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Sedimentary Geology

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Sedimentary Geology Faculty:

Jonathan Payne

Dorrell William Kirby Professor, Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs, Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment and Professor, by courtesy, of Biology,
Erik Sperling

Associate Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment and Associate Professor, by courtesy, of Oceans
Donald Lowe

Max Steineke Professor in Earth Sciences, Emeritus
Stephan Graham

Welton Joseph and Maud L'Anphere Crook Professor of Applied Earth Sciences & by courtesy, of Geophysics & of Energy Science Engineering

As rock weathers into sediments, they are transported across Earth's surface by gravity, water flows, and winds. Once deposited, sediments undergo physical and chemical transformations, mediated by groundwater, that turn them into sedimentary rocks. Life, when present, further alters this chain of processes, from sediment production to lithification. Thus, sedimentary rocks offer a unique archive of Earth's environments, life, and their history. In EPS, we seek to decipher this record, not only on Earth but also on other planets like Mars.



Sedimentary Geology Classes:

EPS 1: Introduction to Geology (EARTHSYS 11): Why are earthquakes, volcanoes, and natural resources located at specific spots on the Earth's surface? Why are there rolling hills to the west behind Stanford and soaring granite walls to the east in Yosemite? What was the Earth like in the past, and what will it be like in the future? Lectures, hands-on laboratories, in-class activities, and one virtual field trip will help you see the Earth through the eyes of a geologist. Topics include plate tectonics, the cycling and formation of different types of rocks, and how geologists use rocks to understand Earth's history.  

EPS 106: Sediments The Book of Earth's History: (Formerly GEOLSCI 106) Topics: weathering, erosion and transportation, deposition, origins of sedimentary structures and textures, sediment composition, diagenesis, sedimentary facies, tectonics and sedimentation, and the characteristics of the major siliciclastic and carbonate depositional environments. Required Lab Section: methods of analysis of sediments in hand specimen and thin section. There is a required field problem trips to the field site(s) during the quarter, data collection and analysis, and preparation of a final written and oral report.

Sedimentary Geochemistry and Analysis (EPS 135/235): Introduction to research methods in sedimentary geochemistry. Proper laboratory techniques and strategies for generating reliable data applicable to any future labwork will be emphasized. This research-based course will examine how the geochemistry of sedimentary rocks informs us about local and global environmental conditions during deposition. Students will collect geochemical data from a measured stratigraphic section in the western United States. These samples will be collected during a four-day field trip at the end of spring break (attendance encouraged but not required). In lab, students will learn low-temperature geochemical techniques focusing on the cycling of biogeochemical elements (O, C, S, and Fe) in marine sediments throughout Earth's history. The focus will be on geochemistry of fine-grained siliciclastic rocks (shale) but the geochemistry of carbonates will also be explored. This is a lab-based course complemented with lectures.

EPS 224: Rivers: The Arteries of Earth's Continents (ESS 225, GEOPHYS 221) Rivers are the arteries of Earth's continents, conveying water, sediments, and solutes from the headwaters to the oceans. They provide a haven for life and have been at the heart of the world's economy by generating fertile floodplains, human habitats, as well as by facilitating international commerce. This course offers a quantitative examination of rivers, from headwaters to deltas. We will first develop a basic mechanistic understanding of fluvial processes, including flow hydraulics, erosion, sediment transport, and deposition. We will then apply our acquired knowledge through thematic discussions of relevant issues. Possible themes include deltas and climate change, rivers and human activity (damming, sand mining, deforestation), rivers and the evolution of land plants, rivers and biogeochemical cycles, submarine channels, and the alien rivers of Mars and Titan.

EPS 251: Sedimentary Basins:  Analysis of the sedimentary fill and tectonic evolution of sedimentary basins. Topics: tectonic and environmental controls on depositional systems, detrital composition, burial history, and stratigraphic architecture; synthesis of basin development through time. One weekend field trip is required. Change of Department Name: Earth & Planetary Sciences (Formerly Geological Science)

GEOPHYS 254: Sedimentology and Rock Physics of Carbonates (EPS 254): Processes of precipitation and sedimentation of carbonate minerals as well as their post-depositional alteration with emphasis on marine systems. Topics include: geographic and bathymetric distribution of carbonates in modern and ancient oceans; genesis and environmental significance of carbonate grains and sedimentary textures; carbonate diagenesis; changes in styles of carbonate deposition through Earth history; reservoir quality and properties defined by storage capacity, flow (permeability) and connectivity of pores (effective porosity); the interplay between these properties, the original depositional characteristics of the carbonate sediments and post-depositional alteration; relationships between dissolution processes, cementation processes, and the resulting connectivity of the flow pathways. Lab exercises emphasize petrographic and rock physics analysis of carbonate rocks at scales ranging from map and outcrop to hand sample and thin section.