Mid-Atlantic Appalachian Orogen Traverse – Field Trip 4

Steve Whitmeyer & Lynn Fichter, James Madison University

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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 fourth 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 two-day, on-location field excursion, during which students visit sedimentary rocks and lithologies of the Valley and Ridge Geologic Province along Rt. 33 in western Virginia and eastern West Virginia. Students primarily collect data on stratigraphic and structural features, while also considering depositional and tectonic environments. Students use the data they collect on the field trip to draft cross-sections that transect the region and then write a synthesis report that includes stratigraphic and structural interpretations, and a tectonic summary of the region that encompasses events during the last ~1.2 billion years.

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, subsequent metamorphism and deformation, and deduce tectonic settings. However, instead of personally collecting the data in the field, students are provided with a web-based Google Earth (GE) virtual field trip that covers the standard field locations, plus a few additional sites. 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.

Rt33 overview.png

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

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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 have familiarity with depositional environments and their relationship to tectonic events. Students should also be familiar with the mechanics of constructing cross-sections.

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 fourth field trip, as it assumes knowledge of stratigraphic, sedimentological, and structural concepts that are introduced in the previous field trips.

Activity Length

The field trip is usually a two-day 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 stratigraphic and structural features, infer depositional environments, synthesize field data in the context of theoretical tectonic models, describe the 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 geologic structures, and technical writing skills for the geologic/tectonic summary.

Description and Teaching Materials

The Mid-Atlantic Appalachian Orogen Traverse – Field Trip 4 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.


The PDF file that describes the exercise and deliverables, is available here: Trip 4 Exercise Handout (Acrobat (PDF) 1.1MB Jun24 21)

A PDF packet of Diagrams with handouts and figures that are background materials for the field trip stops, is available here: Trip 4 Diagrams (Acrobat (PDF) 18.4MB Jun24 21) 

Two PowerPoint presentations containing "Chalk Talks" for some of the outcrop discussions, are available here:

Rt. 33 Chalk Talk (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 106.9MB Jun24 21) 
Briery Gap Transitions (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 16.1MB Jun24 21) 

Technology Needs

The Mid-Atlantic Appalachian Orogen Traverse – Field Trip 4 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 drafting program, like Adobe Illustrator, PowerPoint, or Google Slides to draft their cross sections. 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 deliverables that students will need to turn in, which are 1. A geologic/tectonic history of the region, and 2. A series of geologic cross sections across the region. Students will likely need some guidance on how to construct a geologic cross section, especially if they don't have much experience with drawing cross sections. Likewise, students will likely need guidance on how to write summaries and interpretations of depositional environments in the context of tectonic events. Both constructing cross sections and writing tectonic summaries are typically iterative processes, where students submit multiple draft versions of these deliverables for comments and suggestions from the instructors prior to turning in the final versions.


Students will be assessed through iterative evaluations of their cross-sections and geologic/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.

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