Syllabus         Reference Resources
EESC W4947 - Plate Tectonics        -        Spring 2007
Meets: Tues and Thurs at 11:30-12:45 pm in Room 558 Schermerhorn Hall

Credits: 3

Synopsis: The Theory of Plate Tectonics produced a revolution in the Earth Science, affecting nearly every discipline. This course begins with a recapitulation of the exciting data and imaginative ideas that sparked the concepts of continental drift and seafloor spreading and those that took the ill-defined mobility of the earth's skin into the framework of rigid plates. Using a few sessions at the computers in the classroom and homework exercises we will explore the spherical geometry of Euler poles and the evolution of triple junctions that are the basis of plate kinematics. Then with seismology, magnetics, gravity, multibeam bathymetry, deep-sea drilling and diving in submersibles we explore the phenomena occurring today at plate boundaries: the axis of mid-ocean ridges, transform faults; convergent margins, accretionary prisms, backarc basins, and mountain belts. From hotpots and their tracks we introduce absolute plate motions, true polar wandering and plate rollback to get insight to the fundamental plate driving mechanisms, distinguishing those that act on the surfaces and edges of plates from those body forces within the plate interiors. Based on plate theory and its geological, geochemical and sedimentary corollaries we present the past 200 million year history of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans before turning to evidence for Paleozoic and Archean plate behavior. We show how the new fields of paleoceanography and paleo-climates requires knowledge of plate tectonics while using the history of plate motion to reveal patterns of biodiversity that have long puzzled ecologists. The course concludes with a brief trip through the solar system to find out what has generated the different tectonic styles of Earth, Moon, Venus, and Mars, and to ask if the diversity observed can be explained by an unifying principles of planetary evolution. The course consists of lectures, recitations involving classroom participation, readings of journal articles and materials put on the web, simulations on CD-ROMs carried out in computer labs or using your own desktop computer with datasets from the WEB. The course places emphasis on concepts, it tries to use a minimum of jargon and is semi-quantitative. A background in physical geology is helpful but not required.

Course Objectives:

A useful primer for the orals exam due to the breadth of the material and its link to many disciplines.

Method of Instruction

Through lectures, animation, CD-ROM exercises and class discussions. Readings are available on the WEB in each Session page for viewing or download in pdf format. All lecture material can be downloaded in MS PowerPoint format and html format.

Method of Evaluation:

Mid-term exam, term project presented as a poster and final exam

Instructor Information:

WILLIAM B. F. RYAN Adjunct Professor

Office Address: 208 Oceanography Bldg. Lamont-Doherty Earth Obs.
Telephone Number: 845-365-8312 (95-8312 from Columbia)
E-mail: billr@ldeo.columbia.edu
Office Hours in Schermerhorn EES Faculty Office: 12:50-2:50 Tu and Thurs by appointment

WALTER CLARKSON PITMAN III Adjunct Professor

Office Address: 117 Oceanography Bldg. Lamont-Doherty Earth Obs.
Telephone Number: 845-365-8397 (95-8397 from Columbia)
E-mail: pitman@ldeo.columbia.edu
Office Hours in Schermerhorn EES Faculty Office12:30-2:50 Tu and Thurs by appointment

TA Information:

Kimmy Szeto Graduate Student

Office Address: Room 302 Oceanography Bldg, Lamont-Doherty Earth Obs.
Telephone Number: 845-365-8349 (95-8349 from Columbia)
E-mail: ks87@columbia.edu
Office Hours: to be announced