Global Tectonics

David Greene

Denison University
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


A study of geologic and tectonic processes at the global scale. Major topics include plate tectonic theory and development, plate geometries, processes at plate margins, volcanic arcs, collisional orogenies and mountain building, and the influence of tectonic processes on the Earth through time.

The course emphasizes regional geology and using plate tectonics to interpret and understand regional geology and geologic processes.

Course URL:
Course Size:

less than 15

Course Context:

This is mid-level elective course for geoscience majors and minors, with prerequisites of introductory geology and either historical geology or earth materials. Structural geology is *not* a prerequisite, although the course would be easier to teach if it was.

Course Goals:

Students should understand plate tectonic theory.

Students should understand the tectonic processes operating on Earth, and how these processes have shaped and continue to shape the Earth. This includes both plate boundary processes and also processes that do not fit simply into the plate tectonic paradigm.

Students should be able to apply this understanding to interpret the geology of a region, both what tectonic processes might have produced the observed geology, and what geology might be expected to result from observed plate motions or interactions.

Students should especially be able to interpret the present global geography and topography in terms of the tectonic processes operating to create and maintain it.

Students should be able to apply this understanding broadly to issues of societal relevance such as resource exploration, geologic hazards and global change.

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

Emphasis throughout the course is on applying the tectonic processes under discussion to interpreting specific regions where those processes are significant.

A primary feature of this course is a Plate Poster project that continues throughout the semester. Students each choose a different tectonic plate. Students research and present to the class posters that illustrate how specific issues discussed in class (eg geography and topography, relative and absolute plate motion, convergent boundary processes) relate to the features of their specific plate.

Students learn about their plate in detail, but also how the specific processes under investigation apply to other students plates in other regions of the world.

Skills Goals

A major skills goal is for students to learn to research, design, and present posters to professional meeting standards.

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

Five plate posters are completed and presented to the class by each student during the course of the semester, with significant training and feedback, and increasing expectations, for each iteration. The final posters are displayed publicly in the department.


Exams, lab exercises, grades on individual posters and on the entire Plate Poster project.


Global Tectonics Course Syllabus (Microsoft Word 35kB May14 12)