Advanced Stratigraphy

Liz Hajek,
Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus


The stratigraphic record is a rich archive of past landscape, climate, and tectonic conditions and hosts valuable petroleum and water resources. This course is designed to help students develop advanced skills for stratigraphic data collection and analysis.

Course Size:
less than 15

Course Format:
Integrated lecture and lab

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This is an advanced stratigraphy course targeted at graduate students and upper-level undergraduates. Some level of introductory sedimentology/stratigraphy is prerequisite; however, because we typically have a diversity of backgrounds (e.g., paleobiology and geophysics graduate students who may not have strong geology backgrounds), the class is fairly self-contained. This course serves as a "disciplinary fundamental" in our graduate program.

Course Content:

The content of this course spans heritage techniques and state-of-the-art concepts and methods in stratigraphy and sedimentary geology. This includes sequence-stratigraphic principles and applications, quantifying stratigraphy in a mass-balance framework, qualitative and quantitative paleoenvironmental reconstructions, and an understanding of autogenic dynamics in sedimentary systems.

Course Goals:

The overarching goal of this course is for students to learn to pose a stratigraphic question, determine the appropriate methods of data collection, analyze and communicate the results, and evaluate uncertainty.

At the end of this course students should be able to:
  1. Analyze stratigraphy using a simple mass-balance framework
  2. Interpret basin/depositional histories using sequence stratigraphy
  3. Evaluate important autogenic (self-formed) scales in sedimentary basins
  4. Interpret qualitative and quantitative stratigraphic paleoenvironmental signals

Course Features:

This course includes a large individual project where students conduct a sequence-stratigraphic and mass-balance analysis of an experimental deposit, an individual paper where students are charged with considering how to frame and evaluate a stratigraphic question on a topic of interest to them (typically related to their thesis research), and a long capstone field trip to the Book Cliffs of Utah, which includes both single- and multi-day team projects.

Course Philosophy:

The focus on individual projects during the semester and group projects in the field seems to provide a nice balance for the students and permits them to spend the time they need to develop their skills. Particularly in light of the fairly diverse backgrounds our students have entering this course, the opportunity to work independently and in groups seems to promote their own individual skill development (at their own pace) and peer learning, where at one point or another, everyone in the class can help as an expert.


Assessment rubrics for individual and group projects.


Example syllabus for Advanced Stratigraphy (Acrobat (PDF) 62kB May30 14)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

This course is mainly based on primary literature.