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School of Environment, Education and Development

Students on a field trip
BSc Geography and Geology
Benefit from a wide range of optional topics and practical trips on this combined degree.

BSc Geography and Geology / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Palaeontology and Sedimentary Rocks

Unit code EART10141
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? No

Overview

Within the course unit the palaeontological and sedimentological components are taught simultaneously, rather than consecutively, in order to help the students develop a holistic understanding of the dynamic and evolving nature of the Earth through space and time.

The lectures (generally one palaeontological and one sedimentological lecture per week) provide the theoretical background for the integrated practical classes.  The practical exercises are designed as a series of virtual field courses and it is within these that the students will have the main opportunity for learning the key observational and descriptive skills they need to develop to be a competent Earth Scientist.

The course begins by introducing the essential observations (e.g., grain size, texture, composition, morphology) and statistics required to systematically describe and classify both sedimentary rocks and fossils. We then take a series of virtual field trips, each set in a different environment (both terrestrial and marine) and/or time period (from the Archean to present day), in order to study different types of sedimentary rocks (i.e., terrigenous clastics, volcaniclastics, carbonates, evaporites, coal, ironstones and siliceous deposits) and the fossils they contain (flora, invertebrate and vertebrate fauna and trace fossils).

 

Aims

The course aims to develop an understanding of the description, classification and mode of origin of sedimentary rocks, the description, classification and interpretation of common fossils, and provides an introduction to the geological time scale and the history of life on Earth

Learning outcomes

  • Use correct terminology and techniques to identify and describe the fundamental attributes of sediments (e.g., composition, grain size and texture, sorting), and classify sedimentary rocks according to a variety of published classification schemes
  • Understand how particulate sediment is produced from metamorphic, igneous and sedimentary source rocks through chemical and mechanical weathering processes
  • Describe and account for the major primary and secondary sedimentary structures we see in the rock record
  • Demonstrate an awareness of the provenance of sediment based on its textural maturity and composition
  • Demonstrate an awareness of the diversity of sedimentary rocks and the conditions under which they form
  • Describe the diagenetic changes that occur in sedimentary basins
  • Develop a basic understanding of how sedimentary processes influence the formation of economic minerals and hydrocarbons
  • Use basic palaeontological vocabulary for the description, identification, classification and interpretation of common fossils
  • Appreciate how the fossil record defines the subdivision of geological time and know the order and basic ages of the Eras, Periods and Epochs
  • Compare and contrast the distribution of fossil taxa in time and space
  • Understand the processes by which fossils are preserved
  • Demonstrate an understanding of how organisms interact with their surroundings and what fossils tell us about their environment
  • Develop a basic appreciation of the feedbacks that exist between biological, chemical and physical processes and the sedimentary product
  • Improved observational and descriptive skills
  • Improved skills in the statistical analysis and interpretation of data
  • Exhibit capability in problem solving and critical thinking
  • Be able to use the skills, knowledge and concepts covered in the classroom to understand observations made of rocks in the field
  • Be able to use the subject specific tools (e.g., 'grain size card', hand lens) to make observations in hand specimen and thin section, using correct terminology
  • Operate a polarising microscope and a binocular microscope to determine the properties and identify unknown minerals and fossils
  • Demonstrate scholarly and professional independence and resilience

Teaching and learning methods

The lectures provide the theoretical background for the integrated hands on practical classes where the students have the main opportunity for learning and practising the key observational and descriptive skills.

Lectures are recorded and made available through the blackboard site alongside lecture Powerpoint slides.  The blackboard site contains all the practical handouts and solutions and a range of supplementary materials (e.g., photographs of minerals and fossils to aid the development of identification skills).

 

Knowledge and understanding

  • Use correct terminology and techniques to identify and describe the fundamental attributes of sediments (e.g., composition, grain size and texture, sorting), and classify sedimentary rocks according to a variety of published classification schemes
  • Understand how particulate sediment is produced from metamorphic, igneous and sedimentary source rocks through chemical and mechanical weathering processes
  • Describe and account for the major primary and secondary sedimentary structures we see in the rock record
  • Demonstrate an awareness of the provenance of sediment based on its textural maturity and composition
  • Demonstrate an awareness of the diversity of sedimentary rocks and the conditions under which they form
  • Describe the diagenetic changes that occur in sedimentary basins
  • Develop a basic understanding of how sedimentary processes influence the formation of economic minerals and hydrocarbons
  • Use basic palaeontological vocabulary for the description, identification, classification and interpretation of common fossils
  • Appreciate how the fossil record defines the subdivision of geological time and know the order and basic ages of the Eras, Periods and Epochs
  • Compare and contrast the distribution of fossil taxa in time and space
  • Understand the processes by which fossils are preserved
  • Demonstrate an understanding of how organisms interact with their surroundings and what fossils tell us about their environment
  • Develop a basic appreciation of the feedbacks that exist between biological, chemical and physical processes and the sedimentary product

Intellectual skills

  • Improved observational and descriptive skills
  • Improved skills in the statistical analysis and interpretation of data
  • Exhibit capability in problem solving and critical thinking
  • Be able to use the skills, knowledge and concepts covered in the classroom to understand observations made of rocks in the field

Practical skills

  • Be able to use the subject specific tools (e.g., 'grain size card', hand lens) to make observations in hand specimen and thin section, using correct terminology
  • Operate a polarising microscope and a binocular microscope to determine the properties and identify unknown minerals and fossils

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Demonstrate scholarly and professional independence and resilience

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 50%
Practical skills assessment 50%

Recommended reading

The primary texts for the course will be:

Klein and Philpotts, 2012, Earth Materials: Introduction to Mineralogy and Petrology, CUP

Wyse Jackson, 2010,  Introducing Palaeontology: A guide to Ancient Life
Edinburgh : Dunedin Academic Press Ltd 2010

 

Appropriate supplementary texts include:

Tucker, 2011, Sedimentary Petrology (3rd edition), Wiley

Grotzinger & Jordan, 2014, Understanding Earth (7th edition), WH Freeman

 

There are available several useful atlases of rocks and minerals in thin section including:

MacKenzie and Adams, 1994, A Colour Atlas of Rocks and Minerals in Thin Section, Manson Publishing

Adams, MacKenzie, Guilford, 1984, Atlas of Sedimentary Rocks Under the Microscope

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Practical classes & workshops 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 56

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Amanda Edwards Unit coordinator

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