Development of a Landscape

Initial Publication Date: December 2, 2005

Often, the most useful structure for an Earth history course focuses on more concrete (and often local) examples of uplift, deposition, erosion, etc., rather than teaching the history of the whole Earth all at once.

  • This perspective on Earth history may appeal to many students who like to be able to relate what they are learning to places and features that they already know, or can go and visit.
  • Best of all, in a course with a strong field component, the students actually get to see the evidence that supports the ideas they are learning.
  • Since they are starting with the rocks and extrapolating the events that composed and shaped them, the concepts of stratigraphy, particularly of correlation and unconformities, will be immediately useful to and used by them.
A complex landscape a lake in a valley in the Rockies

Suggestions for teaching Earth history using landscape development include:

  • Miller, 2001 has students in his "Geology of the National Parks" course work out how long it would take to deposit various formations, given modern deposition rates, then asks why rocks of a given age are thicker in one area than at another.
  • Zen, 2001 recommends a field approach because it invites student inquiry into the age of the Earth. His students will also try to work out the relationships of features within and between sites and determine the overall chronology for the whole landscape.

One interesting feature of this approach is that it not only reduces the geographic scale of the course, but also the temporal scale. If one were teaching "Geology of Minnesota", the course would cover only parts of the Archean, the Proterozoic, the Cambrian, the Ordovician, the Devonian, the Cretaceous, and the Late Quaternary.

A secondary consideration is internal ordering of the course topics. Should you take the formations in the order of deposition, or deal with the region geographically?

Here is a list of Starting Point Field Lab examples with an Earth history component.