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Using Data from Fossil Corals (Uplifted Corals) to Understand Tectonic Processes


Using Data from Uplifted Corals to Understand Tectonic Processes

Developed by Katherine Ellins, Institute for Geophysics, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin Institute for Geophysics

How to cite this work: Ellins, K.K. (2011), Using Data from Fossil Corals to Understand Tectonic Processes, TXESS Revolution,, Date Accessed.


This activity conveys the knowledge that Earth is dynamic and that plate tectonics is an active, ongoing process. The activity features authentic data collected by research scieintists Fred Taylor of the Institute for Geophysics in the Jackson School of Geoscience at The University of Texas at Austin and Paul Mann of the University of Houston, along with colleagues in the Department of Geological Sciences in the Jackson School. These researchers used fossil coral reefs to study the recent history of uplift (vertical tectonism) in the New Georgia Islands, which belong to the Solomon Island Group. The Solomon Islands comprise a 900 kilometer-long, double chain of volcanic islands in the convergent zone between the Cretaceous Ontong Java Plateau, a large igneous province (LIP) located on the Pacific Plate, and the Australian Plate.

In this activity, students use radiocarbon dates for the raised coral reefs from the New Georgia Islands in combination with measurements of the elevation of these fossil reefs above current sea level to calculate rates of tectonic uplift. Students then develop a conceptual model to explain the pattern of uplift for the last 10,000 years that emerges from the data.

We thank Fred Taylor and Paul Mann for providing the dataset, maps, images, and photographs, and for reviewing the activity.

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Development, Research and Testing of This Activity

This activity was developed for TEXTEAMS training with support from the Texas Education Agency through a grant to the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin and was implemented in the following teacher professional development workshops: (1) Geology Meteorology and Oceanography TEXTEAMS Training (1999, 2000; (2) Revolution Teacher Workshops (2006), supported by the Texas Education Agency; (3) Annual Meeting of the Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education (2007); and TXESSS Revolution PDA 2 (2008), supported by the National Science Foundation Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences under NSF Grant No. 0703687. Feedback from teachers was used to refine the activity.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation, the Texas Education Agency or the Texas Water Development Board.

Activity rating by 51 TXESS Revolution teachers in PDA 2A (2008)