Sedimentary Geology

Earth and Environmental Science W4223x (4 points)
Fall, 2015

Fire Island, September, 2001.

Course Summary

An overview of sedimentology and stratigraphy, for majors and concentrators in Earth and environmental sciences, and for graduate students from other disciplines. Undergraduates in such related fields as Earth and environmental engineering, environmental biology, environmental chemistry, sustainable development and archaeology are also welcome. Lectures/class discussions, labs. and field exercises are integrated, with emphasis on processes, the characteristics of sediments and sedimentary rocks, interpretation of the geological record, and practical applications.


Students will develop a basic understanding of sedimentary phenomena and Earth's stratigraphic record, along with a selection of interpretive approaches.

Course Sequence

The course builds upon material covered in EESC V2200 Solid Earth System and other courses at a comparable level. Completion of EESC W4113 Mineralogy is useful, but not assumed, to accommodate sophomores and juniors in Earth science as well as students on other tracks. Sedimentary Geology is offered in alternate years (next in Fall 2017).

Field Trips

Saturday, September 12, to Fire Island (1 day).

Saturday-Sunday, October 3-4 to the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains (2 days).

Saturday-Sunday, October 10-11 to the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains (2 days).

Departure from 116th and Broadway at 8:00 a.m., returning by 6:00 p.m. on the first and second excursions, and 8:00 p.m. on the third. We plan to camp at Kenneth L. Wilson Campground on October 3, and at Thompson’s Lake State Park on October 10 (weather permitting). Logistical details to be provided. Participation is required (and well worth the time invested!). Rain dates are September 13 and October 17-18 (no camping).


Prothero, D.R., and Schwab, F., 2013, Sedimentary Geology. An Introduction to Sedimentary Rocks and Stratigraphy: New York, W.H. Freeman and Company, third edition, 593 p. Additional reading will be drawn from the literature.

Students are asked to complete assigned readings ahead of class. (Check Courseworks for details.)


Grades will be based on mid-term (20%) and final examinations (40%), field projects (20%), and an assessment of each student's contributions to the class (20%). Questions in exams will be based in part on lab and field activities. Graduate students may request R-credit (lectures and field trips only; no labs or exams.), or participate sporadically (no credit). Only full participation counts towards the required course point total.


Lectures: TuTh, 2:40-3:55 p.m., Schermerhorn 506

Lab: Tu, 4:00-6:30 p.m., Schermerhorn 506

Tu Sept. 8

Overview of sedimentary geology.
Lab. 1: Analysis of sedimentary textures (sieve data from Fire Island).

Th   10

Fluid flow and bedforms in sediments.

Sat   12 Field trip 1 to Fire Island (sedimentary processes at a modern barrier island).
Exercise: description and interpretation of sedimentary features.
Tu   15

Sedimentary structures and their origin.
Lab. 2: Fire Island review. Sedimentary structures and fabrics.

Th   17

Sedimentary structures and their origin II.

Tu   22 Fluvial sedimentation (Oligocene-Miocene point bars, Loranca basin, Spain).
Lab. 3: Geology of Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains.
Th   24 Alluvial fan and eolian sedimentation (Devonian fans, Hornelen basin, Norway).
Tu   29

Sediment gravity flows.
Lab. 4: Review of optics and petrographic microscope.

Th Oct. 1 Turbidite systems and associated deep marine sedimentation (Amazon fan).
Sat-Sun   3-4

Field trip 2 to the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains (Sat.: Ordovician marine turbidites at Highland and Poughkeepsie; and Silurian braided fluvial deposits at High Falls. Sun.: Devonian meandering fluvial deposits near Haines Falls).
Exercises: interpretation of turbidite sandstones and fluvial deposits; paleocurrent measurement and analysis.

Tu   6

Sedimentation at deltas and clastic shelves (Cretaceous nearshore deposits, Utah).
Lab. 5: Sandstone composition and textures (samples from Neoproterozoic Brigham Group, Utah).

Th   8

Shallow marine carbonate sedimentation (Proterozoic Rocknest platform, Canada).

Sat-Sun   10-11

Field trip 3 to the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains (Sat.: Ordovician-Silurian unconformity at Catskill; and bedding plane exposure of Ordovician marine turbidites at Coxsackie. Sun.: Silurian shallow marine carbonate rocks at Indian Ladder, John Boyd Thacher State Park).
Exercise: interpretation of a section through the Silurian Manlius Formation.

Tu   13

Reefs, mounds and build-ups (Devonian reefs, Canning basin, Australia).
Lab. 6: Carbonate composition and textures (samples from Helderberg Group, Thacher Park).

Th   15

Lacustrine sedimentation and climate change (Triassic-Jurassic Newark Supergroup, eastern U.S. and Canada).

Tu   20 Midterm examination.
Stratigraphy and Basin Tectonics
Th Oct. 22 Classical stratigraphy and correlation.
Tu   27

Layering patterns and facies in sedimentary deposits (sequence stratigraphy)
Lab. 7: Comparison of classical stratigraphy and sequence stratigraphy
(data from Permian carbonate platform margin, New Mexico).

Th   29 Paleomagnetics and magnetostratigraphy (Eocene, south-central Pyrenees, Spain).
Tu Nov. 3 No class (Election Day).
Th   5

Origin of sedimentary basins.

Tu   10

Borehole logs and their sequence stratigraphic interpretation.
Lab. 8: Stratigraphic interpretation of electric logs
(data from Oligocene-Miocene of Maracaibo basin, Venezuela).

Th   12 Stratigraphic interpretation of seismic reflection data.
Tu   17 Lab. 9 (both sessions): Seismic stratigraphy of the Woodbine (Cretaceous, Texas).
Th   19 Advanced topics in sequence stratigraphy (class discussion).
Tu   24 Extensional basins (Gulf of Suez, Egypt).
Lab. 10: Discussion of field projects.
Th   26

No class (Thanksgiving holiday).

Tu Dec. 1 Passive continental margins (New Jersey).
Lab. 11: Stratigraphic and structural maps I.
Th   3

Passive continental margins (Tethyan and Iberia-Newfoundland examples).

Tu   8

Sedimentation in orogenic settings (Alberta basin, Canada).
Lab. 11 (continued): Stratigraphic and structural maps II.

Th   10 Sedimentation along strike-slip faults (Ridge basin, California).
Tu   15 Review session.


Nicholas Christie-Blick is a Professor and former Chair of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and has been at Columbia University since 1983. He holds degrees in geology from the University of Cambridge, U.K. (B.A., 1974) and the University of California, Santa Barbara (Ph.D., 1979), and prior to joining Columbia was for three years a research geologist with Exxon in Houston, Texas. He teaches courses in sedimentary geology and tectonics, receiving the Best Teacher Award in Earth and Environmental Sciences in 1996 and 2008 from the department's Ph.D. students, and in 2010 from the undergraduates (the inaugural year of that award). Christie-Blick's research deals with sedimentation processes, crustal deformation, and deep-time Earth history.

Teaching Assistant

Steven Boswell is a third-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. He received a B.S. in Earth Science from Rice University in 2012, and was employed in the energy business for a year before coming to Columbia. With Sidney Hemming (Columbia) and Sam Toucanne (IFREMER), Steven is working to reconstruct the dynamics of the Fennoscandian Ice Sheet based on sampling of glacial sediments in the circum-Baltic states.  Previously at Columbia, he has assisted with three courses: Geochronology and Thermochronology; Habitable Planet; and Solid Earth System. 

Contact Information

Nicholas Christie-Blick
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University
Palisades, New York 10964-8000


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Office hours: Thursday, 4:00-6:30 p.m., Schermerhorn 561 or by arrangement.

Updated July 20, 2015
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