Geological Oceanography Course Notes

There are two ways to access these course notes for SO461, taught regularly at USNA .

  1. Using the table of contents of the CHM help file; the help file also has an index and full text search.  You are likely going to have to change the file properties to unblock it (right click on the file in Windows File Manager, pick option at bottom right to unblock).
  2. Using this page (the home page for the course), which is in the help file and also online.

Many of the pages have hyperlinks to other topics, which you are free to explore.  For the required reading, you must cover at least every link listed on this page.  This will be updated weekly; if you do not see the current week, you should update the help file. 

Available Geologic Map Data.

  Readings Labs Additional lecture topics
Week 1


General science

Plate Tectonics Review

Labs introduction

Lab 1:  Age, depth, and continental margins
  • Know the processes that create the three main rock types.
  • Know the difference between a plate boundary and a continental margin
  • Differentiate active and passive continental margins, and the major features at each.
  • Know the processes at the three plate boundaries, and why all the different names for the same type of boundary make sense.
Week 2

Geologic time and stratigraphy

Ocean basins

  • Understand the development of the geologic time scale, including the roles of Steno, Hutton, William Smith, and Lyell
  • Differentiate relative and absolute dating
  • Describe how we can date rocks in the ocean.
  • Use the age versus depth relationship for ocean crust.
  • Use cross sections to interpret profiles,  understand where to draw them, and why we use vertical exaggeration.
  • Unconformity
  • Uniformitarianism
Week 3 Lab 2: Geoid and sediment thickness
  • Rock and mineral definitions
  • How radar altimeters work, and the parameters they determine
  • Why our "best" bathymetry often comes from altimeters
  • Why gravity varies, and how that determines the geoid
  • Three scales/wavelength of geoid anomaly, both horizontal and vertical
Week 4 Lab 3: Sedimentation rates
  • Sediments reflect the latitude and depth at deposition, and proximity to land
  • Distribution of sediment by type and thickness
  • Changes in density, porosity, and sound velocity during lithification
  • Changes in sediment properties with transport distance
  • Reasons for violations of superposition (including bioturbation)
  • Quartz: where and why it does and does not occur.
  • Sediment sorting
  • Discuss the reasons for expensive ocean drilling programs.
Week 5

Plate motions

Lab 4: Plate rotations
  • Euler poles
  • Full and half spreading rates
  • Effect of model for motion on results
Week 6 Exam  
  • Phi scale
  • Two meanings of clay, size and mineralogy
Week 8 This is delayed, and will not be on Exam 2 Lab 5: Plate Motions and Triple Junction Stability
  • Triple junction stability and migration
  • Source, reservoir, and seal/trap rocks for petroleum
  • Paleolatitude
Week 9 Magnetic anomalies Lab 6: Marine magnetics Lab
  • Differentiate transform faults and fracture zones
  • Magnetic reversals
  • Magnetic anomalies
  • Crossover analysis
  • Curie temperature
Week 10 Faults and earthquakes Lab 7: Beach balls and faults
  • Intensity and magnitude (Richter and Mercalli)
  • Dip and strike
  • Focal mechanism
  • P and S waves
  • Normal, thrust/reverse, strike slip, oblique
  • Fault plane, nodal planes, auxiliary plane
  • Hanging wall and footwall
Week 11 Ridge earthquakes and faults  
Week 12 Offshore California lab, seismic reflection

Fence diagram
  • Crossover analysis and tie points
  • Differentiate transform faults and strike-slip faults
  • Know the sound velocity in water (1.5 km/sec), solid rock (4-6 km/sec), and the mantle (8 km/sec)
Week 13 Gloria sidescan and Gulf of Mexico  
Week 14


  • Orogeny
  • Benioff zone
  • Seismic tomography
  • Blueschist, contact metamorphism, regional metamorphism
  • Paired metamorphic belts
  Review of survey instruments    



These are the labs from previous iterations of the course.  Most of the material was incorporated in other labs.

Testable Theory Lab directions
Geometry and Geology Stereonet and Faults Lab
A Far Field Trip


Last revision 1/5/2020