Structural Control of Giant Rock Avalanches in Argentina

Barbara J. Tewksbury
Hamilton College
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Initial Publication Date: July 6, 2004 | Reviewed: October 22, 2012


Students analyze the influence of bedrock structures on the locations of giant rock avalanches in Argentina. Activity is available in two versions: 1) short case example that can be used as an in-class activity or as an exam question and 2) in-class jigsaw with homework prep.

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undergraduate required structural geology course for majors

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students must be able to read geologic maps and interpret stereonets. In-class case example assumes familiarity with mass movement deposits, joints, structural weaknesses in rocks. The jigsaw version has a preparatory homework that provides this background and could be used with the in-class case example version.

How the activity is situated in the course

This jigsaw version is one of many combined homework assignments/in-class activities that students do over the course of the semester; I have used the short case example version as both an in-class activity and as an exam question.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

influence of structural weakness in bedrock on occurrence and location of mass movement events; relevance of structural geology to environmental problems; practice with structural terminology, stereonets, and geologic maps; bedrock geology and tectonics of another area of the world.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

analysis of data to solve a problem

Other skills goals for this activity

peer teaching, oral communication of ideas.

Description of the activity/assignment

Jigsaw version: To prepare, students do background reading on landslides and rock avalanches and read the introductory portion of Hermanns and Strecker's 1999 article on rock avalanches in Argentina. In class, students receive data (assembled from figures in the article) on bedrock geology and physiography, as well as stereonets showing orientations of prominent joint sets, bedding, and foliations in the bedrock. Their task is to answer the question of why gigantic rock avalanches occur is some places but not others in this part of Argentina. Each student receives one of four possible data sets and works with a team to analyze the data and solve the problem for the team's area. Each team member must then individually explain his/her analysis to a group of three other students, one from each of the other teams, and the group then compares the four locations for similarities and differences. The activity gives students practice in interpreting geologic maps, using stereonets, and peer teaching. The activity also connects structural geology to another geoscience discipline.

Short case example version: This is an abbreviated version of the jigsaw activity described above and focuses on only one of the rock avalanche areas.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Jigsaw activity: I check each team to make sure that their interpretations are reasonable before they have a chance to teach other students about their area. Once each student has had a chance to learn about the other areas and data sets from three other students in the class, I draw straws to select students to present brief oral presentations to the class about one of the areas other than their own and about similarities and differences among the areas. This allows me both to reinforce points and to determine whether students learned from their peers.

Short case example activity: After students have worked in pairs on the activity, I draw straws to select students to present portions of the analysis, much as I would do in the jigsaw. I have also use this shorter case example as an exam question.

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Supporting references/URLs

Hermanns, Reginald L. and Strecker, Manfred R., 1999, Structural and lithological controls on large Quaternary rock avalanches (sturzstroms) in arid northwestern Argentina: Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, v. 111, no.6, p. 934-948.