and their relationship to tectonic events.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a component of a semester-long project that consists of 4 field trips. This should be presented as the first field trip, as it introduces stratigraphic and sedimentological concepts that are used in the other 3 field trips.

Activity Length

The field trip is usually a day-long trip; the virtual version would probably take a similar amount of time with instructor interaction and guidance. The deliverables would take a couple of days of work, especially with instructor evaluation of draft versions.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Accurately describe and interpret depositional environments, synthesize field data in the context of theoretical models of basin development, describe the stratigraphic and tectonic history of a region.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Higher order thinking skills include: analysis of data, formulation of hypotheses, synthesis of ideas, and critical evaluation of theoretical models in the context of field data.

Other skills goals for this activity

This is usually a team project, so teamwork is important, as are 3-D thinking skills for interpreting basin evolution, and technical writing skills for the stratigraphic/tectonic summary.

Description and Teaching Materials

The Mid-Atlantic Appalachian Orogen Traverse – Field Trip 1 is accessed with the link below; the virtual field trip automatically opens in web Google Earth. It does not run in desktop Google Earth. Once the virtual field trip opens in Google Earth, click on the "Present" button to start the field trip.

Google Earth virtual field trip

The PDF file that describes the exercise and deliverables, is available here: Exercise handout (Acrobat (PDF) 583kB Jun22 21)

A PDF packet of Diagrams contains handouts and figures that are background materials for the field trip stops, is available here: Useful diagrams (Acrobat (PDF) 7.6MB Jun9 21)

Two PowerPoint presentations contain "Chalk Talks" for the outcrop discussions, are available at the links below.

Part 1: Chalk Talk PowerPoint Part 1 (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 94.2MB Jun9 21)
Part 2: Chalk Talk PowerPoint Part 2 (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 83.4MB Jun9 21)

Technology Needs

The Mid-Atlantic Appalachian Orogen Traverse – Field Trip 1 runs in web Google Earth; it will not run correctly in desktop Google Earth. The Exercise handout and Supporting Materials can be viewed in anything that displays PDF and PPT files. Students will need to use a word processing program (Word, Google Docs) for writing the geologic synthesis report of the region.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The Google Earth virtual field trip is easy to run, such that students should be able to navigate the field trip on their own. However, the supplemental diagrams and PowerPoint presentations that the instructors use in concert with the Google Earth virtual field trip are necessary for explaining the environments and tectonics of the region. The Exercise handout introduces the exercise and describes the deliverable that students will need to turn in, which is a stratigraphic and tectonic history of the region. Students will likely need some guidance on how to write summaries and interpretations of depositional environments in the context of tectonic events. Writing a tectonic synthesis report is typically an iterative process, where students submit multiple draft versions of the report for comments and suggestions from the instructors prior to turning in the final version.

A PDF file with notes for instructors, is available here: Note for Instructors (Acrobat (PDF) 88kB Jun9 21)


Students will be assessed through iterative evaluation of their stratigraphic/tectonic summary report. This process is most effective if draft versions are submitted several times, so that instructors can offer guidance and helpful comments to help students achieve the goals of the exercise.

Comment? Start the discussion about Mid-Atlantic Appalachian Orogen Traverse – Field Trip 1