Sediment production and distribution across the margins

Elana Leithold
North Carolina State University
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The aim of this exercise is for students to explore the relationships among tectonics, sediment production, oceanographic forcing, coastal morphology, and sediment accumulation at the margins. The students will receive data on the size, runoff, and sediment discharge of a suite of watersheds, including the Amazon, Columbia, Eel, Fly, Mississippi, and Waipaoa. Students will use GeoMapApp 2.0 to locate the watersheds, characterize their tectonic settings, collect additional data on watershed relief and coastal morphology. Their task will be to compare these twelve systems and to draw conclusions about the factors that explain their differences .

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Learning Goals

Through this activity students should become familiar with the connections between tectonics and Earth surface processes, and the connections between terrestrial geomorphology and offshore sediment dispersal. They will use numerical data along with measurements and observations in GeoMapApp to explore the similarities and differences among rivers and their interfaces with the oceans on active and passive continental margins . Through completion of this exercise, students will learn to use GeoMapApp and several of its features.

Context for Use

This activity can be assigned as a supervised laboratory exercise for introductory courses or a homework exercise for Junior/Senior level sedimentology/stratigrpahy or marine geology courses. The students will need access to computers onto which GeoMapApp 2.0 has been loaded. Students should be familiar with plate tectonics and some basics of sedimentology.

Description and Teaching Materials

A handout sheet and data table are provided.
River data (Excel 16kB May29 09)
Student handout for sediment production and distribution exercise (Acrobat (PDF) 5.1MB Oct15 09)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Experience with GeoMapApp (perhaps completion of the "What kind of continental margin am I" minilesson) and background on plate tectonics would be helpful before undertaking this exercise. About 2-3 hours would be required for completion of the entire exercise. A subset of rivers could be selected to make it shorter. Several of the rivers chosen for this exercise are classic end-member examples of wave-, tide- and river-dominated deltas. The deltaic classification scheme (based on Galloway, 1975) is shown in many introductory sedimentary geology/coastal morphology textbooks.


Students will turn in a completed data table and answers to the set of questions given on the handout.

References and Resources