Dr. Marcus Key, Earth Sciences

Sustainability Module for Sedimentology & Stratigraphy Course

Course Syllabus: ERSC 309

With the support of the Summer 2013 Valley and Ridge program, I undertook the revision of my Sedimentology & Stratigraphy course (ERSC 309). For the first time this fall, I will be teaching it as a SCON course. The stratigraphy part of course deals with how these processes and resulting products have changed over time (e.g., reef limestones have changed over time as the constructors of reefs have evolved from sponges, to bryozoans, to molluscs, to corals). For the Valley and Ridge program I focused on the latter; specifically, what is the stratigraphic record of our unsustainable use of sedimentary resources (i.e., fossil fuel combustion-induced global warming).

To do this I developed a sustainability module for the class focusing on the stratigraphy of climate change. In order to predict future climate change, we must understand past climate change. The record of past climate change is recorded in the stratigraphic record of Earth's history. I acquired datasets of global temperatures from three different time scales, the last 423,000 years, last 11,300 years, and the last 130 years. I developed a module for the course where the students learn how to graphically and statistically analyze and interpret large stratigraphic data sets in relation to today’s human impacted climate as well as the natural background variation.

Based on my readings this summer on the value of place-based education, I found a field location north of Carlisle near Newport, PA where the students will be able to see the effect of climate change preserved in the stratigraphic record. This summer, I chose the exact part of the section to visit to best see short term climatic variation in the sequence (i.e., the Milankovitch cyclic climate signature).