Using Physical Models to Teach Sedimentary Geology

by Thomas Hickson, University of St. Thomas

Physical models have formed the basis for numerous classic ideas in sedimentary geology, from G.K. Gilbert's first flume experiments to full-scale sedimentary basin-filling models at the St. Anthony Falls Lab and elsewhere. Physical models can be used to develop fundamental intuition about sedimentary processes, quantitatively constrain sedimentation rates, and test numerical models of sedimentation. In sedimentary geology courses, physical models can serve as the basis for short, in-class demonstrations or for full-blown course projects.

Learn more about why to teach with physical models

Projects and Exercises

Ripples from Experiment
From Initiation of Motion to Antidunes: videos of the full unidirectional bedform progression

XES Basin Small Thumb
The Experimental Earthscape Facility (XES basin)

This experimental facility can simulate the fundamental controls on sedimentary basin fill and provides insight into how sedimentary basins evolve over geologic timescales and respond to external forcings.

XES Videos screenshot
Videos and images from the Experimental Earthscape Facility

Desktop Delta Small Thumb
The Desktop Delta Model

The desktop delta is effective at demonstrating the major controls on sedimentary basin stratal architecture and the major concepts of sequence stratigraphy. Students can predict, observe, and explore how changes in fundamental parameters impact stratal stacking patterns.

Other activities using physical models for teaching sedimentary geology


Here's a brief annotated bibliography on using physical models in sedimentary geology.

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