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GEOL275 Rock Deformation

Learn practical skills to analyse geological structures, such as folds and faults, and understand how rocks and ice deform in geo-engineering projects, glaciers and the large-scale tectonics of Earth.

This paper centres around developing practical skills in structural geology to help understand the broad field of rock deformation. The paper focuses on the fundamentals of describing the geometry of structures and interpreting these in terms of the kinematics and dynamics of rock deformation. The paper aims to provide a solid base for students wishing to use structural geology in research or applied science. The paper involves some student groups conducting some unique laboratory experiments that enhance significantly student understanding of rock deformation processes and contribute to ongoing research in the department. Critical reading of scientific literature is a cornerstone of this paper.

Paper title Rock Deformation
Paper code GEOL275
Subject Geology
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Semester 2 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,141.35
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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90 points including EAOS 111 and/or GEOL 112
GEOL 375
Schedule C

Background requirements: Students should know the basics of all fields of Geology (first-year level). GEOL275 is for students in their second year of a geology or equivalent degree. GEOL375 is for students in their third year of a geology or equivalent degree. Much of the work will involve quantitative approaches, and students will be given support in cementing and improving their numeracy skills.

Teaching staff

Coordinator: Professor David Prior
Dr Steven Smith

Paper Structure

Topics covered:

  • Stresses in rock masses; Mohr diagrams for stress
  • Faulting, fracture and friction; Griffith crack propagation; Byerlee friction; cataclasis
  • Engineering application of stress/failure analysis
  • Strain and strain analysis
  • Strain paths, strain symmetry and kinematics; shear zones
  • Folds, fabrics and fractures in the field; hand samples and thin section
  • Fold geometry, kinematics and mechanisms
  • Sandbox experiments to simulate fold thrust belt kinematics
  • Restoring deformed sequences to establish stratigraphy and palaeogeography
  • Creep rheology of Earth materials
  • Microstructures of rocks after creep
  • Deformation mechanisms, recovery and recrystallisation
  • Ice creep experiments to aid understanding of rock rheology and microstructure
  • Quartz microstructures from the Alpine Fault zone
  • Lithosphere scale mechanics/rheology

Assessment is approximately an even split between internal (ongoing during the semester) and external (final exam).

Assessments for GEOL375 are graded differently to GEOL275 to reflect greater background knowledge and higher expectations of students taking the paper at 300-level.

Teaching Arrangements

Two lectures and one 3-hour laboratory per week.

Fieldwork: Day fieldclass to Otago coastline.

Fossen, H. 2010 Structural Geology. Cambridge University Press., 460pp. Or newer second edition.
Course outline

GEOL275-375-Rock-Deformation-syllabus-2017.pdf (latest syllabus indicative of content next time the paper is taught)

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Critical thinking, Information literacy, Research, Self-motivation, Teamwork.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
Students should leave this paper with a level of knowledge of rock deformation that includes the specific skills listed below:
  • Ability to characterise and quantify the geometry of common geological structures (faults, folds, shear zones, fabrics) on a range of scales from maps through outcrop and hand samples to microscopic
  • Understand the basic physics of rock deformation, including stress-strain relationships and how they may be measured
  • Ability to develop kinematic models from geometrical data and understanding of what is needed to develop a dynamic model
  • Ability to design their own structural investigation of deformed rocks
  • Appreciation of observational science, including fieldwork, experimental approaches and modelling as tools to understand rock deformation
  • Quantitative techniques and problem solving
  • Scientific literacy

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Semester 2

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Thursday 08:00-08:50 28-34, 36-41
Thursday 12:00-12:50 28-34, 36-41


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Thursday 14:00-16:50 28-34, 36-41