Geology 440

GEOL 440

Catalog Entry

GEOL 440. Structural Geology
Three hours lecture; three hours laboratory (4).

Prerequisite: GEOL 310.

Description and field recognition of geological structures of the earth's crust; includes fundamentals of rock mechanics and applications of stress and strain theory to the origin of structures, tectonics of mountain-building, and global plate tectonics.


Detailed Description of Content of Course

The purpose of this course is to provide geology students with the theoretical and practical background from which to describe and analyze geologic structures. Topics covered in the lecture part of the course include:

1. Primary sedimentary and igneous structures;
2. An introduction to rock mechanics;
3. Stress theory and application including the derivation of the Mohr Circle, use of stress ellipses and tensors;
4. Strain theory and application;
5. Microstructures including crystal defects, grain boundaries, and grain growth;
6. Description and theory of folding;
7. Origin and description of foliations and lineations;
8. Description and theory of fracturing including jointing and faulting;
9. Origin and geologic setting of folds and faults in terms of global tectonics, including associated igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rock types;
10. Development of the Plate Tectonic Theory;
11. Tectonics of mountain-building including overthrusting and suspect terranes.

Topics in the lab part of the course include:

1. Orientation of planes and lines;
2. Use of force and stress to calculate conditions in the crust;
3. Use of strain markers to calculate strain;
4. Stereonets and their use in plotting planes and lines, and in rotating objects to new orientations;
5. Geologic maps and geologic map reading;
6. Analysis of folds on geologic maps;
7. Use of equal-area stereonets in the analysis of foliations and folds;
8. Analysis of faults to determine net slips and directions;
9. Use of the Mohr Circle.


Detailed Description of Conduct of Course

This course uses a three-pronged approach: 1) formal lectures are used to teach the theoretical aspects of rock mechanics, descriptions of geologic structures, and the geologic setting of these structures; 2) laboratory assignments are used to teach the fundamentals of solid geometry, analysis techniques, map reading, and practical application of the theory; 3) two all-day Saturday field trips take advantage of the excellent rock exposures in the Blue Ridge, Valley and Ridge, and Appalachian Plateau to give students first-hand experience in observing and describing structures in the field; and to give students an appreciation of the processes and scale of mountain-building. In every aspect of the course, class discussion is emphasized, and individualized instruction is offered during the lab and field trip parts of the course.


Goals and Objectives of Course

1. Students will understand the theory, description, and field identification of geologic structures such as folds, faults, joints, foliations.
2. Students will understand the theory behind tectonics including Plate Tectonics, mountain-building, and the associated rock types and structures that are associated with various tectonic settings.
3. Students will be able to apply analytical techniques to field data such as the use of orthographic and stereonet methods.
4. Students will be able to use the Mohr Circle to analyze stress and fractures; and use strain markers to analyze strain.
5. Students will be able to read and interpret geologic maps.


Assessment Measures

Three major exams which combine lecture and lab material will assess students' knowledge of structural geology theory and their ability to work practical problems. Weekly graded laboratory exercises will assess students' ability and monitor their progress in developing analytical skills. Students will also write field trip report in which the student will summarize and synthesize data gained during the two field trips.


Other Course Information

GEOL 440 is required for the Geology major and is a prerequisite for GEOL 441.


  • Hatcher, R.D., Jr., 1990, Structural Geology: Principles, Concepts, and Problems; Merrill Publishing Co., Columbus, Ohio, 531 p.
  • Hobbs, B.E., Means, W.D., and Williams, P.F., 1976, An Outline of Structural Geology; John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, 571 p.
  • Marshak, S., and Mitra, G., 1988, Basic Methods of Structural Geology; Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 446 p.
  • Ragan, D.M., 1985, Structural Geology: An Introduction to Geometrical Techniques (Third Edition); John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, 393 p.
  • Ramsay, J.G., 1967, Folding and Fracturing of Rocks; McGraw-Hill, New York, 568 p.
  • Suppe, J., 1985, Principles of Structural Geology; Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 537 p.


Approval and Subsequent Reviews

Date Action Approved By
October 2007