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


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.