Marine Sediments and Sedimentary Rocks: A Dozen Dead Oceans

Initial Publication Date: November 25, 2015

Time required to complete this unit:

This page is under development and may be edited at any time. Some resources have not been cataloged, pending project approval.
3 weeks, or 12.5 hours, or 750 minutes (estimated)

Earth Science Content:

Key Terms: Sediments, sedimentary rock, fossil, index fossil, superposition, original horizontality, lateral continuity, faunal succession, Cretaceous period, Geologic Time Scale, sediment core, transgressive sequence, regressive sequence, depositional environment


Life began in the ocean on Earth 3.5 billion years ago. The fossil record shows a general trend toward an increasing level of complexity of life forms, making it possible to also use the order in which fossils occur in rocks to establish relative geologic age (principle of faunal succession). Sediments on the seafloor of modern ocean basins are especially important for providing information about past environmental change, including the mass extinction that occurred at the end to the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago. Scientists examine these sediments by drilling and extracting sediment cores from the ocean floor.

Developed by the DIG Texas Blueprints Central Texas Development Team

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Students will be able to (do)

  • Use the structure, sequence and properties of rocks, sediments, and fossils to reconstruct events in Earth's history.
  • Analyze and interpret authentic geoscience data.
  • Discern patterns in sediments and fossil data.
  • Trace the emergence of new species and the extinction of other species over geologic time in the fossil record.
  • Recognize change over time as revealed in sediment records and fossil evidence.

Students will know

  • Water, energy and life are inextricably linked.
  • Common sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks.
  • The processes that control erosion of rocks, and the transportation and deposition of sediments.
  • Earth's rocks and fossils provide a record of its history and provide information about past environmental change.
  • Fundamental principles of stratigraphy.
  • Eustatic sea-level changes result in transgressive and regressive sedimentary sequences.
  • Sediment cores reveal changes in environment and speciation in the past.
  • Life began on Earth 3.5 billion years ago.


The activities we have selected are congruent with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and are arranged to build upon one another. Therefore, to follow the storyline we recommend that teachers complete the activities in the order provided. To open an activity in a new tab or window, right click the activity link and select the preferred option.

Understanding Geologic Time

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This interactive informational tour from the University of California at Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology conveys a basic understanding of geologic time, the evidence for events in Earth's history, relative and absolute dating techniques, and the significance of the geologic time scale.

Instructional Strategies: Reading

Resource Type: Visualization (static visualization, animation, simulation)

Time Required: 45 minutes

Climate Detectives

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In this module of six lessons from the EarthLabs series, learners assume the role of participants on the International Ocean Discovery Program's drillship, the JOIDES Resolution. Using data collected from Expedition 341, students will explore how climatic changes are recorded in the rock record, learn about careers associated with the IODP, and gain an appreciation for the ocean drilling process, and data collection methods.

Instructional Strategies: Inquiry

Resource Type: Laboratory investigation, experiment or demonstration

Time Required: 750 minutes

For this unit, we have selected the following labs:

  • Preparing for the Voyage (Climate Detectives Lab 1A, 1C)

Lab 1A introduces the students to the JOIDES Resolution and its components that contribute to the drilling process. Lab 1C introduces the students to the area in the Gulf of Alaska where Expedition 341 collected sediment cores.

Time Required: 30 min

  • Coring is not Boring! (Climate Detectives Lab 2)

In this lab students learn about how scientists retrieve sediment cores from the ocean floor. Students then design and build a model drill.

Time Required: 45 minutes

Field Trips

Studies that examine how geologists think and learn about the Earth point to the value of field experiences in helping students develop practices that constitute geologic reasoning. We encourage teachers to take students into the field as much as possible. To this end, we include ideas for virtual and actual field trips. The former recognizes the limitations of the K-12 classroom setting. Field learning provides a chance to encourage the ability to see features that are important to professional practice. Indeed, many geoscientists report that fieldwork was a key factor influencing their choice of geoscience as a career.


Scaffolding Notes

Teachers must develop their own individual plan for how they will teach the unit. The learning activities and educational resources in this unit are intended to complement other instructional activities led by the teacher. Many of the selected learning experiences provide links to excellent background preparatory materials, additional hands-on resources, teaching tips, and cross-curricular connections.

Teachers will need to create their own multimedia presentations, deliver lectures and assign ancillary work to their students in order to set the stage for effective use of the learning activities contained herein. Therefore, it is imperative to allocate time to review the activities and background material prior to using the learning experiences in this unit and to probe students for their prior knowledge before starting an activity.

In addition, although some activities may incorporate assessments, teachers may need to create their own assessments to ensure that are appropriate for the students they teach.

Asterisks (*) indicate teacher resource and background information recommendations for activity support.


Next Generation Science Standards

We anticipate that students should be able to achieve the NGSS Performance Expectation(s) listed after completing the activities in this unit. However, we have not carried out educational research to verify this.

Additional Resources

The recommended additional resources may be used to extend or augment the storyline.

Rock and Mineral Bingo

This activity from the On the Cutting Edge Peer reviewed Teaching Collection is a fun way of assessing students' knowledge and rock and mineral identification skills. The activity requires a basic rock collection kit. Although initially designed for a specific rock and mineral kit, it can be adapted for any suite of samples.

Explorations Through Time

This series of interactive modules explores the history of life on Earth, while focusing on the processes of science. Each module contains suggested lesson plans and an extensive teacher's guide.

Hogan, Michael C. 2010, Limestone, Encyclopedia of Earth

This resource presents concepts related to the formation of marine sedimentary rocks, particularly limestone. The ideas can be tied to transgressive and regressive sequences on ocean settings, marine sedimentary processes, and discussions about societal uses for limestone. This scholarly article would make a good outside reading assignment and will take between 15-30 minutes.

Live units may have permissions pending and are subject to revision.