Plate Tectonics

Rory McFadden

Salem State University
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


A systematic treatment of the geology and geophysics of plate tectonics, based on present knowledge of the structure and physical properties of the Earth's interior. Included are present kinematics of plate movements, hypotheses of dynamics (such as mantle convection), global pattern of plates, detailed consideration of processes at plate boundaries. Three lecture hours per week.

Course URL:
Course Size:

less than 15

Course Context:

This is an upper-division course with prerequisites of Physical Geology and Historical Geology. Most students have completed two or three upper-division courses, such as Mineralogy, Petrology, or Structural Geology. The course is lecture based and includes a bi-weekly seminar style discussion.

Course Goals:

Students should be able to read and interpret a variety of maps.
Students should be able to use quantitative analysis to assess isostasy, earthquake focal mechanisms, and plate motions.
Students should be able to synthesize disparate geologic and geophysical data to evaluate geologic processes at plate boundaries.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Goals will be assessed by map-based homework assignments, quantitative homework assignments, and a research paper on a plate tectonic boundary.

Skills Goals

Student writing
oral communication
accessing and critically reading the geologic literature

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Skills goals are met by completing a research paper, submitting reading responses to journal articles, and class discussions of journal articles.


Student learning is assessed through reading responses and class discussion of geological journal articles, completion of a research paper, and exams.


Plate_Tectonics__Syllabus_McFadden (Microsoft Word 46kB May4 12)