Online Mapping of Ocean Floor and Coastline Change

William Hansen, Worcester State University
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The Exercise is a 2 part look at the configuration of the Atlantic Coast, specifically in New England. Using online mapping applications students create a cross section of the North Atlantic Ocean and explain the tectonic setting. Students then create a cross section of Massachusetts Bay - Cape Cod to just beyond the Continental shelf.
Part 2 is a look at historical shoreline changes along Massachusetts Bay on a barrier island. Part of the barrier island is preserved, the northern area is developed. Students examine the difference in sea level change using transects and digital shore lines.

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Learning Goals

Content/concepts goals
Sea Floor spreading and the creation of ocean basins.
Sea level rise.

Higher order thinking skills goals
Students analyze data and synthesize an examination of an idealized three dimensional model of plate boundaries with mapped earthquake data.
Students hypothesize on the impact of development on coastal processes such as shoreline adjustment.

Other skills goals
Students will become familiar with mapping software and developing documents in which images are captured from an application.

Context for Use

Type and level of course
Undergraduate general education course for non-majors.

Skills and concepts students should have mastered
Students will have reviewed basic concepts in earth science including plate tectonics, coastal features, coastal processes and the use of mapping software.
Students need to be able to set up software on the PC they are using.

How the activity is situated in the course
This activity is part of the geology component of a course that looks at mapping different aspects of physical and cultural geography as well as some historical aspects of mapping.

Description and Teaching Materials

Exercise document contains instructions for carrying out the activity. There are two parts.
Part 1 uses the GeoMapApp produced by Lamont Dougherty, it contains embedded questions and asks the students to capture images from the app.
Part 2 uses the MassGIS and Mass Coastal Zone Management Agencies Shoreline Change app. It contains embedded questions and has students calculate rates of change and capture images.
The Understanding Plate tectonics document is background reading. The material is Open Source from USGS.
Student Exercise on Ocean and Coastal mapping (Microsoft Word 1.6MB May2 17)
Dynamic Earth: Understanding Plate Motions (HTML File 96kB May2 17)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students occasionally have problems setting up GeoMapApp due to Java issues.
MassGIS site is sometimes not functioning on weekends.


Students answer questions and include screenshots from the applications to demonstrate completion of the exercise.
Student should be able to describe the tectonic history of the Atlantic and cite the significance of the Mid-Atlantic ridge and Iceland. For the Massachusetts shoreline change they should be able to cite the influence of development in accelerating change.

References and Resources

Links to online resources are included in the beginning of the exercise.