Wikipedia Articles of Geology Enhancement Project

Last year the students in the Tectonics course I TAed were assigned the task of repairing geology and tectonics related Wikipedia articles. Students had to select a Wikipedia article with sparse or incorrect information, research the topic, and submit an improved version of the article for review. The TA then reviewed the new article version and only after the students submitted revisions was the article approved for publication on Wikipedia. Here are the issues students tackled last year:

Students are responsible for seeking out and selecting topics to research. We encourage them to focus on process articles, but articles about important locations are also fair game, especially if they exemplify a specific tectonic process. This year we will be sending out the Wikipedia Tectonic Stubs list to the students as a springboard for finding their topic. However, I wanted to reach out to the geo-blago and twitter spheres for topic ideas. 
So I ask you all, what geology and tectonics articles on Wikipedia are in need of attention? Respond in the comments section below, on twitter (@tsherryUSA), or in your own blog post (please send me the link!).

Something may be wrong with the comments on this blog. Feel free to send me a message with your comment and I’ll add it to the post.
Comment from Matt Hall of AgileGeoscience:

I finally got around to reading this after a lot of travel. It’s terrific — I’m so glad to read about the exercise and its outcomes, so thanks for reporting.

While I definitely don’t want to discourage people from building up their own ‘to do’ lists in Wikipedia, I did want to point to one other resource for finding articles that need work (you already mentioned the stubs lists at
WikiProjects try to consolidate efforts on certain topics. WikiProject Geology maintains a list ( of high priority articles that need work (it takes a minute to parse the colourful table), and also a To Do list of tasks ( These can be good places to look for inspiration.
Cheers! Matt


Thanks for the links, Matt! I’ve passed them on to our students.


A noble cause: Repairing Wikipedia’s Geology articles

Wikipedia can be a great first stop when beginning research. Mainly it is a great first stop if the article is well cited. Wikipedia can lead you to top scientific papers on a subject. However, if an article is incomplete, poorly cited, or wrong it can not only be useless, but also point you in the wrong direction.

Recently a grip (I love using that word) of Geology Wikipedia articles got repaired, improved, and/or written. This past semester I was a teaching assistant for an upper division Tectonics course taught by Christie Rowe. One of the assignments for the students was the Wikipedia Repair Project. This gave students in the course an opportunity to help other geology students, because chances are the first Google search result is going to be a Wikipedia article.

  • The assignment had students pick an article that needed work. 
  • Either save or print the article and mark it up. 
  • Do the necessary research. 
  • Edit (improve) the article offline.
  • Submit the original and edited versions to the TA correcting the assignment.
The TA then graded the assignment and with the grade gave one of the following recommendations:
  • Edit the online Wikipedia article with the new and improved version.
  • Make minor edits and edit the online version.
  • Major edits then modify the online version after re-submission and approval.
  • Or… do not modify the Wikipedia article.
The student’s grade was not finalized until the followed the recommendation. 
Now it’s time to get your readin’ on. Here’s a list of the articles that made the final cut and have been updated:
For profs who are interested in implementing a similar assignment in their courses here is a pdf of the assignment sheet.

What geo-wikipedia articles are lacking? This could be a fun project for the blogosphere, though maybe we should leave some articles for the undergrads. 

Geology is on the cutting board for Scottish High Schools

Hutton Unconformity

Scotland is thought by some as the “birthplace of geology” as it is where James Hutton developed the theory of uniformitarianism. Well, it looks like the Scottish Qualifications Authority is looking to cut geology from the high school curriculum. A high school teacher is launching a campaign to stop this from happening. I heard about this through this Reddit thread:

The starter of the thread is inviting people to contribute reasons/arguments as to why cutting high school geology is bad. Feel free to post your thoughts on the reddit thread or here.

Fun with Low Reynold’s number flows

Last week the Tectonics class I’m TAing had an extra “throwaway” lecture. We decided to let the students build their own experiments to gain some intuition about Low Reynolds number flows, and what the Reynolds number means.

First we showed them a video produced by the National Committee for Fluid Mechanics Films which was an awesome NSF funded project to develop and film these complex and/or expensive experiments (which can be found on YouTube). 
One of my favorite aspects of flow is the phenomenon of low Reynolds number flows. Low Reynolds number flows are flows where inertia plays only a small roll.

The Reynolds number is a dimensionless number that can be characterized as:

Re = (Density * Length * Velocity) / Viscosity
Re = Inertia / Viscosity.

Generally if the Reynolds number is below 2000 the flow is laminar, greater than 2000 the flow is turbulent.

To tie it to geology we helped the students work through an order of magnitude calculation of mantle viscosity. Try it for yourself: Density = 3300 kg/m^3, Length = 3 X 10^6 m, Velocity = 1 cm/yr, Viscosity = 10^21 Pas. What do you get? Is the mantle a turbulent or laminar flow?

After the video we gave the students a set of ingredients and beakers to play with: canola oil, molasses, water, food coloring, and glycerin. Fun fact about glycerin, the pharmacy only sells small bottles and employees will give you VERY strange looks when you ask for a liter of the stuff.

Here are the experiments the students came up with. You’ll here conversation about flows, mantle winds, and non-school stuff in the background.

First up we have molasses poured into glycerin:

and a small amount of molasses…

My favorite: a two layer system. Bottom layer is glycerin and top layer is oil.

And a turbulent flow for good measure…

Some things to take away from the student’s experiments: our containers were too small in height for the low Reynolds number plumes to fully develop before hitting the bottom. This would also require much more glycerin, and more weird looks.

And for fun here’s a video I found of a low Reynolds number (~1000) vortex ring collision. Science is so sexy.

Don’t be a putz, scan your notes

Recently I went on a week long field trip to Texas for a Basin Stratigraphy class. I took along my notes as well as some unrelated papers that I needed to read. By the end of the trip I had lost my notes and the papers.

One useful student-thing I got in the habit of doing my senior year at UC Santa Cruz was scanning my class notes. There was a color scanner on the office copy machine that would email me pdfs of my notes. Perfect. I could access my notes from anywhere (via DropBox) and if my notebook exploded, I had back ups.

I got out of the habit and am regretting it now. With my notes gone, I’m a bit stuck with nothing to reference back to.
So as a quick tip: SCAN YOUR NOTES. CLASS NOTES, THESIS NOTES, WHATEVER. Not only will you be able to access them anywhere, but you’ll have a backup. Do it.

Drop everything and manipulate your stereonet data in 3D

Stop what you’re doing. Stereonet software now displays data in 3D, let’s you rotate, go crazy.

Geologists, get excited.

Anyone who has worked with stereonets by hand knows that in addition to being an invaluable structural geology tool, they are also a pain, especially for large data sets.

For the unfamiliar, stereonets are circular graphs that are used to represent 3-dimensional data in 2-dimensions.  Data can be everything from bedding measurements, fault orientation, to cleavage planes in a fold. Once this data is plotted on the stereonet it can be manipulated to work out everything from the deformation history of a region to the correct orientation to drill a mineralization zone (ie. where’s the gold at?).

Figure 1: Some bedding plane and lineaion data displayed on a 2D stereonet in OSXStereonet.

Stereonets are notoriously difficult for students to grasp on the first try around. My undergrad (UCSC) structure class used a hamster ball-cd set up to explain 3D bedding plane orientation projected into 2D. That was okay, but also a bit funky. Doing stereonets by hand can be even more funky. Enter stereonet software.

The most widely used free stereonet software (this is from a poll/guess on what people I know use) is Rick Allmendinger and Nestor Cardozo’s OSXStereonet (mac) and Stereonet7 (windows). I haven’t used the mac version much, but from what I’ve seen it is always about 1 version iteration ahead its windows counterpart.

Figure 2: Same data as Figure 1 displayed in 3D, rotated with North pointing top-right. Awesome.

The mac version made a huge leap recently with the introduction of a 3D viewer. Like, hell yea! This feature is so awesome, it blew my face off when I first loaded it up. The stereonet can be rotated to view the data from any angle. I think this could be a great teaching tool to help students grasp what a 2D stereonet is really displaying. Of course they should finish the assignment by hand to be sure that they really grasp the concepts and are not just entering data into a table 😀 .

My first thought when I saw this (after HOLY SHIT THIS IS AWESOME!) was how cool this would be to combine with the KeckCaves software and a 3DTV. It would be SO cool to visualize the stereonet in “real” 3D and manipulate it with a Keck wand.

Also, the stereonet .pdf files it exports look very clean, which is an improvement from previous versions.

And for those who are wonder… no I’m not writing this on a mac, I am running the program in a VirtualBox OSX system.