Stanford University
Death Valley

Geological Sciences

The study of our planet and its neighbors, from their deep interiors to the surface, and through their multi-billion year history.

Geophys108/214/ GeolSci 189/289: Tectonics Field Trip

California and neighboring southern Oregon and western Nevada offer easy access to world-class exposures of active faults, active volcanos, and geologic features expressing all aspects of plate tectonics. “Tectonics Field Trip” is centered on a long-weekend field trip over Memorial Day to view and study a part of this area.  Each year we visit different locations, and students are welcome to take the class multiple times for credit. In the class meetings, we will discuss the large-scale regional processes that control the formation and distribution of the different rocks we plan to see – whether sedimentary, metamorphic or igneous. In the field, we will make observations on a meso-scale of individual faults and individual intrusions or sedimentary units, and we will seek to understand the importance of the small-scale features in the big picture; as well as understand the geophysics of individual features.   Beyond introducing students to the geohistory of their own backyard, our aim is to learn what sorts of observations are possible in the field, and understand how these observations both trigger and answer questions about Earth.

 The typical trip departs Stanford Thursday 17:00, spends one night in a motel, then the following three nights at camp-sites before returning to Stanford Monday 21:00. No prior fieldwork or camping experience or equipment is required. All students will share in group tasks including assembling gear, menus, food and rental vehicles; cooking and clean-up in camp; clean-up and gear and vehicle return at Stanford.

 This is a 3-unit class, nominally split between 50% one class meeting per week, attendance and in-class presentation and 50% field-trip preparation and participation. Registration for reduced number of units is permitted but does reduce the expectation of in-class and in-field participation. The class meeting each week features my lecture followed by short student presentations about assigned readings, and group discussion. Lectures and readings tackle broad themes that will be further illuminated during field stops, e.g. Normal-fault geometries and intersections; Internal structure of fault zones; Volcanic morphology and magma rheology; Geothermal energy production; Earthquake and volcanic hazard. Understanding the natural and cultural history is also encouraged. In the field, student pairs are assigned field stops/outcrops where they are responsible for initiating discussion, based on provided materials. To the extent possible, topics and field stops are tuned to individual student interests.

 Undergraduate- and graduate-enrollment expectations are differentiated largely by the depth of specialist knowledge expected for in-class presentations and discussions.  For those lacking basic knowledge of California geology, relevant chapters of the following elementary textbooks will prove valuable:

Deborah Harden        California Geology, 2nd ed. 2004                 QE89 .H37 2004

Robert Lillie                 Parks and plates : the geology of our national parks, monuments, & seashores 2005  QE511.4 .L55

Donald Prothero        California’s Amazing Geology           2017       QE89 .P76 2017


Monday and/or Friday, 13:30–15:00, Mitchell 350/372, LGI, 3 units preferred

(optionally 1 or 2 units for students unable to register for 3 units)

Enrollment capped at two dozen


Enroll now

IconsList of icons used on the sitemaillinkedindouble carrot leftarrow leftdouble carrotplayerinstagramclosecarrotquotefacebooktwitterplusminussearchmenuarrowcloudclock