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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

J. Michael Brown
ESS 403
Seattle Campus

Global Tectonics

Introduction to large-scale plate tectonics processes and observations including motions on a sphere, polar-wander paths, plate-boundary seismicity, focal mechanisms, gravity, magnetics, and heat flow. Also includes observations and theories of plate deformation and continental dynamics with emphasis on Western North America. Prerequisite: PHYS 121.

Class description

For over 50 years Plate Tectonics has been the conceptual framework for understanding how Earth works. Once considered “revolutionary” and controversial, it is now firmly entrenched as the orthodoxy and permeates all discussions of Earth’s evolution and the underlying processes.

In this course we will examine how geophysical tools are used to probe Earth’s interior. These include seismology, gravity, magnetics, geodesy, and heat flow. Interpretations of global processes, based on the geophysical observations, are considered. You will explore classic and contemporary data sets that provide support (and stimulate new questions ) for the concepts of plate tectonics. Furthermore, you will investigate observations in the Pacific Northwest that provide new insight in the structure and dynamics of the Cascadia Subduction complex. Issues of uncertainty and non-uniqueness of models are also be considered.

Improving communication skills (oral and written) is an additional focus of this class. The required weekly technical reports serve to better prepare all students for employment or further graduate education.

Student learning goals

Develop an understanding of geophysical tools, including seismology, gravity, magnetics, heat flow, and geodesy.

Develop an understanding of how geophysical observations are used to elucidate large scale Earth processes

Be able to link Earth processes to an understanding of how Earth evolves

Be able to clearly express technical information in concise reports.

Improve computer skills in working with quantitative information and data bases

Understand basics of observational uncertainties and the propagation of errors

General method of instruction

Lecture and Lab

Recommended preparation

This is a demanding 5 credit 400-level course that assumes upper division “critical thinking” and quantitative skills. A senior ESS major should be adequately prepared. However, you will be challenged to improve conceptual understandings, quantitative skills, oral and written communication abilities, and computer skills.

Class assignments and grading

You will use MATLAB to manipulate, analyze, and make figures. You will use large internet accessible data bases to obtain data to analyze.

Weekly formal lab reports are required

50% Lab reports 25% midterm 25% final poster and oral presentation


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Additional Information
Last Update by J. Michael Brown
Date: 07/09/2009