Sedimentary Geology

Earth and Environmental Science W4223x (4 points)
Fall, 2013

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 continental 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 2015).

Field Trips

Sunday, September 15, to Fire Island (1 day).

Friday to Sunday, September 27-29 to the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains (3 days).

Departure from 116th and Broadway at 8:00 a.m., returning by 6:00 p.m. on the first trip. Departure from Lamont (Geoscience) at 8:45 a.m. on the second trip, returning to Columbia by 8:00 p.m. Transportation to Lamont via shuttle bus (free with CUID). We plan to camp out at North-South Lake and at Thompson's Lake State Park in the Catskill Mountains on the second trip (weather permitting). Logistical details to be provided. Participation is required (and well worth the time invested!).

Draft field projects are due on October 31.

Final versions are due no later than December 5.


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. Additional references 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: Th, 4:00-6:30 p.m., Schermerhorn 506 (*except as indicated)

*Lab will be extended to 8:00 p.m. (as required) for seniors enrolled in EESC BC3800 Senior Research Seminar (Th, 4:00-6:00 p.m.)

Tu Sept. 3 Overview of sedimentary geology.
Th   5

Fluid flow and bedforms in sediments.
Lab. 1: Analysis of sedimentary textures (sieve data from Fire Island).

Tu   10 Sedimentary structures and their origin.
Th   12

Shoreline sedimentation and development of barrier islands.
Lab. 2: Sedimentary structures and fabrics.

Sun   15

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

Tu   17 Origin of siliciclastic sediments and rocks.
Th   19 Carbonate and other sediments and rocks.
Lab. 3: Fire Island review, and geology of Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains.
Tu   24 Layering patterns and facies in sedimentary deposits (sequence stratigraphy).
Th   26 Lab. 4 (both sessions): Review of optics and petrographic microscope.
Fri-Sun   27-29

Field trip 2 to the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains (Fri.: Ordovician marine turbidites at Highland and Poughkeepsie; and Silurian braided fluvial and shallow marine mixed siliciclastic/carbonate rocks at High Falls. Sat.: Devonian meandering fluvial deposits near Haines Falls; 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).
description and interpretation of turbidites; paleocurrent measurement and analysis; interpretation of a section through the Silurian Manlius Formation.

Tu  Oct. 1 Alluvial and alluvial fan sedimentation (Devonian, Hornelen basin, Norway).
Th   3 Lacustrine sedimentation and climate change (Triassic-Jurassic Newark Supergroup, eastern U.S. and Canada).
Lab. 5: Sandstone composition and textures (samples from Neoproterozoic Brigham Group, Utah).
Tu   8

Sedimentation at deltas and clastic shelves (Cretateous nearshore deposits, Utah).

Th   10 Shallow marine carbonate sedimentation (Proterozoic Rocknest platform, Canada).
Lab. 6: Carbonate composition and textures.
Tu   15

Turbidite systems and associated deep marine sedimentation (Amazon fan).

Th   17 Midterm examination.
Stratigraphy and Basin Tectonics
Tu   22 Classical stratigraphy and correlation.
Th   24

Paleomagnetics and magnetostratigraphy (Eocene, south-central Pyrenees, Spain).
Lab. 7: Comparison of classical stratigraphy and sequence stratigraphy (data from Permian carbonate platform margin, New Mexico).

Tu   29 No class (GSA Annual Meeting, Oct. 27-30). Use time to finalize field projects.
Th   31 Sequence stratigraphic interpretation of borehole logs and seismic reflection data.
Lab. 8: Stratigraphic interpretation of electric logs (data from Oligocene-Miocene of Maracaibo basin, Venezuela).
Tu Nov. 5

No class (Election Day).

Th   7 Lab. 9 (both sessions): Seismic stratigraphy of the Woodbine (Cretaceous, Texas).
Tu   12 Advanced topics in sequence stratigraphy I.
Th   14 Advanced topics in sequence stratigraphy II.
Tu   19 Origin of sedimentary basins.
Th   21 Lab. 10 (both sessions): Stratigraphic and structural maps.
Tu   26 Extensional basins and passive continental margins (Gulf of Suez, Egypt; Tethyan and Iberia-Newfoundland margins).
Th   28 No class (Thanksgiving holiday).
Tu Dec. 3 Sedimentation in orogenic settings (Alberta basin, Canada).
Th   5 Sedimentation along strike-slip faults (Ridge basin, California).
Tu   10 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

Jonathan Gale (teaching assistant) is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. He received a B.S. in Geological Sciences from Tufts University in 2011, where he worked on well logging of local drill sites and groundwater modeling of the Arafura Sea. He has worked extensively with GIS software, managing a laboratory and assisting numerous student and faculty research projects in the process. Jonathan's teaching experience includes introductory geology and introductory remote sensing (at Tufts University). His research aims to identify mechanisms and rates of folding and uplift in the Indo-Burman arc from remotely sensed data.

Contact Information

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


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

Updated August 22, 2013
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