Sedimentation is the study of how rocks like sandstone, shale and limestone are produced, and what they tell us about earth history. This is one of my primary interests as a geologist and I work mostly with modern settings (beaches, rivers, deltas) and sediment or rock from the Quaternary (last 2 million yrs or so). I spent my graduate student career studying first, for my M.Sc., carbonate shelf sedimentary systems (reefs, barrier islands, etc.) and then for my PhD, siliciclastic sedimentary systems (specifically coasts and estuaries).With my students we look at the deposits of the great ice sheet that plowed through Vermont 20,000 years ago and then melted, leaving lake beds and deltas and all kinds of other sedimentary features (image to right).
We also reconstruct the evolution of Vermont from 550 million to 350 million years ago – all by reading the rocks like a giant book (see image below). The fact that western Vermont was a wide tropical shelf and coast with reefs and beautiful beaches (but no palms back then!) is hard to swallow given the current climate, but students come away with the understanding that rocks are full of information about past energy levels, flow directions, water levels, oxygen levels, mountain building and more, and the skills to figure that out are developed in this course.