Sedimentology and Stratigraphy

William W. Little,
Brigham Young University-Idaho


A combination lecture and laboratory course that covers the origin, classification, distribution, and correlation of sedimentary rock bodies and their use in interpreting geological history. This course provides a broad overview of the processes involved in the production of sedimentary rock bodies and the formation of stratigraphic successions, the classification of sedimentary rocks and rock bodies, the recognition of ancient depositional environments, and the methods and uses of stratigraphic (basin) analyses.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Integrated lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is an upper division course required for a B.S. degree in geology. Though not required, the course is also attended by students per suing degrees in civil and mechanical engineering, particularly if they are interested in a career with the petroleum industry. Pre-requisites include physical geology, historical geology, mineralogy, and igneous/metamorphic petrology.

Course Content:

The course is divided into three major sections: Sedimentary rock properties and classification, Description and interpretation of sedimentary rock bodies and successions, and Principles of stratigraphy. Heavy emphases are placed on constructing and interpreting facies models and on applying principles of sequence stratigraphy. Lectures and labs are built around case studies, including the Book Cliffs, UT for clastic successions and the Beaverhead Mountain Range, ID for carbonates.

Course Goals:

Students will be able to:
  • Describe verbally and in writing geological features using professional-level terminology and correct spelling and punctuation
  • Apply basic sedimentological concepts, including facies, facies assemblages, depositional environments, depositional systems, systems tracts, base-level fluctuation, sediment supply, accommodation space, vertical successions, and stacking patterns to real rock successions
  • Construct idealized facies models for all common depositional systems
  • Know the fundamental concepts for each major stratigraphic division as explained in the North American Code of Stratigraphic Nomenclature.
  • Have confidence in their ability to present and defend their geological interpretations, accepting that there is often not a "right" answer, but a range of reasonable explanations

Course Features:

One of the primary features of this course is that it is built around case studies that tie each component, from rock description to stratigraphic interpretation to the same set of strata.

The other major feature is that the course emphasizes having students build their own models, based on an understanding of processes and contributing factors, rather than memorizing those in a text book.

Course Philosophy:

The purpose of using semester-long case studies to teach principles and concepts of sedimentary geology is to present material in a manner that shows relationships, rather than disjointed pieces of information, fostering an environment of understanding, rather than just memorization. If concepts are understood, there is little to memorize, it just makes sense. It becomes obvious.


Assessments come from a number of lab-type exercises and three formal essay/project-based exams.


Sedimentology and Stratigraphy Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 89kB Jun6 14)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Facies Models by Walker and James; The Sedimentary Record of Sea-Level Change edited by Coe
Facies Models was chosen because its coverage is deeper than the common undergraduate level sedimentology texts.

The Sedimentary Record... is used because the authors carefully move step by step through the concepts leading to sequence stratigraphy, culminating in case studies, including one I use, The Book Cliffs

I create most of my own exercises or obtain them from online sources, such as SEPM Strata

I have several texts on facies models I make available to them during that portion of the course.
No. I've put together what makes sense to me.