Geologic Mapping and Geologic History: Sheep Mountain, Wyoming

class='author'>Lawrence Malinconico, Lafayette College

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Initial Publication Date: June 1, 2012 | Reviewed: January 19, 2015


Half way through the second semester of our year-long integrated Sed/Strat and Structure course we travel to Sheep Mountain, Wyoming where the students spend 5 days describing and measuring section and the constructing geologic and structural maps. The field data gathered then form the basis for a paper titled: "Geologic History of the Sheep Mountain Region". In addition to simply making geologic maps, stratigraphic sections and structural cross-sections, the students have to put the local geology into the broader contexts of the Big Horn Basin and sequences of western orogenies.

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Undergraduate Sedimentology/Stratigraphy and Structural Geology course (full year)required for BS geology majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Prior to beginning the project, students will have mastered section measurements and descriptions, attitude measurements (planar and linear)and presentation and interpretation techniques for these data (manual and digital stereoplots for example).

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a culmination of 20 weeks of learning spread over two semesters. The project begins half way through the second semester (an extended fall break)with a week of field work, followed by mostly individual work with weekly conferences with the instructor and and a lecture a week on relevant topics (like western orogenies).


Content/concepts goals for this activity

As described in the project guidelines:

"Your ultimate goal is to be able to reconstruct the geologic and structural history of the rocks in the area that you map. For example, what were the environments of deposition as the units were being deposited; what subsequent deformation occurred (folding and faulting); what does the area look like now and how did it get that way? What were local and regional influences on the rocks in your study area? There are some time and space relationships that are ambiguous. You should do your best to resolve these and justify your choices."

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

The skills required for this project range from an ability to collect data in the field, to being able to evaluate the quality of the data collected. As the field work progresses, the student must begin to hypothesize about the possible structures in the area and how best to confirm their hypothesis by collecting data in the limited time available.
Upon returning, students then use already acquired skills to process the stratigraphic and structural data, construct a geologic map, make stratigraphic and structural sections. These data then allow students to analyze local stress orientations and compare these to regional models that they have discovered through literature research. They then use their data to evaluate the validity of these various possible models. Finally they are ask for a critical self-evaluation of what they might have done differently through the course of the seven week project that might have allowed them to achieve more conclusive results.

Other skills goals for this activity

The students work in teams in the field and through the initial summarizing and processing of their field data. They then individually analyze their data, conduct literature searches for information on the Big Horn Basin and regional orogenies (Sevier, Laramide).
One thing that may be different is that they will be using iPads as both their map base and digital field book. Additionally, all of the representations of the "mps and cross-sections and strat columns are done in Adobe Illustrator. Once completed, the ability to turn layers on and off greatly enhanced the student's ability to visualize the geology and structure of the region.

Description and Teaching Materials

The file that I have submitted is the document describing the expectations for the field project discussed above. In addition to the field and research expectations, I have included the grading rubric for the submission of the report.
I have also included a list of common problems with papers observed after the first drafts have been reviewed. This list changes a little from year-to-year, but it is actually remarkable how often the same problems occur. This is not given to the students until after the first draft has been submitted.

Depositional and Deformational History of Sheep Mountain, Wyoming: Field Project and Report Guidelines (Microsoft Word 4MB May15 12)

Teaching Notes and Tips


After returning from the field, parts of the project are submitted for evaluation and then subsequently incorporated into the final report.For example: map, cross-section, stereographic analysis.
The synthesis report is read both as a draft version and final report and evaluated according to the rubric provide with the supplementary materials. Two professor read each paper. The papers are kept so that longitudinal comparisons can be made on the effectiveness of the project.

References and Resources