A New Animation of Continental Rifting and Formation of New Oceans and Continental Margins for Undergraduates

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Undergraduates today have grown up with instant access to video animations to explain any number of things, from how to cook fluffy eggs to how to perform a tracheotomy. Animations have become essential to students’ understanding, and since geology is a field based in visual observations animations would seem like a logical tool to incorporate into geoscience undergraduate education. Despite this clear opportunity, accurate and high quality animations of fundamental Earth processes are scarce. Continental rifting, leading to the breakup of continents to form new oceans by seafloor spreading, is an important tectonic process that is suitable for animation. Understanding this process is essential for advancing student understanding of plate tectonics, so with NSF support we have set about to generate two animations of the rift-to-drift process aimed at upper and lower division undergraduate audiences for implementation and assessment in the classroom.

This year we have focused on generating the upper division animation. The UTD team began by writing a narrative based on concepts and examples from the scientific literature. The greatest amount of time and effort was expended on animating lithospheric cross-sections of the general process of continental rifting, the transition to seafloor spreading, the formation of small ocean basins, and passive continental margins. A sketch of each process was created using Adobe Illustrator, and after multiple revisions during weekly team meetings the sketches were put into motion using Adobe After Effects. Each animation went through multiple revisions before arriving at a final draft product. Revised animations were then input to Adobe Premiere Pro to create the final video. The UTD team learned how to use these tools as part of an upper division UTD course in creating geoscience animations and videos (see Stern and Wang this session). A mature draft of the upper division animation will be tested in courses and posted on the UTD GSS YouTube page. We invite feedback for improving the upper division animation and for adapting this for the lower division audience.

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Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 50, issue 6, no. 209-5