Teaching Stable Isotope Geochemistry in an Undergraduate Petrology or Geochemistry Course

Steve Dunn
,
Mount Holyoke College


Summary

This assignment includes three reading assignments for students that (1) introduce the basics of stable isotope geochemistry, (2) explain carbon and oxygen isotopic shifts that result from volatilization and/or infiltration during metamorphism, and (3) apply real data to the Alta Aureole, Utah. Problems are assigned with each part.

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Context

Audience

This exercise is designed for a sophomore or junior level required course in petrology.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should know algebra and how to read graphs.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a 3-part stand-alone activity.

Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

The goal of this exercise is to introduce students to the use of stable isotope geochemistry in petrology, and to provide a framework and lesson plan to assist instructors.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

This assignment includes three reading assignments for students that (1) introduce the basics of stable isotope geochemistry, (2) explain carbon and oxygen isotopic shifts that result from volatilization and/or infiltration during metamorphism, and (3) apply real data to the Alta Aureole, Utah. Problems are assigned with each part. These start out very specific and become successively more open-ended. Classroom activities and suggestions for class discussion are included. This unit is intended to take two class periods, but Part 3 includes material on metamorphic reactions in carbonate rocks and T-X(CO2) diagrams. If these are new to the students, then they may require more time to understand. Problems in Parts 2 and 3 recommend using a spreadsheet for their solution and Excel files are provided as a starting point. This assignment integrates several lines of evidence, including stable isotope data, to a particular geological problem. Students manipulate a data set and interpret its meaning. This unit encourages students to think deeply about metamorphic processes on local and regional scales. For example, what happens to volatiles formed by mineral reactions and how might fluid flow occur over large distances during metamorphism.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students have met the goals of this assignment if they answer the assigned questions thoroughly and accurately.

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