S2S Introduction: The Source-to-Sink Mini-Lesson Series

Summary

Most of the events that shape the Earth's surface both above and below sea level leave a record of their impacts in the sediment sequences that accumulate on continental margins. Yet, despite decades intensely studying sedimentary systems, much remains to be understood. The overarching goal of the MARGINS Source-to-Sink initiative is to develop a quantitative understanding of margin sediment dispersal systems and associated stratigraphy. A predictive capability for dispersal-system behavior has critical implications for understanding geochemical cycling (e.g., carbon), ecosystem change (tied to global warming and sea-level rise), and resource management (e.g., soils, wetlands, groundwater, and hydrocarbons). S2S addresses the following fundamental questions:

  1. What processes control the rate of sediment and solute production in a dispersal system?
  2. How does transport through the system alter the magnitude, grain size, and delivery rate to sediment sinks?
  3. How is variability of sediment production, transport, and accumulation in a dispersal system preserved by the stratigraphic record?

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The goal of the five S2S mini-lessons is to let students explore the characteristics of some key "hot spots" in the contemporaneous sedimentary cycle. Which areas are eroding most rapidly and why? Which systems are responsible for the most rapid transfer of sediments from continents to the oceans? How do the characteristics of river systems affect the properties of the sediments they discharge? How are humans impacting source-to-sink systems? How does organic carbon move through these source-to-sink systems? How have these systems responded to climate change in the past and how will they respond in the future? These are a few of the questions students will address in the mini-lessons.

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Context for Use

These mini-lessons are designed for upper-level undergraduate courses such as Sedimentology & Stratigraphy, Sedimentary Basins, and Oceanography; they could be modified for use in introductory courses as well. Each mini-lesson can work as a stand-alone activity and does not require that students complete the mini-lessons in sequence, or even do more than one of the mini-lessons. However, students may benefit from starting with the "From Source to Sink: How Sediment Records the Journey from the Mountains to the Sea" before moving on to the more focused mini-lessons on sediment dispersal and organic carbon burial. These mini-lessons include activities that can be done in class, as homework assignments, and in lab settings.

Description and Teaching Materials

  • Paraná River Floodplain
    From Source to Sink: How Sediment Records the Journey from the Mountains to the Sea - The goal of this mini-lesson is to let students explore the characteristics of some key regions in the modern sedimentary cycle to identify and relate the variables that control source-to-sink systems. Which areas are eroding most rapidly and why? Which systems are responsible for the most rapid transfer of sediments from continents to the oceans? How do the characteristics of river systems affect the properties of the sediments they discharge? How can we apply our knowledge of these modern source-to-sink systems to the ancient sedimentary rock record?


  • Waipaoa River Mouth
    Sediment Dispersal and Continental Margin Stratigraphy - This module explores sediment dispersal and its impacts on margin geometry; students will use data (including MARGINS data from the Fly and Waipaoa river systems) to explore how margin stratigraphy/geometry development occurs in the context of varying sediment dispersal systems.




  • Ganges Brahmaputra delta
    Holocene Optimum: A time of massively increased sediment discharge for Asian Rivers - Long-period variations in runoff will be explored in this module on the Holocene Climatic Optimum, when intensification of the Southwest monsoon affected massively increased river discharge in South Asia. The exercise will detail the operation of the Asian monsoon and interpret stratigraphic evidence for increased sediment discharge during the Holocene Climatic Optimum using the Ganges-Brahmaputra as an example.



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