Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Marine Geology and Ocean Surveying

LEVEL 03 - Years 2, 3, 4 in Modular Undergraduate Course


DEPARTMENT Geosciences

DESCRIPTION Many of the processes that impact the Earth occur partly or completely below the surface of the oceans. These processes act on different spatial and temporal scales. Some occur over geological time scales – building mountains and volcanoes, forming ore deposits, and changing the Earth’s climate – while others act more quickly – resulting in tsunamis, triggering slope failures, and affecting benthic biological communities.

Although the ocean floor covers 70% of the Earth, only a small fraction has been mapped in detail, and few professionals in the Maltese Islands have the skills required to undertake seafloor surveys. Seafloor mapping and exploration is a priority for the European Union, and it is becoming very important for the Maltese Islands, because it provides information on aspects of the marine environment that has significant economic, social and environmental implications (e.g. resources, geohazards, ocean government, environmental management).

The first part of this unit will provide students with a broad introduction to marine geology, with a focus on seafloor forms and processes. The knowledge and skills acquired by the students will be useful to address key scientific questions in marine sciences, as well as investigate the applied aspects of the marine environment (e.g. resources prospecting, geohazard assessment, environmental management, carbon sequestration).

The second part of this unit will introduce the techniques used to explore and investigate the seafloor and their applications in marine geosciences.

These skills and knowledge are currently in demand and very useful to secure employment in the offshore industry (e.g. hydrocarbon exploration, offshore site assessment), academia, governmental agencies and international authorities.

The study-unit will therefore first provide an introduction to the main techniques used by scientists to explore the seafloor:
• Multibeam echosounder
• Sidescan sonar
• Seafloor sampling
• Borehole logging
• Reflection seismics
• Gravity and magnetic surveying
• Electrical and electromagnetic surveying
• ROVs, AUVs, and in situ measurements
• Seafloor observatories
• Geodesy and positioning
• Survey planning
• Data acquisition, processing, visualisation and interpretation (through field and laboratory exercises)

In the second part, the study-unit will then focus on seafloor topographic elements at a global scale, and the key drivers (tectonic, sedimentary, oceanographic, hydrogeologic) of seafloor geomorphic change. It will then cover a range of seafloor landforms and processes at a fine spatial scale, exploring how these change from the near shore (e.g. submerged palaeolandscapes, continental shelf bedforms, fluid flow processes), to the continental slope (e.g. submarine landslides, submarine canyons, contouritic drifts etc.), and finally to the deep sea (e.g. submarine channels and fans, hydrothermal vents, seamounts and volcanoes). We will conclude the unit by reviewing the marine geology the Maltese Islands and in the surrounding central Mediterranean region.

Study-unit Aims:

• To give a grounding in the basic principles and core concepts of seafloor surveying and exploration;
• To introduce a range of state-of-the-art geophysical, visual and seabed sampling instruments used in seafloor exploration;
• To introduce the skills required to acquire, process, manipulate, integrate, visualise and interpret seafloor data sets using commercial and open-source software;
• To demonstrate the wide range of industrial and academic applications of seafloor exploration;
• To give a broad outline of the origin, structure and evolution of ocean basins and continental margins;
• To equip students with an understanding of the nature and spatio-temporal scale of the principal seafloor processes and their signatures in seafloor data;
• To explain the environmental, social and economic implications of marine geology, with particular reference to the central Mediterranean region.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

• explain the basic theoretical concepts behind seafloor exploration methodologies and strategies;
• demonstrate familiarity with the state-of-the-art instruments and techniques used in seafloor exploration, and their geological applications;
• describe which methods are best suited to particular applications, as well as the limitations of seafloor data interpretations;
• demonstrate a thorough understanding of the nature and dynamics of seafloor processes;
• describe seafloor features found in different settings and understand the processes leading to their formation;
• demonstrate an understanding of the framework provided by plate tectonics, and the significant role played by climate and sea-level changes, in shaping the seafloor record;
• demonstrate awareness of the fundamental research questions that still need to be addressed in marine geology;
• describe the key seafloor forms and processes of the central Mediterranean region.

2. Skills
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

• design a seafloor exploration survey and report results professionally;
• acquire, integrate and interpret a range of seafloor data types;
• apply industry-standard software to process, visualise and analyse seafloor data;
• select and apply appropriate data acquisition methodologies for marine geoscientific applications;
• explain the sedimentary, structural and oceanographic processes responsible for a variety of seafloor forms;
• work in a team to solve a geoscientific problem;
• reconstruct geoscientific knowledge in written reports.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

- Pratson, L.F., et al., (2009). Seascape evolution on clastic continenal shelves and slopes, in: Nitrouer, C.A., Austin, J.A., Field, M.E., Kravitz, J.H., Syvitski, J.P.M., Wiberg, P.L. (Eds.), Continental Margin Sedimentation: From Sediment Transport to Sequence Stratigraphy: IAP Special Publication. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, pp. 339-380.
- Seibold, E. and Berger, W.H. (2017) The seafloor: An introduction to marine geology, Springer.
- Blondel, P. and B. J. Murton (1997). Handbook of Seafloor Sonar Imagery. Chichester, John Wiley and Sons.
- Kearey, P., Brooks, M. and Hill, I. (2002). An Introduction to Geophysical Exploration. Oxford, Blackwell Science Ltd.
- Cuchlaine, A.M.K. (1975) Introduction to marine geology and geomorphology, Arnold.

ADDITIONAL NOTES Pre-Requisite qualifications: Background in environmental sciences, geology, geophysics, geography, physics, or engineering

Pre-Requisite Study-units: GSC1100, GSC1400, GSC2100, GSC2102

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Group Learning, Fieldwork, Lecture & Tutorial

Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Report SEM2 Yes 40%
Research Paper SEM2 Yes 60%

LECTURER/S Aaron Micallef

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2021/2. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.