Structural Geology

Seth C. Kruckenberg

University of Wisconsin-Madison
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


The prime purpose of this course is to improve your understanding of the deformation of the Earth's lithosphere, which is the focus of the study of structural geology. In my view, a first course in structural geology should emphasize on the three-dimensional nature of structural features, how these features fit into tectonic associations, and the basic kinematic and mechanical development of such features. To develop this type of integration throughout the semester, the lecture and laboratory aspects of this course will be heavily integrated. This course will, therefore, consist of a moment-to-moment mix of lecture, in-class group exercises, and discussion. I will routinely show images throughout my lectures of geologic features, maps, cross-sections to supplement the presentation of course concepts, and to foster group discussion of the material covered in the textbook.

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Course Context:

This is an upper-division course in Structural Geology as part of the core curriculum for majors. I assume a basic understanding of physical and historical geology, including elementary nomenclature for such topics as rock classification, geologic time, and stratigraphy. A working knowledge of trigonometry and the manipulation of basic mathematic equations are essential. The course consists of required two-hour lectures and laboratory, as well as two required field trips.

Course Goals:

The primary goal of this class is to foster your understanding of the principles of structural geology, the study of deformation in rocks. Specifically, by the end of the course, you should be able to:
- Describe rock structures with proper terminology
- Be able to identify, categorize and interpret structural elements in thin-sections, hand samples, and geologic maps
- Understand the kinematic and mechanical processes that allow rocks to deform
- Be able to conduct detailed analyses of deformation by collecting, analyzing, and interpreting structural data

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

To help students achieve these learning goals, my approach is to listen closely to the attentiveness and rate of comprehension of the majority of the students, and then adjust the direction of the class to try and maximize comprehension of course concepts. Your feedback in this process is critical, so please let me know how to make things more accessible for your education as we progress through the semester. I have provided a loose outline of the topics to be covered, but keep in mind that this framework will be adjusted as necessary so that we can move all students toward meeting the goals of this course.

Class exercises will be designed to reinforce course concepts and will be structured such that a focused student who is current with the class material should be able to complete these exercises in the time allotted. However, some assignments will at times be more difficult and require work outside of class time. Class exercises may involve graphical and analytical solutions to geometric problems, whereas others may emphasize the study and interpretation of geologic maps, since these offer the best alternative to visiting structures in the field. We will also explore hand sample and thin-section observation, structural analytical techniques and other methods. Lab topics will parallel those covered in concurrent lectures as closely as possible, but there may not always be a perfect overlap. You are expected to use all of the resources at your disposal, including library resources, internet databases, each other (when acceptable), as well as the instructor.

Skills Goals

The secondary goal of this course is to expand your scientific reading and thinking skills during real scientific investigations. You should be able to:
- Find and understand professional literature to further your research.
- Communicate via writing and oral presentation structural and tectonic concepts, methods, data, analysis, models, and interpretations.
- Understand the difference between data and interpretations

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

To help further foster scientific reading and thinking skills, each student will design and perform an independent research project relating to a general topics covered in structural geology. Students are encouraged to work together in small groups (between two and four people to a group). The intent of this project is to give you a chance to perform science in a manner that is different than many research assignments in other classes, in which you are asked to do library research and write a paper about your findings. Instead, here you will be designing a project where you will need to formulate a scientific question and design a study to address it. Most projects will involve you collecting new data such as field measurements, thin section observations, or experimental data. You may also use data from previously published studies, as long as you do something new with it. Each student will then present a poster and written abstract at the end of the semester that conveys the results of their research efforts. Upon completion, you should be able to demonstrate each of the following topics as part of your research project:
1. Use of a library as a technical resource
2. Use of computers for data processing, presentation, etc
3. Interpretation of graphical data
4. Verbal presentation of scientific information
5. Written expression of technical concepts
6. Application of the scientific method
7. Use of scientific instruments and procedures