GEOS 414
Reading Deep Time
Last Offered Spring 2023
Division III Quantitative/Formal Reasoning
This course is not offered in the current catalog

Class Details

Ancient sedimentary rocks and the fossils they contain are time machines – direct windows into the deep history of life on Earth and the environments that life inhabited. In this course you will learn to “read” these deep time records by collecting, interpreting, and analyzing paleontological, stratigraphic, and sedimentological data. The course will be organized around a week-long spring break trip to explore the rocks of the House Range of Utah. The Cambrian and Ordovician strata of the House Range offers an outstanding record of one of the most important periods in Earth history, tracking the rise of animal ecosystems and major increases in fossil diversity. The first 6 weeks of class will be spent learning the fundamentals of quantitative methods in paleontology and stratigraphy (often referred to as historical geology). Labs will focus on skill building including learning basic coding in R (no experience needed or expected), and learning how to interpret paleontological, sedimentological, and stratigraphic data. We will also read widely on the field locality and on the Cambrian and Ordovician Periods. During the field trip, we will explore the House Range. Students will learn skills including interpreting geological maps, measuring stratigraphic sections, finding and identifying fossils, and correlating rock units across basins. We will collect samples and data on the field trip and bring them back to Williams. The second 6 weeks of the course will be spent processing and analyzing the samples and data collected during the field trip, culminating in final projects to be done in small groups. Students will help determine what data we will collect in the field and what projects emerge. Examples might be interpreting carbon isotopic analyses to reconstruct ancient oceanographic conditions, biostratigraphic correlation using fossils to reconstruct basin dynamics, determining paleoenvironment based on analyses of thin sections, or digging into trilobite fossil preservation and evolutionary trends. Students will draw on previous experiences and course content in the Geosciences and bring small group research projects to completion by the end of the semester, which will be presented in poster form. This course fulfills the Geosciences Group B Elective: Sediments and Life.
The Class: Format: seminar/laboratory; weekly lectures, paper discussions, and hands-on labs. Required week-long spring break field course.
Limit: 12
Expected: 12
Class#: 3347
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Short papers and lab assignments, spring break field course participation (REQUIRED), and a final group project presented in poster form.
Prerequisites: GEOS majors who have taken at least one of the following courses: GEOS 212, GEOS 203, GEOS 201, GEOS 301, GEOS 302, GEOS 312T, or permission of instructor.
Enrollment Preferences: Senior, and then Junior, Geosciences majors
Unit Notes: As a 400-level seminar, this capstone course is intended to build on and extend knowledge and skills students have developed during previous courses in the major
Distributions: Division III Quantitative/Formal Reasoning
QFR Notes: This course will rely on the programming language R. Students will learn how to code in R, and will use R to analyze large data sets of geological data. The majority of labs, as well as the final project, will rely on R, statistical analyses, and wrangling data.
Attributes: GEOS Group B Electives - Sediments + Life

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