Sedimentary Geology

Earth and Environmental Science GU4223x (4 points)
Fall, 2017

Fire Island, September, 2015 (courtesy Christa Shen)

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.


To inspire an appreciation for sedimentary phenomena and the interpretation of Earth's sedimentary record.

Course Prerequisites

The course builds upon material covered in EESC UN2200 Solid Earth System and other courses at a comparable level. Participants in EESC UN1010 Geological Excursion to Death Valley, California have seen examples of diverse sedimentary settings. Completion of EESC GU4113 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 2020).

Field Trips

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

Friday to Sunday, September 22-24 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 excursion, returning to Columbia by 8:00 p.m. Transportation to Lamont via shuttle bus (free with Columbia ID). We plan to camp at Kenneth L. Wilson Campground and at Thompson's Lake State Park in the Catskill Mountains on the second trip (weather permitting). Participation is required (and well worth the time invested!). Rain dates are September 10 and October 13-15.


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. 5

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

Th   7

Fluid flow and bedforms in sediments.

Sat   9 Field trip 1 to Fire Island (sedimentary processes at a modern barrier island).
Exercise: interpretation of sedimentary features.
Tu   12

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

Th   14

Sedimentary structures and their origin II.

Tu   19 Fluvial sedimentation (example TBD).
Lab. 3: Geology of Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains.
Th   21 Alluvial fan and eolian sedimentation (examples TBD).
Fri-Sun   22-24

Field trip 2 to the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains (Fri.: Ordovician marine turbidites at Highland and Poughkeepsie; and Silurian braided fluvial deposits 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).

Exercises: interpretation of turbidite sandstones and fluvial deposits; paleocurrent measurment and analysis; interpretation of a section through the Silurian Manlius Formation.

Tu   26 Sediment gravity flows.
Lab. 4: Review of optics and petrographic microscope.
Th   28

Turbidite systems and associated deep marine sedimentation (Amazon fan).
Rescheduled from October 3 (4:00-5:15 p.m.): Sedimentation at deltas and clastic shelves (Cretaceous nearshore deposits, Utah).



Tu Oct 3

No lecture.
Lab. 5: Sandstone composition and textures (samples from Neoproterozoic Brigham Group, Utah).

Th   5

No Lecture.

Tu   10

Shallow marine carbonate sedimentation (Proterozoic Rocknest platform, Canada).
Lab. 6: Carbonate composition and textures (samples from Helderberg Group, Thacher Park).

Th   12

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

Stratigraphy and Basin Tectonics
Tu Oct. 17 Classical stratigraphy and correlation.
Lab. 7: Comparison of classical stratigraphy and sequence stratigraphy (data from Permian carbonate platform margin, New Mexico).



Layering patterns and facies in sedimentary deposits (sequence stratigraphy).

Midterm examination.



Paleomagnetics and magnetostratigraphy (Eocene, south-central Pyrenees, Spain).

Borehole logs and their sequence stratigraphic interpretation.
Lab. 8: Stratigraphic interpretation of electric logs (data from Oligocene-Miocene of Maracaibo basin, Venezuela).
Tu Nov. 2 Origin of sedimentary basins.
Tu   7

No class (Election Day). 

Th   9

Stratigraphic interpretation of seismic reflection data.

Tu   14 Lab. 9 (both sessions): Seismic stratigraphy of the Woodbine (Cretaceous, Texas).
Th   16 Advanced topics in sequence stratigraphy (class discussion).
Tu   21

Extensional basins (Gulf of Suez, Egypt).
Lab. 10: Discussion of field projects.

Th   23 No class (Thanksgiving holiday).
Tu   28

Passive continental margins (New Jersey).
Lab. 11: Stratigraphic and structural maps I.

Th   30 Passive continental margins (Tethyan and Iberia-Newfoundland examples).
Tu Dec. 5

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

Tu   7

Sedimentation along strike-slip faults (Ridge basin, California).

Th   14 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

Michael DeLuca is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. He received a B.S. in Geology from Union College in 2013, with a senior thesis involving integrated zircon fission track and LA-ICPMS techniques to constrain the thermochronologic history of Nagai Island, Alaska. Prior to arriving at Columbia, he earned an M.S. in Geology at Texas A&M University using zircon ID-TIMS U/Pb techniques to establish a chronostratigraphic framework for the Eagle Ford Shale. His current research is making use of detrital 40Ar/39Ar geochronology to investigate the provenance and tectonic context of the Devonian Old Red Sandstone in Scotland. At Texas A&M, Michael acted as teaching assistant for Physical Geology and Petrology.

Contact Information

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


Web page:

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

Updated April 18, 2017
To report problems, email webmaster