Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Undergraduates Discovering Folds in "Flat" Strata: An Unusual Undergraduate Geology Field Methods Course

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Undergraduates Discovering Folds in "Flat" Strata: An Unusual Undergraduate Geology Field Methods Course

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Many geology undergraduates complete a semesterlong introductory field methods course during the academic year, and then they complete a comprehensive nonacademic year summer field camp (e.g., Douglas et al., 2009; Puckette and Suneson, 2009; Sisson et al., 2009). The measurement and interpretation of bedding plane attitudes (Fig. 1) is a major component of these courses. For practical reasons, undergraduates enrolled in the introductory field course generally investigate the geology of an area close to their campus. However, in many places within the North American interior, the rocks near campus are poorly suited to the investigation of bedding plane attitudes because the strata are nearly flat (dip less than 10°). To get around this problem, many instructors simulate outcrops and structures with tilted wooden boards or other means (Greenberg, 2002; Benison, 2005; Matty, 2006; Benson, 2010). In contrast, this paper describes an introductory geology field methods course in which undergraduates discover folds by measuring, interpreting, and mapping the attitudes of subhorizontal bedding planes near the Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) campus in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

What Is Original About Undergraduates Discovering Folds in Nearly Horizontal Strata?

Almost all undergraduate geology field courses and summer field camps are taught in areas where the dip of most strata exceeds 10° and the range of dip measurements exceeds 15°. Indeed, little has been published on field experiences in which students discover folds by measuring the orientation of strata dipping less than 10°. For example, some of the papers in the Journal of Geoscience Education special issue on teaching in the field (e.g., Anderson and Miskimins, 2006; Hemler and Repine, 2006) describe field experiences in which students measure bedding plane attitudes, and all of these experiences use areas where dips exceed 10° and the range of dip measurements exceeds 15°. Likewise, many Geological Society of America special papers on field geology education (e.g., Douglas et al., 2009; Puckette and Suneson, 2009; Sisson et al., 2009) describe field experiences in which students measure bedding plane attitudes in moderately and steeply dipping strata. See Mogk and Goodwin (2012) and Liben and Titus (2012) for vignettes describing typical geology field activities in areas where the dip of most strata exceeds 10° and the range of dip measurements exceeds 15°.

Other types of field experiences (e.g., LaSage et al., 2006; Tedesco and Salazar, 2006; Lee et al., 2009) can be taught in areas with nearly horizontal strata, but those experiences are not like the one described in this paper and in the papers cited above because the measurement, mapping, and interpretation of bedding plane attitudes are not major parts of those experiences. The collection and interpretation of bedding plane attitudes are central to field geology courses of the kind described here because two major goals of these courses are (1) preparation of undergraduates for a summer field camp of the kind described by Sisson et al. (2009) and (2) providing a field camp-like experience to undergraduates who do not complete a summer field camp. Beyond undergraduate education, a field geology course of this kind acquaints undergraduates with the kinds of bedrock data, interpretations, and geologic structures encountered in groundwater, mining, oil, and natural gas investigations.

Why Move an On-Campus Geology Field Course Into the Field?

Given the novelty of undergraduates discovering folds by measuring, mapping, and interpreting bedding plane attitudes in subhorizontal strata, why not have students learn to make and interpret observations by measuring the attitude of moderately and steeply dipping wooden boards on campus? I moved the field course into the field because many geoscientists think authentic field experience is inherently different from nonfield alternatives and many think field experiences provide educational benefits not conferred by the alternatives. …

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