An Animated Explanation of Mantle Melting Aimed at Upper Division Undergraduates

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Computer animation is an underutilized tool in geoscience education. Undergraduate students in particular often have difficulty visualizing geological processes because many of them take place deep inside the Earth, and occur over extended time scales. Computer animation is the perfect medium to recreate these processes, as they can be depicted in motion and these processes can be simplified and greatly speeded up. In spite of the advantages of animating geological processes, far too few have been produced. Many of the existing geoscientific animations lack scientific accuracy or are too complex for the typical undergraduate audience. These problems partly reflect the chasm between those with the skills needed to make animations and those who know the science and the educational needs of students. At UTD we have decided to bridge the “skill-expertise” gap needed to make these animations by combining the professor’s geological knowledge with our talented undergraduates’ interest and ability to make animations; our efforts can be seen at Geoscience Studios

The animation “Three Great Ways to Melt the Mantle” is an example of our efforts. This eight-minute-long computer animation was made in Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere. It is intended to explain fundamental concepts of mantle melting to upper division undergraduate majors who have been taught basic principles of igneous petrology via readings and lecture. Partial melting as a result of decompression beneath mid-ocean ridges, as a result of heating due to mantle plumes, and as a result of lowering the solidus due to addition of water (subduction zones) is explained. The animation relates simplified pressure/temperature phase diagrams for each of the three to depth in the Earth, focusing on the geotherm and the peridotite solidus. The effects of three different tectonic settings on the geotherm and the peridotite solidus, and how these effects interact to partially melt the upper mantle are explained. The ability of this animation to improve student understanding was assessed as explained in “Assessing Student Learning from Video Animations in the UTD-USF Plate Tectonics Geoscience Animation Project: Melting the Mantle” in this session.

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Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 50, issue 6, no. 209-10