The Woodlark Basin as a Natural Laboratory for the Study of the Geological Sciences

Andrew M. Goodliffe, University of Alabama
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Initial Publication Date: April 6, 2007 | Reviewed: October 19, 2012


The Woodlark Basin is located to the northeast of Australia and between Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Within this small region active examples of most tectonic processes can be found. Using the freely available program ArcReader, students will explore an ArcGIS database with the goal of examining some of the geological features of this exciting area. This activity is designed as a culminating exercise in a semester long series of introductory geology labs. Students will have the opportunity to apply much of the knowledge that they have acquired over the course of the semester to a single geological region. Among other things they will explore the volcanic activity, seismicity, rock types, plate boundaries, topography, and mineral resources of this rich area.

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Learning Goals

It is intended that students will learn to apply the material that they have covered over the course of the semester to a single area. Rather than viewing each topic as a separate entity they will learn that a geologist must integrate many different techniques and observations to fully understand a region.

Context for Use

This exercise is intended for use as a culminating activity at the end of an introductory geology lab course. It is designed to be taught by one person in a small computer lab. It has proven successful in a lab with 24 students and 12 computers. In its current form it is intended for a 2 hours and 50 minutes lab period. However, it has been adapted to shorter lab periods by cutting out individual activities. The computers in the lab do require a web brower, Arc Reader, and internet exercise. Google Earth can be useful for putting the Woodlark Basin into a global perspective. This lesson is currently designed to be used in conjunction with a GeoWall visualization in which 3-dimensional images of the Woodlark region are presented. These images are intended to give the students a better sense of the relief in the region. Use of a GeoWall is not a necessary component of this exercise.

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity is designed as a self-guided exercise. Students work with Arc Reader and a worksheet that introduces the Woodlark Basin and presents various problems for the students to solve. Above average students will need little guidance. There are three main files that are used with this exercise:

  1. Zipped ArcReader directory ( On unzipping the folder will contain two directories. The pmf directory contains the ArcReader file Woodlark.pmf
  2. Student Guide (
  3. 3-D visualization of the Woodlark Basin for a GeoWall ( On unzipping this file the directory will contain a file named woodlark.sxd. This file should be opened in ArcScene.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Familiarity with the Woodlark Basin and the geological processes taking place therin is important. When helping students with this exercise the instructor should be familiar with the names of the principle features in the region. The instructor should also be familiar with the use of ArcReader. Fortunately is a fairly intuitive program.


Assessment is achieved in two main ways. Firstly, the instructor is encouraged to take the opportunity to make use of the available the time by circulate between the groups and discussing the activities with them. Students should be re-directed as necessary. This activity can also be directly graded on the basis of the answers that students give in the worksheet.

References and Resources

As mentioned above, understanding the geology of the area is key to presenting the material in an intelligible way. Unfortunately there are not many comprehensive resources for the Woodlark Basin on the web (this is in the process of being corrected). Looking at the Ocean Drilling Program webpage for Leg 180 in the Woodlark Basin may be a good starting point, especially the synthesis paper. You will need ArcReader for this exercise. If you intend on using a GeoWall, an ArcScence visualization is provided.