Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module GEOL3367: Western Alps field trip (Anatomy of a subduction zone)

Department: Earth Sciences

GEOL3367: Western Alps field trip (Anatomy of a subduction zone)

Type Open Level 3 Credits 10 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 18 Location Durham


  • GEOL1051 Field Studies and GEOL2231 Igneous and Metamorphic Processes


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To understand the geology of the Western Alps (a type-example of a continental collision zone) focusing on large-scale geodynamic processes.
  • To explore the relationships between metamorphosed and deformed Tethyan oceanic crust, and European and Adriatic continental crust, and observe how these rocks responded to collision, subduction and exhumation.
  • To understand the geological processes that characterise Earth’s lithosphere, the formation of mountain belts and their influence on surface environments.


  • The excursion involves visits to classic geological localities in Italy and Switzerland.
  • Understanding dynamic Earth systems, and their response to plate tectonic processes.
  • The drivers of global Earth processes.
  • The relationship between interior and exterior processes.
  • The use of mineralogical, petrological and structural information to evaluate the conditions experienced by different rocks in the Alpine collision zone.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Understanding of the structure, composition and history of the continental and oceanic crust, and how they respond to continental collision.
  • Use of mineralogy and petrology to assess the conditions experienced by different rocks during regional and subduction zone metamorphism.
  • Evaluation of the application and limitations of isotopic applications in the sold Earth and arc systems.
  • Evaluation of observational evidence for solid Earth processes and driving mechanisms.
  • Building an understanding of the primary control subduction exerts on crustal scale processes, mountain building, deformation and global geochemical cycles.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • The application of geological principles and methodologies to the solution of familiar and unfamiliar problems.
  • The ability to critique and test existing hypotheses.
  • Synthesis of information and data from a variety of sources.
  • Analysis and interpretation of geological data.
Key Skills:
  • Understand the geological history of the Alps as recorded in the sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rocks.
  • Understand the broad tectonic controls on the formation of the Alps.
  • Produce an observation-based assessment of one aspect of Alpine geology.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • This module will be delivered by the Department of Earth Sciences.
  • The excursion involves visits to classic geological localities in Italy and Switzerland. At each locality the students will make observations and measurements and synthesise their observations. This will be followed by 5 lectures/briefing sessions during the Michaelmas term. The work will be assessed with a written report based on field notebooks, data synthesis and literature.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Excursion 1 Once 9 days 48
Briefing sessions 5 Fortnightly 2 Hours 10
Preparation and Reading 42
Total 100

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Report 3000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Feedback provided during field trip.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University