New Approaches to field-based analysis of stratigraphic sections

Paul Myrow
Colorado College
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Initial Publication Date: June 15, 2006 | Reviewed: November 3, 2013


This is a field-based project that is designed to teach students how to interpret processes of deposition and paleoenvironments from outcrop.

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Undergraduate required course in sedimentology and stratigraphcy.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Basic abilities to identify lithologies and common sedimentary structures. Also, familiarity with the concept of facies models.

How the activity is situated in the course

My students do two of these projects. One is based on ancient fluvial rocks the other on ancient marine rocks. They are exposed to appropriate facies models before or during their projects. These are basically stand-alone projects, but a big part of their grade.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The project is aimed at providing students with the basic skills of description and interpretation of sedimentary rocks. See the Instructors Notes below.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

These include formulation of (1) process interpretations based on petrologic aspects of the rocks and analysis of sedimentary structures; (2) paleoenvironmental interpretations; (3) depositional history, and where appropriate, construction of a relative sea level curve.

Other skills goals for this activity

The students are required to do a considerable amount of drafting in ink, create rose diagrams for paleocurrents, and write a complete report.

Description of the activity/assignment

The project involves measurement of stratigraphic sections in the field and completion of a report that summarizes the nature of the section and a variety of interpretations. It includes data collection, separate interpretations of depositional processes and paleoenvironments, use of cut slabs and thin sections, and the use of mock expert "consulting" sessions with groups of students.

Determining whether students have met the goals

I grade the reports based on accuracy and completeness of their observations, ability to interpret sedimentary structures and textures, reasoning skills, and quality of the final product (drafting, writing skills, etcetera).

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